The Isle of Virtue (part 3):

As Pieter slept, Isabel watched him and wondered what this new obsession with the mountain meant, if anything. She saw his jaw relax, and his mouth slowly open and then he began to snore. He’d sleep now for quite a while—certainly the rest of the afternoon—and possibly even through the night until the following morning. She turned and glanced out the window, searching for the mountain, but still she could barely make it out through the cloud-cover and the gathering darkness of evening. Just then, she remembered a small brass telescope that she had been given years ago by her father. He had explained to her that it had originally been a gift from her own grandfather, on her mother’s side, the colonel in General Vallejo’s army. He had given it to her father as a gift upon his ordination to the priesthood, saying he hoped it would help him see the heavens and to find God. But if not that, then at least that it might help him find his way here on earth. And that was the same hope her own father expressed to her, when he gave the telescope to Isabel on the occasion of her marriage to Pieter.

She hadn’t seen nor thought of that little telescope in years, but thought she remembered where she had stored it, in a box at the back of their closet. She hurried off to search for the box, excited by the prospect of setting it up as a surprise for her husband. She indeed found it where she had remembered, tucked into the same box where she stored her wedding dress and other items from their early marriage. She pulled it out and examined it; it was small, just a simple spyglass on a tripod. But it was well-constructed, heavy, and made of brass and ebony. There was an inscription on the side, but it had faded and was in a foreign language that she didn’t recognize. Seeing it now made her miss her father. How quickly the years pass by; how much she yearned to talk with him again.

Isabel carried the telescope back to the window and set it on a small table. She slid the table up close to the sill, and extended the tripod to raise the scope to a comfortable height for viewing. She glanced through it but it was too dark outside now to see anything. They’d have to wait until the morning. So she went to the kitchen and made herself a simple supper and after she ate, she threw a few logs into the stove and then went to bed; leaving Pieter comfortably nestled in the chair by the window, where he snored throughout the night, content within the world of his dreams, but making it difficult for Isabel to enjoy her own. In the middle of the night she finally tossed a pillow at his head, and this stopped his snoring long enough for her to cover her own with her pillow; and she drifted off to sleep before he started up again.

In the morning Pieter felt renewed; and he showed no signs of lingering problems from his accident the previous day. Upon waking he immediately noticed the new telescope and he leaned forward in his chair to have a look through it.

“Aaahhh, yesss! That’s better…yup.” He approved of the enhanced view and turned to thank his wife, but she was still fast asleep. Glancing again through the telescope he focused it upon the mountain and gazed intently, attempting to discover new details. The mist had lifted, which gave him a clear view to the base of it, though the top was still shrouded in clouds. Just then something caught his eye. “Oh! And what’s this?!” Pieter observed a thin, light line, snaking up the side of the mountain; it followed a course from the treeline near the base, zigging and zagging up, and then it disappeared as the wind blew layers of mist across his view. He stood up and went into the kitchen and made Isabel her coffee, set it on the nightstand, and then returned to his chair to continue his examination of the mountain. But he barely had sat down, when a new thought entered his mind and he bolted up again. He gathered a few things, put on his jacket, boots and hat and left the house, quietly closing the door behind him so as not to wake his wife.

Isabel was already awake; but she was still groggy from the interrupted night of sleep she had had, so she was unable to call out to her husband before he had rushed out the door. She gathered her wits a few moments later, and the smell of coffee roused her foggy mind. Reaching to the nightstand for her mug, she took several sips from it and sighed contentedly. Her body ached this morning, as it often did, but the coffee was a nice momentary distraction.

Pieter pushed the rowboat out into the water and climbed inside. As he rowed out across the bay he felt a rush of excitement. He pulled hard on the oars and they cut through the water, and the little dinghy lurched forward. “This’ll just be a little test,” he said to himself as he left the bay and proceeded out into open waters. “I won’t go the whole way, just give it a little try and see how it goes. Sample the waters a bit.”

