Three years later, Simon was in his studio, putting the final touches to the pieces he had been preparing for his second exhibition at a prestigious art gallery in London when his cell phone rang. He checked the time and glared at the phone in irritation. The van was coming in thirty minutes to pick up his collection. There was no caller ID. He was about to cut the call when he had a fleeting thought he should answer it.
“Simon. Hello,” he said.
“Oh, er, Simon. Hi. You don’t know me but my name is Iris Shepherd. I’m Dean Reynolds’ neighbour.”
Simon was intrigued. Now, what was this all about? He hadn’t heard from Dean since that weekend apart from a brief thank you note sent to Mary. He had tried to call him but the old man had never answered his phone.
“Oh yes? Hi, how can I help you?”
“Simon, last week Dean came to see me. He seemed to be restless, not his usual self. He didn’t visit me very often, preferring his own company, but it was obvious he wanted to talk. Although, talk is not quite the right word.”
“What do you mean?” Simon glanced at the time again, aware of the minutes slipping past, but trying, at the same time, to be polite to this harassed lady.
“Well, he handed me an envelope. ‘Iris,’ he said, ‘I want to give this to you. I need to ask you a favour.’ I must say, I was amazed. He had never given me anything before. He went on, ‘It’s not for you. Inside is a name and phone number. I need to ask you to phone this person if ever anything happens to me. I want them to know.’
“Simon, the name in the envelope is yours. This morning Dean had a stroke – not a fatal one – but he’s in hospital. When I went out to say goodbye to him as they put him in the ambulance, he couldn’t talk to me or even move. But his eyes were desperate as he stared at me. Straight away, I remembered the letter and told him I would phone whoever was named inside the envelope. It was as if his eyes relaxed with relief. So I came straight inside and rang you. I’m so glad I reached you. I don’t know who you are or why he wanted me to let you know, but I’m doing as I was asked. I hope that’s okay?”
Simon had listened in silence, shocked at what he heard. Dean had had a stroke? He was trying to absorb the news when he realised Iris was waiting for a response.
“Yes, yes, thank you so much, Iris, for letting me know. I am grateful. Where is Dean? Which hospital?”
Iris gave him the details and he thanked her again. He glanced around his studio. Suddenly his exhibition did not seem as significant as it had a few moments ago.
He tapped a few keys on his phone, searching for train times and routes. Dean must have felt it was important Simon was informed. The route would take him through London, and the next train only left in three hours. If he hurried he could see his consignment off and catch that train. It would be over six hours before he reached the hospital. He said a brief prayer that he would not be too late.
Hours later Simon dashed through pouring rain and clambered into a waiting taxi. On the train he had sent a message to the Class of 1990 telling them what had happened, asking them to pray for their old teacher. He wondered why this old man was still so important to all of them. The weekend had not turned out quite as they had imagined, but even now, Dean held a special place in their lives. He knew the others would be praying for both Dean and for himself.
“The hospital, please.”
“You in a hurry, mate? Is it urgent?”
“Yes, it could be. Please use the most direct route.”
Simon lent back in his seat and watched the wet streets slip past. What a night. He would have to find somewhere to stay before he returned to London to sort out his exhibition.
He paid the taxi driver, giving him a tip he hoped was sufficient and ran into the hospital.
“I need to see Mr Dean Reynolds, please.”
The woman at the desk searched her lists.
“Ward six, bed five, sixth floor. Visiting hours end in fifteen minutes.”
Simon was aware of a sudden sense of urgency and he hurried to the lift. It was at the top of the building so he turned and ran up the stairs. He was out of breath as he strode along the endless corridors searching for the right ward.
Stopping at the doorway, to catch his breath and whisper a final prayer, he could see Dean lying on his bed. Other people had visitors, but the space around Dean’s bed was empty.
Simon walked in, trying to calm himself from his run up the stairs. Dean was lying with his eyes closed. Machines and tubes surrounded him.
“He’s not moving at all.” The lady visiting the next patient spoke softly. “He should be in ICU but there’s no room for him. They’re doing the best they can, but I’m not sure there’s much hope for him.”
