Tim and Ashley stood silently beside the gravediggers at Ashley Kirton's grave. Tim held the court order for the exhumation in both hands.
"I"m not sure that it's a good idea for you to come along," Tim had told Ashley before they had left for the cemetary.
"I have to see for myself," she had insisted. So here she was, torn by inner turmoil, yet knowing that she could not lay the matter to rest until she knew.
They both watched as the first shovelful of dirt was upturned. Moments later, they heard the sound of the shovels hitting the lid of the burial vault.
The piece of heavy machinery prepared to lift the cement lid. Ashley watched as the vault lid swung up and clear of the grave, and the top of the casket became visible.
Ashley's heart pounded madly, and she could scarcely breathe as the workers lifted the light pink casket from the vault and sat it beside the grave. As the workers slowly opened the lid, she wanted desperately to close her eyes but was unable to. When the lid was finally open, she took one look, then immediately turned away and began to retch violently.
A few moments later, Ashley felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and turned to look into Tim's gentle blue eyes, which were soft with compassion.
"How can you stand to be around me?" she sobbed. "I'm a corpse! A dirty, filthy, stinky, rotten corpse!"
"Ashley." Tim shook his head as he patted her shoulder and looked into her tormented eyes. "There's nothing dirty, filthy, stinky, or rotten about you at all. You're a lovely young woman who's just as alive as I am. A corpse can't eat, talk, cry, or laugh. I've seen you do all of those things, and much more."
"How do you explain that, then?" Ashley gestured toward the open casket, which held nothing but several large rocks.
"Ashley, I don't understand it any better than you do. But to me, it doesn't matter where you came from or what happened to you. All that matters is that you're alive now, and you have the same rights as any other living person, including the right to be loved."
"Who could ever love me?" Tears streamed down Ashley's face as Tim put his arms around her and held her close.
"You're one of the most lovable people I've ever met, Ashley." He smiled gently. "Think of it this way. You've been given a second chance, an opportunity to live your life all over again. How many people does that happen to?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Ashley looked up at him with a weak smile. "But where will I go? What will I do?"
"You'll have plenty of time to figure all that out." Tim smiled and took her hand. "In the meantime, always remember that you have a friend who's more than happy to help you in any way possible."
Hand in hand, the two of them walked away from the open grave and toward whatever the future held.