It wasn’t the best day to be out on the water, especially in a small boat such as his. Tiny whitecaps danced upon the surface of the strait, and the wind was picking up from the east, blowing directly into Pieter’s face. “It’s not ideal…but it could be worse! Let’s just see how far I can go.” His rowboat lifted and crashed down with a thump, repeatedly, as he continued to row out across the sea towards the mountain. “Ten miles isn’t all that far, maybe I could do it today after all.” And it was true, he had made a lot of progress already, buoyed by a good night’s sleep and an over-abundance of excitement. But it was getting more difficult as the wind continued to increase, whipping him in the face, slowing his momentum, and beginning to push water into the boat. His arms were getting tired and his back began to tighten up. And it looked now as though he was farther from the mountain than he had been just moments ago.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Isabel sat in the chair by the window and put her eye to the telescope. She also noticed the trail which climbed the side of the mountain, which her husband had seen earlier, but she saw much more as well. The wind blew the clouds away and revealed the mountain peak. The trail climbed to the top and vanished into the surrounding rock. But near the very top, just to the side of the summit, she noticed a structure standing. It was small, and painted white, a beacon against the dark granite rock upon which it stood. She focused the telescope upon this building to get a better view. It was quite small, perhaps only ten feet square, and it had a little dome at the top of its peaked roof, and atop this little dome was a small cross. Isabel smiled as the recognition dawned on her; this was an Orthodox chapel. Memories of her father again rose in her mind, and she sighed wistfully. Her own father had built a very similar chapel himself on their island, when she was just a little girl; and he had served as priest in it for his entire career. She never knew there was a chapel across the water on that mountain; she wondered who built it, and if it was still in use.

Just then she caught sight of another bright white speck. This one was very tiny, down in the water—like a flake of salt, lost at sea. She aimed the telescope at this dot and brought it into focus. It was her husband, with the white bandage she had placed around his head. “Looks like he lost his hat,” she muttered to herself, as she watched him struggle with the oars. “What is he trying to do?! The old fool. Is he trying to row across to that mountain of his?!” She watched him as the wind battered his boat, and drove Pieter back towards their island. “He’s not going anywhere today. That’s for sure. Not in this wind.” She chuckled a little as she watched him finally give up, bring the boat around, and make his way back towards the shelter of the bay.

“He’ll be wanting some hot tea when he gets back,” she said as she got up and went to the kitchen. “And some nice fish soup. I’ll heat that up for him as well.”

~FS

The Isle of Virtue (Part 2):

The next morning Isabel awoke to find Pieter staring intently out the window at the far end of the room. She reached across the bed to the nightstand and grabbed the mug that was placed there. Pieter always set a hot cup of coffee for her on the nightstand at the start of each day. She sat up in bed and sipped the hot liquid as she watched her husband. He stood still, but his head bobbed up and down and side to side, as he craned forward, apparently trying to get a better view of something.

“Is it an eagle?” She asked.

“Naw…that group of trees down there…I think if I cut a few of those down we could see that mountain across the water,” he replied. 

Isabel snorted and took another sip of coffee. “You’re still fixated on that mountain? It’s been there all your life and you’ve never given it a second thought.”

“Yeah…well.” Pieter said absentmindedly as he continued peering out the window.

“Now all of a sudden. You can’t live without it!” Isabel laughed.

“Yeah…I think I’ll knock down those trees!” Pieter exclaimed suddenly and turned to face his wife. “You’ll see. We’ll get a nice view of that mountain!” He rushed past the bed, stopped abruptly and kissed Isabel on the forehead, and then hurried out the door. “I’ll be back later!” He said, as the door shut behind him.

She smiled to herself—a knowing smile—she knew her husband well. He would be gone most of the day chopping those trees down. Perhaps she should get some lunch put together and bring it down to him later; she noticed he had forgotten to take any food with him when he left. But there would be plenty of time for that; so before getting up, she sat in bed enjoying the rest of her coffee, and then snuggled down under the warm covers for a little while longer.

Pieter stopped by the shed and grabbed his long chainsaw, a small can of chain-oil and a file—and an extra chain. He nodded inwardly, pleased with himself that he had remembered that last item; it always seemed to be needed—an extra chain. And he always seemed to forget to bring one, causing him wasted time and wasted energy hiking back to the shed to get it in the middle of the day. But today he didn’t have far to go, just down the trail to a small stand of evergreen trees, not more than a few hundred yards down-slope from their house.

Pieter followed the trail part-way down the hill, and then he cut across a small meadow, filled with pale-blue lupine, their flower spikes shifting gently in the breeze. Here and there he spotted the brilliant red of a scarlet paintbrush; these were Isabel’s favorite flower. He made a mental note of these, and planned to pick a few for her on his way back home. The wind picked up just then and Pieter pulled up the collar of his jacket as a defense against the cold. The sky was growing dark and cloudy, and looked about ready to let loose with buckets of rain. But rain was common here and Pieter barely took notice; if you let a bit of rain get in your way, you’ll never get anything done.

