Queensland’s Department of Justice building is a Brisbane landmark situated at the corner of Ann and George streets in the city’s burgeoning Central Business District. Those unfamiliar with this monument need only to consult the locals as to the whereabouts of the ‘Batman’ building; and voila!
Many have sensed its mystique but only a chosen few have made the leap of faith to venture within its walls.
Beneath a sultry and threatening December sky Ben and Elise Woodman had been summoned to the Oncology ward of the Mater Children’s Hospital. There they would be told of the prognosis following the biopsy to a lump found in their child’s ribcage. As if struck in the solar plexus by the hand of fate the news sunk Mr Woodman to his knees. Mrs Woodman shook uncontrollably, unable to comprehend Tom’s death sentence – he was only twelve, after all, and now condemned, never to see thirteen.
Returning to the family’s suburban home in Ashgrove, Elise Woodman entered her boy’s bedroom, which by now was devoid of sound and sunshine. Grief-stricken she slumped on his tiny bed. And in desperation, began to recite The Lord’s Prayer – the first time she had done so in over twenty-two years. That connection made, an impassioned plea to the Universe followed.
“Lord, it doesn’t matter to you that it’s taken a tragedy to bring me home. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s taken a tragedy for me to want to come home. All that matters now is my son’s life. When I discovered I was with child, fear of my husband’s reaction curtailed my jubilance. We never discussed having children. As a young couple we were too busy having fun and had heard rumours of what children can do to a marriage. But when I eventually found the courage, he looked at me with the same loving eyes as when first we met. I knew then and there, we were destined to follow life’s journey, travelling the same path.
Months later you blessed me with a gift greater than the love of my husband, a child pure of heart. I wondered then what had I done to deserve both.
I beseech you, what have I done that you, now, feel the need to take back what you’d given without cause?”
Tom’s room fell silent, punctuated only by the sound of sobbing from a wounded heart.
That evening Ben Woodman found escape at the bottom of a Johnnie Walker label.
Amidst the forlorn search for slumber, a voice permeated the inner sanctum of his wife’s being, from a region beyond the imagination.
The Guardian Angel, who had been entrusted to Elise Dare as a little girl, now spoke directly to her charge.
“Elise you are to go to the building at the corner of Ann and George streets on Thursday, the fifteenth day of December. You are to arrive at 10.30am. Bring the boy!”
Disturbed by a message whose origin was beyond her comprehension, Mrs Woodman feared confiding in a husband whom she knew had since given up the courage to pursue dreams of such magnitude.
Then came the realisation of a Mother’s calling during a time of turmoil – to love unconditionally! Only love could spare her son from his impending fate. Somewhere within the confines of a building at the corner of Ann and George, she would find solace.
Overcome with relief, Mrs Woodman fell into a deep sleep.
The doorman to the building at the corner of Ann and George streets was a portly fellow, who, upon seeing the appointees tapped his hat and greeted the lady by name. Turning to the boy, he smiled graciously, “Good morning Master Tom, and welcome to you both”. Before entering the imposing green building, whose twenty-five floors seemed to pierce the Heavens, Mrs Woodman was halted in her steps by an impassioned plea. “Be honest my dear, they can see into your Soul, at all times, be honest”, as he bade the pair to their fate.
The façade of an office complex evaporated beyond its outer shell; instead what confronted the pair could only have been created by the hand of God. At its centrepiece the foyer contained the most magnificent marble fountain. Doves hovered above, busily grooming their plumage, stopping only to survey the domain’s newest arrivals. “Ah, the Mother and her boy”, said one. “Do you think she has the courage to manifest her dreams?” He enquired of his feathered friends. “If she allows fear to dictate the wonts of her heart, she is surely doomed”, came the reply. The ceiling was a dome structure that had been canvass to the masters of the Renaissance. Angels plucked at harp strings in melodious accompaniment.