Simon looked at her, appalled at her lack of sensitivity. He turned back to Dean. Taking care not to dislodge any of the tubes, he took hold of the hand which lay, lifeless, on the blanket.
“Dean? It’s Simon. Iris rang me and I came as soon as I could.” Dean’s eyes flickered as if he recognized the words, but was unable to respond.
Simon sat there with him for half an hour. Other visitors left, but no one came to ask him to go, so he just sat and talked. He told Dean about his exhibition and gave him snippets of news about other members of the Class of 1990. Rory’s baby daughter, Greta, was now two and a little charmer; Sandra had just had a son, much to everyone’s delight; Mary’s father had been released from prison, but the reconciliation she had hoped for had still not happened. He refused to see her. But she still hoped. On and on he talked until he almost ran out of things to say. Every now and again Dean’s eyelids would flick, but that was the only response he got.
Simon understood he may not see Dean again. He knew, from the burning in his heart there was still more to say. So he told the Gospel story, using simple language as if he was talking to a child. He stressed Jesus’ love. To illustrate his point he found himself to his surprise, telling the story of the paralyzed man whose friends let him down through the roof. He felt as if God was speaking through him, for the emphasis seemed to be on Jesus’ love for the man lying on the pallet. The parable reminded him of the time of prayer he and others had had for Dean on the Saturday evening during the celebration weekend. He wondered why that story, of all the stories in Scripture, was the one God chose for Dean to hear.
He invited Dean to turn to Jesus and accept his love.
Dean had led many of the Class of 1990 to Jesus. Now it was Simon’s turn to do the same for their teacher.
“I’m sorry, sir. It’s way past visiting hours. I must ask you to leave now.” The nurse had come up to Simon so quietly he was unaware of her presence until she spoke.
“Dean, I must go. Please, if you can hear me, think about the things I have been saying to you. Remember, Jesus loves you.” He squeezed the old man’s hand and laid it back on the blankets as he rose to his feet.
Dean’s eyes snapped open. Shocked, Simon stood, rooted to the spot. The tired eyes gazed up to the ceiling. One hand lifted slightly off the bed, fingers outstretched. Dean whispered something.
Two words with a pause in between them.
Simon was uncertain if he had heard what Dean murmured in the noisy hospital ward. He prayed it was not wishful thinking. It sounded very much as if Dean had said:
“Jesus … Love.”
Simon leaned over the sick man.
“Yes, Dean, Jesus loves you. Can you see him? Is he here with you?”
Dean’s eyes closed and his hand fell back onto the blankets. He did not respond again.
“Sir, I’m sorry but you really have to go.” The nurse was now insistent.
Simon fought tears as he squeezed his teacher’s hand once more and left the ward. Could it be that Dean had accepted Jesus in that moment? Had the Lord come for him?
Early the next morning, before dawn, Dean died in his sleep. Simon was told when he went to visit him again before leaving for London.
He would arrange to return for Dean’s funeral, with one or two of the Class of 1990 who lived close enough to attend. They would represent the Class and celebrate the life of this man who had been such an influence in their lives.
He stood for a moment at the entrance to the hospital before dashing into the rain to the taxi he had summoned to take him to the station. Had he been successful in sharing the good news of the Gospel with Dean? Had it made a difference in the man’s life? He supposed he would never know.
As he thought about it during the slow taxi ride to his train, a new notion came to him. Could God’s spirit work with a man’s spirit, even when the man was no longer conscious?
As he considered the question, he became more certain that this was possible. After all, why wouldn’t God, who was Spirit, commune with the spirit of a man? He became aware of warmth flooding through him.
No, he would never know on this earth whether Dean had turned to Jesus or what he had said in that last moment. But he would cling to the hope that Dean had done just that as Simon left him. Simon prayed it was so and praised his Lord at the prospect he might meet Dean one day in heaven.
Suddenly he was at peace. God was in control, as he always was.
Simon bought his ticket and climbed onto the London train. It was time to continue with God’s call on his own life, as he prepared to show the world God’s love through his art. He felt a surge of excitement as he wondered how God would use his work to touch others’ lives.