A half dozen Spruce trees, that was all that he’d need to take down, to adequately open up the view. Pieter figured this would be about a half-day’s work to get the job done. The lupine-filled meadow wrapped around the stand of trees, and provided an easy place to drop them all, without danger or damage. None of the trees stood much over fifty feet tall, and not one was even sixty feet, he estimated; and they were all under two-feet in diameter, easy to slice through with his long-saw. Before working on the trees he took a walk to survey the area where he’d bring them down. He never wanted to drop a tree on an unsuspecting critter. He wasn’t a bleeding heart; and he could kill for food. But still, he never wanted to bring unnecessary suffering to a fellow creature, what purpose would that serve? A bit of planning and some forethought could make all the difference to a little ground-squirrel and its family.   

Once he made sure the area was clear, he prepared to cut through the first tree. Pieter had been cutting trees down all his life and could do it with his eyes closed. The first Spruce fell within several minutes, then he moved on to the second tree. This one fell almost as quickly as the first, and then he began to cut the third tree. But then, at some point, as the tree was falling to earth, he lost track of things. He couldn’t remember what exactly hit him, but it hit him pretty hard, and he fell to the ground, and he slept there for most of the day. It was Isabel who roused him hours later with a splash of water to the face. Pieter peered up into her worried face.

“What’s got you so affected, my dear? I must have just dozed off a bit.” He said, as he tried to pull himself up off the ground, and then gave up and rested back down.

“Just resting, husband? Then what’s got you so bloody?” Isabel replied as she bent down and wiped his forehead. She showed him the bloody rag.

“Hmmm…I don’t recall how that might have happened. Must’ve been hit by something.”

“Let’s get you home and cleaned up,” Isabel said as she helped Pieter to his feet. He reached for his saw but she stopped him. “You’re done for today. Just leave it. It’ll be fine there.”

Back home, she cleaned him up and wrapped his head, and sat him in a chair by the window where she could watch him, as she made their dinner. After a few moments he called out excitedly: “Isabel, Isabel, look! There it is…the mountain. I see it there, there it is! Come on, come and look!”

She put down her knife and walked to the window and peered out. She gazed past the stand of trees where Pieter had been working, and out across the water. Through the haze she could make out a solid form in the far distance.

“See it?! Pieter asked as he leaned forward in his chair. “Yep, that’s it right there, just to the right of the trees,” he said, as he pointed out the window. “Looks like I don’t need to chop any more of those trees after all. I think three will do it…I wish the clouds were gone though. Can’t see much through all that soup.” He leaned back again, feeling satisfied, and asked quietly as he drifted off to sleep, “I wonder what’s over there though…I sure wish I could see it.”

~FS

Who Do You Trust?

I think we all want to believe that someone can save us from our fate; perhaps we even need to believe this in order to carry on with our everyday lives. Facing the reality that we suffer and we die, is too much to bear most of the time; and the truth of our powerlessness in the face of death—ultimately—is something we’d like to forget. So, we create endless ways to distract ourselves from this truth. But we still maintain hope that somebody can save us from this fate; since we know that we can’t save ourselves.

Some of us may trust in science to save us, some of us may trust in God to save us; and some of us may even trust that science is a gift from God that will save us. (Though I believe that science and God can work hand in hand, through the agency of man, this isn’t the point I want to make. I’m not arguing here for one, or against the other.) Rather, I want to make the simpler point, that each of us tend to act upon a faith in man, or in God, but not both. In our decisions and attitudes of daily life, we choose to have faith in either man or in God, but not in both equally. Perhaps we have a bit of faith in both, but one or the other will be ascendant when push comes to shove, or when we are gripped by the fear of death.

Matters of life and death tend to bring this to the surface; but in most cases this is a private matter. It arises when we confront our own mortality; when we discover we have cancer, or when we are in an accident, for instance. But rarely is this confrontation experienced simultaneously by a whole society in a public way. Rarely do we collectively face an existential threat together, as a nation, or as a civilization. But here we are, confronting a virus that has been posed as an existential threat to each of us, as members of this civilization, and we are all confronting this threat to our existence simultaneously, and publicly. Because of this virus, we are each being confronted by our own mortality in a very public way, with very interesting results.

The fact that we are having very different responses to the fears brought on by the pandemic is not surprising. The fact that we don’t have empathy for one another’s responses however, is a testament to our narcissism. We want everyone to be like us; to see things only in the way we see them. And we leverage guilt and shame in an attempt to force others to act in conformance with our way. But death is a private matter, and the manner of facing our own mortality is not something to be prescribed by others, no matter how frightened we may be.

