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From the time he was a little boy, Nick knew he was somehow different. It was not a feeling he understood, nor a topic he discussed with others. He recognized the disparities of life at an early age but chose to stand above them. Though Nick had risen from the poor streets of Boston, he did not look upon those streets with disdain. He had learned great truths on those streets, great compassion, unexpected sharing among those who had little, and most important, simple respect on those streets.
He was born to hard-working Russian immigrants who knew the value of a dollar and also understood the values a dollar could not buy. It was with silent admiration that Nick had witnessed his father give food to neighbors who had gone without eating, when his own family had little to eat. Nick would never lose this respect for his mother and father. They had fostered in Nick a wealth that money could not touch.
As a boy, he never walked the streets of his neighborhood with his head hung down. Nick's eyes saw far. And to see far, one had to look far. It wasn't just his being a high-school football star and a scholar that had made him stand out in his early years, nor was it his ability toget a university education on an athletic scholarship. It was something else ? perhaps his compassion, his capacity to make friends with anyone in the neighborhood. Some of those friends would end up in prison, some would leave the streets to become doctors and engineers. To Nick, they were all just friends; status simply did not matter. He wasn't afraid to take chances with people, nor was he afraid to take risks in business. It was as if he could occupy two different worlds simultaneously.
Now in his fifties, Nick found those two worlds colliding. His heart was troubled because he fit in so easily with the rich and powerful while those who also mattered to him sometimes went hungry or wanting. But now he felt more troubled than ever. No longer did he wander the poor streets of Boston. No longer did his differentness linger about him like an unknown, shadowy figure. His was now a world few, if any, could ever imagine.
The evening air was heavy with moisture as he jogged along the lakeside path. His head bowed forward as he watched one foot blur in front of the other. January's coolness calmed him with its misty, blanketing feeling as he seemed to drift along the path and through the evergreens of Lake Oswego. This was his neighborhood, his "digs," his creation. Nick was pleased with the land development he had fostered at this end of the lake. Here the homes were an integral part of the forest, unlike the jumbled edifices to wealth on other parts of the lake. Nature's richness interwove with the elegance of well designed dwellings, creating a tapestry of primeval firs and hemlocks interspersed with young oaks and maple trees and civilized rhododendrons embracing homes: one esthetic balancing another. Nick liked this harmony, especially since it seemed to elude him now.
As he ran, a mood of spiritual peacefulness teetered against the thoughts racing in his mind as the birds overhead echoed their cries across the steep Oregon hills surrounding this end of the lake. He wanted to call back at them, but their wings reminded him of the phone conversation earlier in the day, the source of this wonderment that captured his thoughts. As wet patches of dead fir needles, decayed oak and maple leaves rhythmically squished beneath his running shoes, Nick's attention once more turned to digest the significance of all that had happened this day. What was he to do about it? Perhaps there was nothing to do but run.
His thoughts stopped, his feet stopped. With his hands on the waist of his jogging shorts, Nick stared out across the length of the lake to its opposite end, which peeked into downtown Lake Oswego. The evening shadows were tucking the lake to sleep. Reflected clouds softened the black surface of the water. To the north, the city lights of Portland were beginning to dominate the edge of the sky. Nick's labored breathing was the only sound to be heard. Even the birds had departed for their nightly havens. "Why don't I just enjoy this for now?" he gasped between breaths. "After all, how often do you get to speak to your angels?" He glanced up into the trees, half expecting an answer.
The pronouncement seemed to end the struggle between head and heart. Yes, some things should just be enjoyed. Nick continued his jog, taking the last leg of the outing up the hill and back to his house As he rounded the turn into the cul-de-sac, the street lamp next to his house flickered to life.
Copyright© 1996 by Skywin
Excerpted from The MESSENGERS by Julia Ingram Copyright © 1997 by Julia Ingram. Excerpted by permission.
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