Urban Heck, A marvelous street retreat – good-bye Daniel

On the search for God I was sitting with alcohol patients on a park bench. Outside on the left was a man, in the center a half lying woman, and on the right side I. For three days I belonged to them somehow. The woman wanted to sleep, and complained that she could not sleep. I ate an apple at that moment and asked her: „Shall we sing a sleep song?“ But while I was still chewing, she began in a kind of singsong with „sleep, dear, sleep“. When she stopped, and when my apple was eaten, I began to sing myself, and suddenly she straightened herself, looked dumbfounded at me and asked, „From where do you know that?“ I answered, „I have two children“.

There she told – now wide awake -, as if the sleep song had opened the floodgates of a dam, „I have five children, the youngest died with ten and a half weeks. In the night at half past one they called from the hospital, „Come, if you want to see your son yet.“ I went there by taxi. There they put the child into my arms – and ‚good-bye‘. „Beautiful, eh?“ she looked at me, and I could only say, „Shit“. She repeated, as if it was her refrain, „They have put the child into my arms – and good-bye, beautiful, he?“ For me remained only to answer again, „shit“. With tears in her eyes she talked about her deceased son, and about the ride through the night, as if it had been just last week, and not many years ago.

I felt how I became sad, and that my own mourning came up, my sleeping mourning over my ten-year old nephew Daniel, who died seven years ago unexpectedly fast. Resigned the woman ended her narration, „but you are not interested in that.“ The man on her left tried to divert her: „Let’s talk about other things.“ It’s enough to me for today. I owed it to an alcoholic that I knew now: I have still to settle an old account with God. I felt mourning and rage about Daniels death.

In the evening after the service in the exchange with the group I told about it, and I asked myself, how that would go on, how I would go ahead. Suggestions, where the way for me could continue: In a paediatric clinic, in the cemetery at a child grave, or with the history of a David who with twelve years had a deadly accident in the holiday camp, and was buried at home. On the next morning by the morning impulse I painted with street mark chalk a labyrinth in the inner court. We heard the Emmaus story, went into the labyrinth and prayed there. Then I went to the subway station and took the next best underground. In the train I decided to go out where children would go out. But there was no child in the car.

Only some stations later a family entered, and as they got out I went in the same direction, and landed finally in a park. There three boys were playing at hide-and-seek, and I painted for them with the rest of my street mark chalk. They came and asked, „What are you doing there?“ I let them guess, and they found out that I was drawing a labyrinth on the pavement. Somewhat later I sat on the bench beside and read about the deceased child David. Now the curious boys returned and went through the labyrinth, went out and in, and played thereby. I read about that David, to whom at home in Berlin they had said ‚farewell‘, and had buried him then. The scales fell from my eyes that I had not correctly said ‚good-bye‘ to my nephew Daniel.

I have buried more than three years, have advised the mourning to say good-bye, but I myself did not said ‚farewell‘ to Daniel. I stayed in the centre of my mourning. There I saw how one of the boys took the remaining chalk stub and wrote into the centre of the labyrinth „BEGINNING“. Yes, that exactly is it: I am in the centre of my mourning, because I did not say good-bye to Daniel. Now I had to do that, now I had to say somehow good-bye to Daniel. I have to do it. In that moment there came from the left side an older woman with a child, about one year old. The child went plodding across the centre of the labyrinth, came to my park bench and looked at me expectantly. I said „hello“. The woman called impatiently: „Daniel, come, we go“.

I stopped: Unbelievably. There in the midst of my mourning, of my need to say ‚good-bye, came a little Daniel. And as if God who provides for me, wanted to signal still more clearly with the fence stake, the woman called also: „Daniel, say ‚good-bye‘!“ Hot and cold it ran down my back. I referred it to me. I bent myself to Daniel, stroke him gently over his back and said so ‚good-bye‘ to my Daniel, „good-bye, Daniel“. Then the little Daniel went away. Thus I entrusted my nephew to God who provides for me, and who accompanies me. The place was an everyday place in the park, and at the same time for me holy ground, as holy as the ground at the burning thorn shrub. Still now, months after it, when I’m telling about it, when I try to put the miracle into words, it affects me still now.

Urban Heck