I am reminded of a passage from scripture in which King David is given a choice to put his immediate fate into the hands of man or God. He responds this way: “Please let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

If you were asked the same question today, in relation to our current pandemic, how might you answer?

There are so many ways to frame our current dilemmas related to this pandemic, and our responses to it. Yet, I believe a fundamental aspect of our problems are a matter of where we put our faith, which determines our responses.

We may trust the experts, and thus follow their directions to the letter, hoping they have the answers. We can cite past medical breakthroughs to support us in this: penicillin and polio vaccines as two obvious examples. Or we may distrust the experts, recognizing that humans often have competing motives and objectives. And there are countless examples of experts pretending to have our best interest at heart, but who were only serving their own economic, political or other personal objectives instead.

If we want to trust in man, we will likely ignore the dangers of doing so, and hope for the best. If we don’t want to trust in man, we may still recognize previous medical triumphs, but prefer to cautiously wait for more information to assess the situation more clearly, and protect ourselves from the possible malfeasance of other men.  

In both cases, those with the opposite opinion will likely see the other as naïve, careless and foolhardy. Or worse, they will see the other as a danger to themselves and to others. This is the strange new phenomena of our collective, shared, and public confrontation with our mortality. The stakes have become quite high.

Yet, for those who may trust in God and his mercy, above man. We may want to live our lives—still with caution in the face of the virus—but also with freedom. We may prefer to trust in natural defenses, our own body’s ability to fight disease, to build natural resistance, the benefits of sun and wind and a good diet, sleep, exercise and the natural components of a healthy life. While protecting those obviously at greatest risk due to age or other underlying conditions. For those who don’t trust God, either because they don’t believe he exists, or because he allows suffering and death, they may distrust that God has our best interests in mind.

For Christians, like myself, we might say that we trust in both man and God. For others, I imagine they might say they trust in neither man nor God. In any case, whether we trust in one or the other, both, or neither, I believe that this issue of where we put our trust is at the very heart of our differences with respect to this virus, and it influences how we respond to all of the myriad issues revolving around this pandemic. It is a subject worth considering, and reflecting upon your own position; and it would provide a great social benefit if each of us allowed others to do the same. Matters of life and death are very personal concerns; I think we owe one another the respect, privacy and time to grapple with these things in the way that each of us need. In the end, this would be the triumph of our love over our fear.

~FS

The Ladder of Canine Ascent

In an out of the way section of town there is a nondescript little building known as ‘The Kennel’. Dogs of all shapes and sizes have come to this location, seeking obedience, agility training and community, in hopes of becoming closer to their masters. They follow a disciplined routine here to learn ‘anthroposis’—a term that simply means a closeness to their humans, a synergy between the canine and the anthropological energies.

Sometimes it happens that the dogs in this place, are remorseful for the things they have done in the past: some have peed on the furniture, others have taken underwear and bras and have hidden them in places difficult to reach, while still others just don’t come when called, or come too enthusiastically and scratch people’s legs or soil their trousers with dirty paws. I have seen the dogs of ‘The Kennel’ apologetic, and with their tails between their legs making penance, and with soulful eyes appealing to their gods in hopes of absolution and reconciliation.

There is a ladder in this place, near the corner of the main courtyard and it is the goal of these dogs to ascend the ladder. Many try but few are able. I’ve seen some dogs falter at the first rung, brought down by an overabundance of girth. Others I’ve seen climb with great dexterity up the first several rungs, only to be distracted by a fly and then tumble to the ground. Some, appear to have the gifts to make it all the way to the top, but then in their excitement they stumble, and make all the greater noise when they hit the pavement.

Yet, some dogs I have witnessed make it all the way to the top. Many of these are old dogs, but not all are; so who can say the meaning of the ladder, it presents different challenges to all dogs, young and old alike. The young may occasionally ascend easily, but then in their happiness, forget to slow down at the summit, and then tumble over and down the other side. But the old dogs I have seen, go up slowly and methodically, and when they reach the top, they enjoy the spoils that are to be found there: a nice big bowl of dogfood, and a treat.

Oh, how joyful these canines are when they’ve made their ascent. I have seen them perched at the top of the ladder, crying out with satisfaction and seeking approval for their feat. Run! And jump! And play, oh happy canines! I exhort you to make your ascent up the ladder however you may! And do not be discouraged, but resolve to ascend, and your efforts shall be rewarded!