The boy and his Mother held each other as if walking a tightrope. Both were transfixed by the serene splendour they had the misfortune to witness. Slowly they made their way to a massive wooden door encrusted in gold leaf, which stood 15ft tall. Although she couldn’t be certain, Mrs Woodman felt the tree that had given up its life for the construction of such an impressive structure must certainly have been present at the dawn of time. Suddenly it gave way, parting to a perfect blue sky, a thousand acres of luscious green fields, and a majestic lagoon where clowns and other circus entertainers were plying their trade – at its banks – for an audience of a thousand children. Tom relinquished the grip on his Mother’s coat as a group of six boys and girls ran towards them. All were around his age, and as children do, beckoned their newest playmate to the fields and beyond. Sensing it was time to let go, and perhaps, let God, Mrs Woodman smiled and nodded her approval. The children’s laughter could be heard echoing through the foyer of the building at the corner of Ann and George.
Mrs Woodman found herself isolated and searching for direction. Suddenly a flock of doves took flight in a formation that pointed to a grand staircase. That was to be one of many signs she would encounter this day. Mrs Woodman could see the steps, but not their destination. The beating of her heart was interrupted by a genuine desire to search for divinity within these walls. It required thirty-six steps to reach the next level, where a massive wooden door, as splendid as the one that now separated a Mother from her boy, confronted Elise Woodman.
This time she entered a room that strangely – although nothing could be stranger than what she’d witnessed thus far – resembled Tom’s room exactly as it had appeared the day she was told of his impending fate. Mrs Woodman sat on the bed and picked at the linen. Suddenly she felt the presence of a Spiritual being, who spoke in a voice that was not foreign to Elise.
“Elise, why are you here. Is it for your glory or God’s?”
She remained silent, her intellect unable to respond to such a probing question. But then fumbled to formulate the words …
“I am here to plead for my son’s life as only a Mother would.”
The room was plunged into darkness. Mrs Woodman could visualise the image of herself, praying as she had done so on that fateful night, in the very room she now stood.
“Your child is pure of heart. God can do nothing for him that you cannot do yourself. It will take but one act of faith. And when that time comes, (he appeared to be responding to the questions in her heart) you will know by the voice within. Now go, for there is much anguish to be resolved before you are to behold the eyes of God”.
Without fanfare, the Angel vanished.
Again she was all alone and searching for direction until the staircase appeared beckoning her to yet another experience.
It was a scene with which Mrs Woodman had, tragically, become far too familiar – the Oncology ward of the Mater Children’s Hospital. The room housed seven beds. All but one contained a sickly child on the threshold of the afterlife, being comforted by distraught relatives. Upon closer inspection, Mrs Woodman could see these were the same children who had eagerly invited Tom to join in their merriment only moments earlier. She identified with the parents, empathising with their sorrow but not with their pain. The sense of letting go and letting God was a merciful sentiment given the gravity of the moment. She tried desperately to ignore the image of the seventh bed.
The moment dawned – the juxtaposition of scenarios propelled Mrs Woodman onwards to face her own reality. The decision appeared simple enough yet the Angel’s question echoed through her thoughts. Was she working for God’s glory or her own, and why should it matter when a precious life was at stake?
Grief overcame her initial composure causing Mrs Woodman to run from the room.
Once again she found herself at the foot of the staircase – yet another invitation, she thought, to delve deeper into the compartments of her Soul.
She entered a darkened and silent room and sat on the chesterfield lounge, waiting patiently for she knew not what. The Angel was never far even though she didn’t look for him.
He sat alongside and gently motioned for Elise to close her eyes. In doing so Mrs Woodman was transported to a place in her memory she’d hoped had been suppressed forever. A time when she was no more than Elise Dare, the second of four siblings coping with the challenges of life as only a teenager can. Her father had abandoned his wife and family to a life of misery, unable to come to terms with the responsibilities of fatherhood. That decision had taken its toll on her Mother, who withdrew into a world of make-believe. It was a time when life chose Elise to be both surrogate Mother and Father to her siblings. This was a responsibility that extracted a terrible toll – her childhood.
The tears began to flow as the memory of those earlier years flooded her thoughts.
“Open your eyes Elise”, said the Angel.
At which moment she was introduced to a second Spiritual being.
The first Angel was familiar. It was a Being she had been familiar with all her life, yet the memory of whom, seemed to have been repressed much like the experiences of a difficult childhood. The second, held no such attachment.
“Hello Mrs Woodman, I am known only to your husband, who has instructed me to be here this day. I am happy to make your acquaintance”.
With that introduction complete Mrs Woodman relinquished control over her emotions and began to sob unashamedly. She felt the love of her husband resonate through the second Spirit and gave thanks for the miracle that manifested in her life.
