Many men go through their lives with a gap inside, a longing for a sense of purpose. Wishing for a reason why they were put on this Earth. Not Emmett Farrell.
Emmett always knew the moment when Epiphany spoke to him and told him his purpose in life. If he could’ve seen her he might’ve imagined she was lithe and fair with blond curls framing fine features and striking clear blue eyes. Her scent might remind him of warm spring days and her voice a caress of silk. At 14 years old, she would’ve appeared as his dream girl.
Since he couldn’t see her, his attention focused instead on the dull green and black square monitor in front of him. In the background Mrs. Tompkins’ voice droned unmercifully at the class. Emmett didn’t have any part of the class. The only reason he was in the home economics classroom was that was where they had put the computer. And his independent study period allowed him to use the computer at the end of each day. He wished Mrs. Tompkins would just shut up, not that he would say it to her weathered old face. She had to be at least 40, probably counting the days until she could retire.
It wasn’t that Emmett was mean, he simply wanted to focus on the miraculous machine in front of him. He was doing something that no one in the school had ever done before — writing a computer program. That was when Epiphany’s red lips tickled his ear, whispering to him about his purpose. He pressed the final keystroke and his program started. A simple maze of greenish blocks appeared on the screen. Other green dots lined the corridors of the maze and a few of those blocks blinked. One fat rectangular block was his character.
Biting his lip, Emmett reached out and placed his fingers on the arrow keys. He pushed the up key and his blocky character moved out along the path between the maze walls. It worked!
Right then his life changed forever, as if he heard a voice telling him clearly that he had found his purpose. The computer was going to make everything different and he was going to be one of the people that created the programs that told the computer what to do and how to do it. He’d never known such clarity in his life.
Before that moment — if anyone had asked Emmett — he could’ve convincingly said that he understood true love. That he had known true love the minute he walked into the conference in Baltimore and looked through the crowd, seeing the dynamic and brilliant Carol Hopkins for the very first time. She didn’t look like many of the girls he had dated back in his school days. She wasn’t blonde or tall. He hair wasn’t curly and long and her eyes definitely weren’t blue.
None of that mattered at all. She was short, with black hair and dark eyes and a smile that made his heart ache the instant he saw her in the crowd. Whatever sessions he had planned on attending went out the window because he was going to wherever she was going. She walked with purpose and he tried to catch up. It gave him an opportunity to admire her shapely calves and notice that she’d gone for flat dress sensible dress shoes instead of heels. He didn’t waste any time taking a seat next to her — beating out some other guy for the chance — and introduced himself.
He told that story many times, in many places, describing it as one of those moments of clarity when you just knew the meaning of true love. Now, breathing in the medicinal smells of iodine and blood, the beeping of machines in the background with the murmur of nurses and the doctors, he knew that he didn’t quite have that right.
Seeing Carol was always going to be a significant moment in his life and yet it was somehow a precursor to how he felt at this moment. He gazed down at the wrinkled, red face of his daughter Elaine. He recognized the sensation, the same that led him to master computer programming and business administration and launch several successful startups. His purpose in life was developing the technology that let everyone reach their full creative potential. Looking at Elaine’s face he wanted the same thing for her and at the same time he had the clarity of a love he couldn’t have imagined. Without question he loved Carol, yet this Epiphany whispered to him and he understood just how deep love could truly go.
The medicinal smells and floating diagnostic screens triggered memories for Emmett. After 60 years of medical advancement, a hospital still smelled like a hospital. And the screens that floated discreetly by the walls, dimmed so as to remain unobtrusive, were based on technologies that he had developed. The memories surfaced, as clear in his memory as his own name.
Discovering in an instant his purpose at 14 years old.
Finding out almost 30 years later when he first held Elaine in his arms how deep love truly reached.
Faces moved between him and the screens. He recognized some. Others were less familiar, yet they evoked shades of recognition. He should know them. They reminded him of Elaine and Carol and sometimes of his own Mom and Dad. Except the doctors, who blended together into faceless professionalism. Everything changed.
His life was ending.
Medical technology had advanced and kept his quality of life high until this point. His time was done now, anything left unfinished was in the hands of those around him. He understood what it meant to love, to have a purpose in life. He had lived a long time and here he was on his deathbed surrounded by family and friends.
A face flitted past his vision, exquisite and fine-featured, with red lips and curly blonde hair. Sharp blues eyes looked at him, past him with a piercing hunger and then on to someone else. Somehow he recognized her. She reminded him of someone important. Not Elaine. Not Carol. She wasn’t dark like them. She resembled some of his college girlfriends — he’d had a thing for blondes back then — though none of them were as striking as her, with such high cheekbones and hollow cheeks.
She moved toward a large man, graying at his temples. That was Bernard, Elaine’s Bernard, his son-in-law. Who was this girl? She leaned close to Bernard, pressing against his chest as she inhaled. A sort of red mistiness formed between Bernard’s lips and her pursed lips, as if Bernard’s breath fogged the air. She sucked it in like smoke and it was gone.
Emmett moved his eyes and there were more of the blonde girls, hanging around his family, inhaling reddish vapors from their mouths. And then Emmett realized one more moment of clarity. A name came to mind. Epiphany. That was the name for the feeling and yet it was somehow also the name of these young women. Epiphanies.
They fed on the emotions of this moment — he knew it with piercing clarity. If anything it appeared that his family’s burdens eased a bit with each inhalation. Elaine came into view, beautiful like her mother and two of the Epiphanies draped along her arms, stroking her and gazing up at her.
Elaine smiled. Faintly he felt her fingers in his. “It’s okay, Papa. It’s okay. Give Mama my love.”
She was right. He knew the Epiphanies, he had heard their whispers twice before and it had shaped his life, helping him have a good life so that the Epiphanies might feed in this moment. And it was okay.
He closed his eyes in understanding.