~FS

The Isle of Virtue

Pieter was a fisherman, named after that famous fisherman from Bible times who ended up leading a church. His parents immigrated to the Pacific Northwest from the Netherlands in the early 1900’s, bringing Pieter along as contraband, deep within his mother’s womb. To his father’s surprise, the babe began to show, not long after they settled their homestead on one of the small islands which dotted the Canadian coast, but was in fact actually a part of Alaska.

When his mother finally gave birth to him, his father wanted to call his name, Jonah. But she objected to the inference, saying: “If he was Jonah, what did that make her?” She felt bloated and wasn’t in the mood for such jokes. So they agreed upon the name Pieter instead: whose career, like Jonah’s, also involved surprises at sea.

When Pieter was still quite young he met the eldest daughter of another immigrant family who had moved to the island. Her father was a Russian priest and her mother was Spanish, herself a daughter of a colonel, who had been a close ally and friend of General Vallejo. He settled his family on a large estate north of San Francisco. Prior to becoming a priest, the Russian met and fell in love with the Spanish girl. He married her in an Orthodox ceremony at the chapel connected to Fort Ross, on the northern California coast—where he had been serving as a deacon. Not long after the wedding, he was ordained, and the newlyweds moved north to start their family.

Isabel was their first-born and grew up to be a fine young lady. She was hard-working and had a practical disposition. When Pieter asked her to marry him, she had just turned seventeen but she was no naïve girl. She knew what it took to make a life in their world. It wasn’t easy. So, she wanted some guarantees first that Pieter could provide for her, before she’d agree to anything. She didn’t aspire to wealth but she did want to be comfortable, at least as comfortable as one can reasonably expect to be on a remote island.

Pieter was already a capable seaman when he proposed to Isabel. He had inherited his father’s home, his land, and fishing boat the year before, when his father unexpectedly died; and now at the age of twenty-one, he was prepared to begin a family of his own. These things assured Isabel of a reasonable future, plus she liked Pieter, so she agreed to be his wife. Her father performed the sacrament of marriage for the young couple later that same year, and then she moved into Pieter’s house.

Pieter and Isabel raised three children, who all eventually left the island, and their parents behind, to make lives for themselves in cities abroad. And the couple buried their own parents—Pieter’s mother and Isabel’s father and mother—in their middle years, which was now long ago. The two old souls now lived together alone; having settled into a familiar tranquility that comes from many years of shared experience. Time passed melodically like the waves which lapped the side of his boat, and crashed lightly upon the beach; and the seasons came and went like the tides. 

In the mornings, Pieter kissed his wife before leaving the house, and then made the short trek down to the rocky beach, where he kept his small rowboat. After he left, Isabel got busy with her work: feeding the goats, gathering wood, chopping it, stoking the fire, gathering vegetables from their small garden, mending clothes, canning, pickling, cooking and repairing. And there were a multitude of other tasks to be done, depending upon the season and the need. She had become old and tired, but her will was as strong as ever, and she did these tasks stoically and even joyfully, despite the pain they had left indelibly throughout her body. Life’s meaning could be found in these little things; and she was grateful too that they kept unhappy thoughts at bay. 

Pieter shoved his rowboat out into the water and climbed inside. Years ago his fishing boat had fallen into disrepair so he had abandoned it. It needed a new motor among other things. But he no longer fished to make a living; he only caught what he and Isabel themselves needed to eat. The waters surrounding their island had more than enough to sustain them so there was no need to repair the larger vessel. So he left it moored. Over time it became a vestige of an earlier time—a relic of happy memories—and a home for birds, otters and barnacles.

Today, Pieter planned first to check the crab pot that he had set out in the middle of the cove the night before; and then he would row south to the kelp beds between his and the neighboring island to do some fishing. The water of the cove was clear and still as he glided across its surface; the blades of his oars barely stirring it, as he expertly pulled his way along. Mist hung over the surface of the water, and caught the rays of the sun, diffusing it into halos of golden light. A fish jumped out of the water, returning again with a gentle ker-plop, and sending forth tiny ripples. Pieter pulled at the chain and lifted the crab pot into the boat. Three small crabs scurried round the pot, and he lifted two out, placing them into a bucket near his feet. The third he dropped over the side and watched, as it sailed down through the water and away to freedom; they wouldn’t eat more than two tonight.