After a moment’s pause the stranger continued.
“You have known many men. A great number have filled your heart with empty promises, only to deny you the love you so eagerly searched. And like all who suffer fate, you placed your faith in that destiny unable or unwilling to escape the cycle of abuse.”
“Every attempt to reinvent Elise Dare failed – or so you thought. Until one day, when in search for yet another lover, you found him, the man you had silently prayed for all your life.
This man made no such promise, other than to speak of the future. And your initial response was to reject him.”
The sobbing grew louder. Mrs Woodman knew these words to be undeniable.
“Of all the men none presented a greater fear than he who provided hope.”
The truth, borne of love, has a way of liberating a tormented Soul.
The Spirit continued. “Take heed Elise, nothing happens by chance in this Universe!”
“I must leave you now, for the one to follow is greatest of all”.
And with those words, the Spirit departed, leaving Mrs Woodman alone with her Guardian Angel.
Elise Woodman had anticipated an encounter with God at some stage along this miraculous journey. But as the time drew nigh, she closed her eyes, wishing never to have said ‘yes’ to the invitation that presented itself in her dreams.
‘What would an audience with God be like’, she thought.
The temperature in the room seemed to plummet rapidly, drawing her focus away from the void and onto the senses of her body. Mrs Woodman strained to be in sync with the beating of her heart.
And there she found God!
It was as she had expected. And yet strangely it was not as she had expected; a duality familiar with all enlightened beings.
Mrs Woodman tried, but could not utter a sound.
Suddenly her mind was bombarded with an eclectic array of thoughts. First it was of her husband and why they had met. It appeared he had been sent to release her from the shackles of an unfulfilled childhood. The image of her Father caused Elise Woodman’s body to tense with rage. However, that image was immediately followed by an overwhelming desire to forgive. For so many years his actions had caused her tremendous pain and sorrow, but now it was time to release those emotions, thus paving the way for her own spiritual growth. She relaxed again, allowing the continuum of past and present memories to pervade her psyche.
She felt an uneasy sensation when memories of the day she gave birth to Thomas re-visited her thoughts. Furthermore that thought was followed by the image of a white casket. The child was not meant to be! He had entered this world out of fear. Elise Woodman had wanted to present her husband with a ‘gift’ so that he wouldn’t leave her. The fear of men abandoning Elise Dare to a life of loneliness and insecurity manifested in the guilt she felt as a result of being abandoned by her Father. Now she understood why she and others had always referred to Thomas as a child ‘pure of heart’. It would appear that he was destined not to be tainted by the ravages of a long life.
It was as if God was speaking his Will, leaving the stricken Mother no opportunity to present her case.
The sequence of events mirrored the complexities of her life. The only way to regain control was by following the pattern of her breath. And then without prompting, she began to repeat the mantra ‘Let go, and let God’.
The fear of abandonment in the face of adversity dispersed and was replaced with a feeling of enlightenment. Elise Woodman felt the revelation of a woman who had finally understood the meaning of choice and how that needed to apply in her life.
Elise opened her eyes like a child on Christmas morn.
Her heart now focussed on the husband she loved so dearly. At precisely that moment, his Guardian Angel reappeared. He led her by the hand to a region of the building that resembled the picturesque Carnarvon Gorge. There he bade that she sit by the rocks to await yet another visitation. She did as instructed.
Moments later Elise felt the love of her husband hovering above the water. He came and sat next to her, beaming with the same radiance as when first they met. Tears began to well in her eyes, until they trickled down her cheeks. Ben Woodman gently raised his thumb to wipe away the tears. In doing so, he allowed his index finger to trace the contours of her face until it reached her lips, whereupon he laid a gentle kiss.
The couple began to speak of Thomas and the sentence that life had passed. Ben confided in his wife the feeling of insecurity that had engulfed him in the days and months leading to their efforts to conceive. Elise had harboured fears he may not have wanted the child, and would eventually abandon her like so many others before. The truth, it seems, revealed he was afraid of not being the love she had long searched for in her youth. He knew her to be spontaneous and always looking for new adventures. His owns insecurities led him to believe, that yearning would eventually cause her to seek comfort in the arms of another lover.
