HOW I CAME TO OWN THE CODEX
When Nancy and I first met Preston in 1974 in Aschaffenburg Germany (he was a young chaplain’s assistant then), we had no notion about how our paths would time and again overlap each other until, many years later, we would meet him one last time before his suspicious and untimely death on a lonely road – his car perhaps forced over an edge (he was an excellent and careful driver) - when he handed over the valise he had told us about with the codex inside.
“Please get this home safely,” he said. “Everything depends upon it.” (He was the kind of person who actually used the word ‘upon’ in everyday conversation).
He was such a jovial person generally that the change in his demeanor was notable. To see him there in the bus station in Cairo where he had just come in from the long journey down from the north, he looked old and pale and afraid and more sincere than we had ever known him. “Don’t show it to anyone,” he finished tersely.
This was in the year 2000, the year before the twin towers came down, so he was only forty-eight years old then, the year of his death, but he looked nearer sixty or even seventy. It was hard to tell how much of the erosion in his face was from the aging process, how much of it was the natural wrinkles that had been channeled in from years in the desert, how much was the dust of travel, and how much was the fear that seemed to be dripping from him. In fact when we did get home and heard of his death, neither of us was particularly surprised, though we were deeply saddened by the news. I remember Nancy remarking, “When we saw him at the bus station there he had death written all over him.”
Was there anything we could have done to help him save himself? Neither of us can think of anything. He was deeply relieved, however, when I took the valise from his hand and promised to see it home. It was the relief, we understand now, that comes from having unburdened himself at last from the weight of years of secrecy and the constant threat of discovery.