Love and Compassion
A tribute to Vincent and
April 12th, 2011
Light one candle
Jo Ann Baca
Had he forgotten?
She chided herself for even having that thought. Of course, something must
have come up, something important. He had responsibilities, people depended
upon him. He would have come if he could have…tonight of all nights….
Catherine surveyed the array of partially melted candles, puddles of wax
filling their holders. Reluctantly, she began to blow them out. It was 3:00
a.m., long past the appointed time of their celebration.
Their third anniversary. Catherine had had such hopes for this evening.
Sighing, she bent over the last, lonely flame, preparing to end its life
with a puff of air.
She stopped in the act of pursing her lips and regarded the glowing candle.
So brave, so bright, it carried on when its brethren had been snuffed out,
willing its light into the inky blackness of the night despite being alone.
She couldn’t reward that determined little flame with oblivion. Smiling, she
straightened and carried her stalwart companion into the apartment, placing
it on the glass-topped dining room table to allow its flickering light to
reflect and be magnified there.
The candleglow rekindled the warmth within Catherine’s heart. This was what
Vincent had given to her, or perhaps more accurately, what he had nurtured
within her - this steadfastness in the face of gloom, this resolution
despite the odds. She who had shied away before when situations or people
got too difficult had, through Vincent’s example and encouragement, learned
to become like that shimmering candle flame. She had taught herself to stand
fast, to try to be a light in another’s darkness, to give warmth without
expecting it in return.
Vincent had been the candle for her in her darkness that night three years
ago. In her temporary blindness he had lent her the radiance of his own
bright spirit, and its luminosity had sustained her in the shadows of
despair and pain. And every moment since that time, she had held that
graceful spark close, its warmth a constant presence in her heart. Perhaps
it had been their Bond, immersing itself within her even then. She didn’t
know. But the one thing she was sure of was that Vincent’s lonely candle
flame had lit a corresponding spark within her. Delicate and fragile at
first, those flickering points of light had reflected each other and had
grown in strength from that reflection. And now…well, perhaps he had missed
their anniversary, but it didn’t matter. He was with her always, his light
filling her with love.
Keeping the candle company, Catherine pulled out her calendar to plan her
week. She noted she was scheduled for a shift on the suicide hotline on
Monday night, and she had made plans with Edie to catch up while
volunteering at the homeless shelter soup kitchen on Saturday morning. A
flyer was stuck inside her calendar to remind her it was time to contribute
again to the local food bank…. In the midst of her planning, she considered
how different her life was now than it had been on that April night three
years before. What a difference love had made in her life; Vincent had not
only saved her life, but his kindness to her, a stranger, had kindled within
her the desire to lighten others’ burdens in any way she could. She was only
one candle in the darkness, but by sharing the light with others, she had
found that the world could be a brighter place for everyone.
* * *
Shaking with spent emotion, Vincent folded the begrimed, careworn hands
across the old man’s chest. Death was never easy. Witnessing the fire go
out, the spirit flee, was a hard thing. He leaned back against the trunk of
the massive evergreen under which he had sat vigil for hours with this man,
a stranger, whose light had been extinguished by time, neglect and disease.
Who had he been? What had his life encompassed? What had led him, at long
last, to this place, this moment?
Vincent wiped away his tears and looked around. It was still deep night, but
within a few short hours Central Park would be stirring with life. Before
the first tendrils of dawn would stroke its treetops, early risers would be
jogging, the homeless would be moving from their temporary cover….
Yet the body might not be discovered for some time, hidden as it was. He
himself had nearly passed the old man by as he made his way to Catherine’s
on their special night. The barest hint of sound, perhaps a rustle in the
leaves, perhaps a sigh, had alerted him to the stranger’s presence. Vincent
had sensed only the merest flicker of life within him; he had been beyond
help even then. But Vincent could not abandon him to a lonely death, so he
had crawled beneath the cover of the trees and sat with the man, holding his
hand and talking to him so he would know he was not alone as he embarked on
his final journey.
Now that the old man had expired, Vincent wondered how to ensure he would be
found. The path was not too distant. It would be a simple task to lift him
and place him on a nearby bench. That was what he should do, and soon,
before waking eyes could catch the movement. Yet strangely, he was reluctant
to leave the sanctity of this place where moments before a life had
extinguished itself between one breath and the next. So he sat a while
longer, extending his vigil, and his thoughts turned from death to life…to
How differently things had turned out tonight, exactly three years since the
night he had found Catherine, bloodied and discarded, in a ravine not far
from this place where he now sat. Unlike this night, when he had detected
the barest glimmer of life left within the frail chest of a dying man, the
spark within Catherine had been brilliant, a fiery beacon in distress,
drawing him instantly to her side. As it began to fade, his apprehension had
blossomed, and his initial intention to place her where someone would find
her vanished under the necessity for more immediate action.
He thought back to the time she had spent Below with him, healing from her
physical injuries. He had felt that her despair was causing the gentle light
within her to waver, guttering slowly as a fire ebbing into embers. Despite
Father’s warnings to maintain a doctor’s detachment, he had found himself
inexorably drawn to that fading light, feeling an overwhelming need to
inspire her to rekindle it, understanding intuitively how deeply the flame
would burn if he could.
Her light had drawn him since that time. The purity of it, its grace and its
passion enveloped him, beckoned him to its warmth. That light had filled him,
banishing the darkness, renewing him. She had filled his life, his world,
with the shimmering glow of her love.
Tonight should have been a celebration of their shared light. Instead, he
knew he had disappointed her.
* * *
Catherine had kept the candle company as it burned down. It was barely a
lump of wax now, its tiny flame sputtering. The clock read 4:30. Outside she
could discern the lightening of the darkness as day once more beat back the
night. She felt her conviction grow that light was stronger than shadows. It
might fade for a time, but only to gather itself, to reinforce its strength
before bursting outward and bathing the world in its glow once more.
She glanced from the sky back to the candle and watched with a glimmer of
sadness as the flame wavered and finally died. Just then she heard a
distinct knock against a pane of glass. Rising with surprised delight,
Catherine rushed to the French doors and threw them open. Vincent had come
No longer was she saddened that they had missed the opportunity to celebrate
on their special day. Truly, every day, every moment was special with his
light in her life.
“I can only stay a moment, Catherine,” he murmured.
She shook her head. “You’re here now.” Sensing that something of great
matter had kept him from her side, she added, “And I’m here for you. For
whatever it was that kept you.”
“Thank you,” he replied, grateful for her intuition. “I will tell you of it
another time. For now…I apologize for being so late.”
Embracing him fiercely, Catherine responded, “It’s better this way. Your
love has always been the light of a new day for me. So coming with the dawn…it’s
He gazed in amazement at her loving expression. “But our plans…”
“Both of us had other plans on the night you found me,” she reminded him.
“Yes.” He smiled and tilted his head as he regarded her. “I love you,
“I know. I love you, Vincent.”
“I have a candle or two inside that I was saving to light when you arrived.
Come inside and light them with me?” Her eyes, heavy-lidded, hinted at the
subtext of her words.
“Our gift to each other this year?”
Catherine’s smile lit his heart. “And every day from now on.”