A child, so he thought, would confine his wife to a life by his side. Imprisoning her to such a life was never his intention.
During the couple’s brief encounter, the pair came to the realisation the child was never a gift to be imparted. Instead Thomas was a product of their fears. And by allowing God to decide his fate, they were, in fact, asking forgiveness for the way they had allowed fear to dictate the wonts of their heart.
Elise Woodman looked into her husband’s eyes, searching for the truth within his Soul. “Can I give Thomas over to God, and let him decide?”
Ben Woodman looked into his wife’s eyes, “do we have a choice?” It was with a reassuring smile that Elise said, “Yes!”
The couple shared a last embrace just as Elise Woodman’s Guardian Angel appeared on the horizon. It was time to continue her journey, now that she had been given the opportunity to share a brief moment with her husband.
The pair departed the tranquillity of Carnarvon Gorge, with its pristine waterfall and native wildlife to return to the base of the equally majestic, but now familiar, staircase. It appeared that Mrs Woodman had a rendezvous she had not anticipated. That feeling coincided with a thought that her meeting with God was, strangely, not the zenith of her journey throughout the confines of the building at the corner of Ann and George.
At the base of the solid wooden door Mrs Woodman felt the energy drain from her body. The emotion of all that had prevailed had taken its toll on the young Mother.
Elise Woodman stood at the doorway, and despite the fatigue, was determined to learn all the lessons this day had to offer. By arming herself with the truth, would she then be able to accept Thomas’ fate? Despite all that had happened, she still wasn’t certain of the outcome.
The fine warm sand trapped itself between Elise’s toes. The cool breeze blew gently through her blonde curls. The rush of waves crashing onto the shoreline reminded Elise of a time when she was nine years old, and on vacation to The Sunshine Coast. As she surveyed the scene of her next adventure, Elise recalled, fondly, of her desire to climb the cliffs of Mt Coolum, which, to a nine-year-old, appeared to be the highest point on the face of the Earth. Her young mind had convinced her that if only she could reach the mountain’s peak, there she would be able to see all the world’s wonders; the penguins frolicking near the South Pole; the lions roaming the Serengeti in search of prey; Londoners cutting a sway through the traffic of Trafalgar Square and perhaps – Elise held her breath – if she stood on tippee-toes, could even see the Great Wall of China. How about THAT!
Her mind was awash with possibilities. Possibilities that were as real to a nine-year-old as any dream accomplished.
Elise watched as this little girl, full of life, made her way to the base of Mt Coolum, leaving behind the comfort of her family and the sanctuary of the beach, in search of her destiny.
Elise Woodman admired the courage she once had. The desire to follow a dream never leaves you, but rather camouflages itself within the cycle of life and other circumstance, she thought. Elise wanted to see how far this little girl would go before realising the folly of this particular dream and turn back.
It was then that she realised the little girl had a companion. It was her Guardian Angel, holding her little hand as they traversed the road that separated the beach from the rugged mountain. The pair appeared inseparable, leaving Elise to ponder who was actually leading whom in this search for adventure.
Little Elise led the way for much of the journey; reassuring her companion, “it was only a little farther; only a little farther”. After walking for just over an hour and reaching two-thirds of the way up the two hundred and eight metre structure the young girl began to feel the strain of such a steep ascent. It was then her Guardian Angel responded by gently tugging at her arm, pleading, “come on, it’s just a little farther; it’s just a little farther”. Their unbridled laughter could be heard echoing throughout the valley below.
Upon reaching the summit the young Elise relinquished the grip on her companion and began to twirl, arms spread, as though she were auditioning for The Sound Of Music. The sight of a child abandoning herself to her wildest fantasies was truly a thing of beauty.
Then it dawned on her the reason for undertaking such a momentous climb. Instinctively she faced south, toward the frozen landmass. Shielding her eyes from the glare, Elise the younger was sure she could make out a thousand penguins, all lined up to go for their lunchtime dip. One after the other, like a formation of synchronised swimmers they dove off the icy banks of the Antarctic. Elise began to mimic their walk. Positioning hers arms stiffly by her side and not allowing her knees to bend, our young heroine, waddled side to side, up and down and all around.
