So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

Hank and Randy at Caprock

I have decided to go ahead and post a pair of stories I’ve been incubating for quite some time now. The draft is still rough, but the ideas are in place. This continues my Hank & Randy cycle for the Turvey’s Corner 63050 collection of short stories . . .


Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1 (King James Version)

Looking up, Hank noticed that Randy had put down his coffee cup and had a small volume open and was reading by the fire light. “What are you reading?” he wanted to know.

“Translating, actually. I still carry my little Greek New Testament in my pack because I like working the language.”

“You quit the ministry. Do you still believe all that stuff?”

“Not all of it. But much of it still rings authentic. And then there are other parts, like what I’m reading tonight that really stimulate my imagination. This is from Hebrews 12. The image is a race in a stadium filled with spectators. The spectators are “heroes of faith” mentioned in the chapter before, people who suffered hardship but still believed in what they were doing. The author writes that the one running the race is being cheered on by all those heroes of faith who have gone before. It’s supposed to give one courage and confidence living out this life as an arduous race.”

“When I was a kid, I always thought my aunts and uncles who already died were looking down from heaven, approving or disapproving of what I did. I like the picture you just gave—ancestors cheering us on and encouraging us.”

“That’s what I’m feeling right now. Since I quit the seminary, Paul Tillich and Karl Barth have stayed with me. I still read them a great deal, especially Tillich. I can identify with a lot of what he went through, though my own troubles seem microscopic compared to his. Still, I draw strength from his example. Then of course, there are other writers who are not theologians that give me plenty of encouragement and reason to believe—Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, Kerouac—I love them all and wish I could have known them in real life. But I really do feel their presence when I read what they’ve left behind.”

“I can identify with that. I wonder if we’ll still feel this way when we get old.”

“I wonder that too. I just hope I don’t get too mentally lazy and stop reading and imagining as I get older.”


Randy drifted slowly in and out of consciousness throughout the morning. It was his fourth day in hospice, and though he was unaware of how long he lay there, he knew he would drift away before too much longer. Judy, his only love, sat to the left at his bed and Hank, his lifelong friend, was seated on his right.

Eighty-three years. A satisfying sojourn. Few regrets. A myriad of memories worth embracing. In fact, Randy did nothing else but re-visit memories for four days now. The pain in his chest was minimal and breathing not very difficult. The drugs numbed his body, but his mind felt keen. The refrain of memories that occupied him the most included the west Texas caprock campouts, complete with campfire, coffee and soul-searching conversations.

Randy wondered why he had held fast to theology throughout his years. He never would pastor a congregation. He dropped out of seminary without completing a degree. Yet the life and writings of Paul Tillich had held the center of his broad reading and musing throughout his years. From the day he dropped out of seminary, he had fed on a steady diet of Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac, among other essayists, poets, and novelists. But he always came back to Paul Tillich, the German theologian expelled by Hitler from German universities. The Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary faculty in New York City came to his rescue, arranging for his passage to America. At age forty-three, the frightened scholar would arrive on New York shores to begin a new chapter in his life that would last the remaining three-plus decades of his life.

Randy had always felt he found a kindred spirit in Tillich, though the man had died a decade before Randy even learned of his life and work. As the energy slowly ebbed from Randy’s body, he felt the warm kiss of Judy on his forehead. “I love you, Randy. I always have.” Hank squeezed Randy’s right hand. “Love you Pal.” Randy tried to whisper: “Hell of a ride,” but was not sure if the sound passed from his lips.

Though his eyes were closed, Randy could see clearly where he was now—on an enormous crowded ship pulling into a harbor. The statue of liberty loomed overhead as they glided by. How unusual to be surrounded by a throng speaking a cacophony of European languages. On the shores, thousands of people were thronged, waving in a frenzy, welcoming the refugees on board. Sadly, Randy had not arranged for anyone to meet him. As he flowed with the travelers off the boat and onto the land, he watched with an aching heart as men and women embraced, children leaped into the arms of parents, and joyous clamoring rung out across the frenzied city.

But suddenly, he saw a thin man in a gray suit pushing impatiently through the crowd, gesturing at him. Paul Tillich? Randy was incredulous. He had seen dozens of photos of the Prussian scholar in books he had read and collected throughout the years. And now, Paul Tillich was eagerly fighting his way through a crowd to greet Randy?

“Randy, my dear Friend!”

“Professor Tillich?”

“Paulus, please.”

“You know me?”

“Of course!”

“How? You died ten years before I even heard of you.”

“Such a naïve lad! So. You didn’t really believe what you told Hank by the fire that night when you shared the words from Hebrews 12?”

“You know about that?!”

“Of course. Out here, we don’t have limits! I wasn’t the only one watching and listening that night. Let’s go. Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac are waiting. I left them in the café to come get you. We have plenty of things to talk about . . .”

Judy and Hank wiped tears from their eyes. “At least he went peacefully,” was all Hank was able to say.

“Yes,” replied Judy. “I wonder what he was dreaming there at the end. He seemed happy.”


Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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4 Responses to “So Great a Cloud of Witnesses”

  1. doubledacres Says:

    Brilliant!! Bravo!! I love it. You hit a grand slam my friend. I got goosebumps! Then I stop and think and wonder who would be there to meet me? Of course Jack would. (Jack Daniels)


  2. Dian Darr Says:

    Wow! Sad but so touching. Beautifully written. I was with my dear sister when she passed away. Right before, I leaned over and told her I loved her and was sorry I didn’t bring some of her favorite music. ( She always loved all kinds of music but especially electronic dance music and her favorite, Adam Lambert). Her last word to me were, “Don’t worry, it is always in my head.”


    • davidtripp Says:

      That was a precious moment and I’m glad you’re holding on to it. Years ago I had the idea of Tillich welcoming someone home in the afterlife and am happy to share it now.


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