That vision satisfied, instincts, again, pointed her in the direction of her dreams – the Dark Continent. And there it was – a lioness on the prowl, stalking a herd of antelope that had come to the river in search of water. Elise watched intently, captivated by the cycle of life and death that was unfolding before her very eyes.
Secretly she hoped the scent of the lioness would be enough to persuade the herd to disperse, but no such luck. The lioness pounced, efficiently and mercifully finishing off her prey.
“Ahh”, the young girl cried, spinning rapidly to avoid witnessing the bloodlust of a gorging female.
But then came the realisation of life on the Serengeti; the young antelope had, in fact, sacrificed itself so that the lioness may live. Perhaps a lesson she, herself, may face one day, she thought.
As that thought faded from memory, Elise the younger turned Northwest, to view both tourists and locals on the streets of London awaiting the daily ritual of the Changing of the Guards. Elise marvelled at the precision, but not fully comprehending, all the fuss. And as she had done with the penguins, began to mimic the soldiers on parade. In full regalia, Sergeant at Arms Elise Woodman bellowed to her troops. “Atten-tion! Forrrr-ward March! Left, Right; Left, Right; Left, Right. And off she went, joining the passing parade that was the Changing of the Guards.
Satisfied the drill had been practised sufficiently, Elise turned in search of the Great Wall that once divided China’s warring factions.
She closed one eye and with her finger pointed, began to trace the ancient structure’s 6,700- kilometre journey from the mountainous northern region all the way to Beijing and beyond. The young girl mused that such a structure could only have been penetrated once signs of a weakened government surfaced. According to Chinese historians Elise the younger was right!
As the Sun began to set, taking with it the last semblance of daylight, Elise the elder became concerned as to how the child would return safely down the mountain. She could hear sobbing, noticing Elise the younger had rested her head upon her knee cushioned by folded arms.
A Mother’s instincts were to sit alongside, in an effort to console the child.
“Why are you crying Elise? You’ve had such a wonderful day”.
“My tears are not for me but for you,” the child whispered.
“You have given up on the miracle of dreams. Now what hope do I have of visiting the places I have just witnessed”, Elise the younger made a vein attempt to stifle her sobbing.
Elise the elder found herself in conversation with the life form that once occupied her Soul.
“I accepted my failures and moved on”, was the reply. “And if you learn that lesson now, it will spare you from much suffering in the future”.
“We choose to suffer because it is easier than accepting the reality of who we are”. Elise the younger retorted.
“What would you have me do?” was the reply.
“The child is yours; God’s gift is your ability to choose. It is you and not The Almighty who will determine his fate”.
And with those words resonating through her Soul, Elise Woodman returned to the foyer of the building at the corner of Ann and George.
Unlike the events of earlier in the day, Mrs Woodman now had a choice of direction along her journey. She found herself at the base of two identical staircases. But this time she knew where each led. To the left, the Oncology ward of the Mater Children’s Hospital and to the right, the Circus of Dreams’ eternal playground.
Elise Woodman resolved to follow the path presented by the staircase to her left. Venturing inside the chamber, she could see the image of the seventh bed, where her son lay dying, flanked by two male figures. To his right, Ben Woodman stood comforting the boy, gently stroking his hair. Elise recognised the second figure as the child’s grandfather, the same man who had abandoned Elise and her family years earlier. Her simple act of forgiveness had allowed him to be present during his grandson’s final hours.
Tom opened his eyes in search of his beloved Mother. He smiled a smile that seemed to pierce her Soul. She leant forward to say ‘good-bye’, simultaneously stamping his forehead with a loving embrace.
“There are no good-byes to be said in Heaven, Mother”, and with those words Thomas Woodman closed his eyes for the last time.
Elise Woodman entered the building at the corner of Ann and George in search of a miracle – to save her son’s life. Or so she had thought. Through a series of divine encounters, firstly with the Angels, then with God and finally herself as the young Elise Dare, Mrs Woodman came to the realisation that the sadness she harboured was for her own life. The miracle she so desperately sought was the courage to forgive all those who had caused such pain and sorrow in her life, including and most importantly, herself. Through the act of forgiveness, Elise was able to let go of that past – which included letting go of her son – and to move forward armed with the knowledge she had the power to choose her own destiny.
At the time of Thomas’ death, Elise Woodman was six weeks pregnant. As for the rift in her family, the source of much of her sorrow, that was now healed.