After dropping the pot into the back of his boat, Pieter took up the oars and rowed out towards the open water. The cove he had called home for his entire life was roughly circular, and took about ten or fifteen minutes to row across. Conifer trees lined its northern half, all the way around it to the west, where his father had made a large clearing back when he was just a baby. To the south there was a large stand of trees about half-way out towards the mouth, but east of that the ground became too rocky to support much more than grass and the occasional shrub. Looking out across this barren point towards the southeast one could see the clouds gathering, or the sun rising over the waters beyond the cove, and gauge what sort of day might be brewing. 

Pieter smiled broadly as he left the cove, because the sky was clear and the breeze was gentle. It would be a beautiful day, easy for rowing, perfect for fishing, and amenable for watching the wildlife. On days like these one could see for miles and catch a passing pod of whales, which might otherwise be obscured by the clouds and the heavy mist which was more typical of the area. He felt excited today, happy to be alive and expectant for surprises. Although he had lived his entire life within this small world, never having ventured beyond the immediate island group—maybe a four mile radius at most—he never tired of it, nor did he feel bored. His kids had often complained and he could never understand them. As he gazed deeply into the water which revealed its emerald green architectures of rock below, highlighted by ripples of light cascading across their craggy surfaces, he thought back to his children’s complaints: “Why do we have to go fishing again?…I don’t want to be here anymore!…This is booriiing!!!” He shook his head and sighed as he continued to plumb the depths of this underwater world with his eyes, and he was delighted to discover colorful starfish attached to the rocks: red ones, and golden ones like living exclamation marks in that green watery world. “How could anyone be bored by this? I can’t understand it,” he murmured to himself. He missed his children though, and wished they might visit someday. It is difficult to live this kind of life, he could acknowledge that. And of course, they had to go and find their own way, make their own families. But it always surprised him that they didn’t return; wouldn’t they want to visit, at least once?

“Well, no sense in stewing over that. They’ll come if they want to.” He pulled hard on the oars and the small craft leapt forward through the water. This was getting harder to do. He felt the strain in his arms and down his back, and into his legs. He rubbed at his shoulders briefly and longed for the evening when he and Isabel could exchange backrubs back at the house. “That’ll feel good. But gotta catch some fish first. Gotta earn my keep here.” Pieter rowed to the kelp beds and settled in for the day—tossing a small net over the side of the boat, and also pulling an old home-made pole out, and casting a line.

Pieter fished for several hours and caught five small steelhead trout in his net, and two on the line. He kept the two he caught using the pole and three of the largest from the net, tossing them all into the bucket on the floor of the rowboat, where the crab he had caught earlier were waiting. The smallest trout from the net he tossed back into the water for another day. He and Isabel would eat well tonight. He pictured his beloved Isabel at home preparing a salad using vegetables fresh from their garden, and perhaps roasting some potatoes as well, and baking bread, which they would smother with goat cheese and butter. It would be a feast—a handsome reward for a good day of work.

As he rowed back to the cove, the sun began to dip towards the west; and its golden rays illuminated the peaks of the island at the eastern horizon, far over his left shoulder. He stopped rowing and watched as the sunlight bathed the mountains, illuminating their snowy tops and turning them pink. Was it one mountain or three? It was difficult to discern. There were certainly three distinct peaks, so it must be three. Although they all seemed to share the same base, so perhaps it was one. Ah, no matter. One or three, it was beautiful and glorious to behold.

As the sun finally dipped below the western horizon, Pieter pulled into the cove, and minutes later the sound of land ground against the bottom of his boat. He jumped out and pulled it onto the shore. Grabbing the bucket of seafood, he walked up the trail to the house. The air was cool and getting chilly. Birds chirped from the trees, which had all become silhouettes against the darkening sky. The warm light spilling from the windows and the sight and smell of smoke coming from the chimney welcomed him home. And once inside, he embraced his greatest love and commented upon how beautiful she had become.

“I think you became more beautiful than you were when I left you this morning,” he exclaimed. “What did you do to yourself?”

Isabel smiled and laughed, “You old fool. It’s just your eyes, you’re just blinder than you were this morning.”

They both laughed, and Pieter took the bucket out to the shed to prepare the fish and crab for dinner. Isabel put another log in the stove and continued to stir the soup she had prepared. During their supper they shared stories from their day.

“You know, those mountains to the east, I’ve never gone there. I was looking at them today and they are really pretty. I think I’d like to head over there and see them up close.”

“You mean those hills? Hardly mountains. Oh, don’t be silly. That is at least ten miles away. Too far for you to row.”

“You’re probably right. But they look so nice. I can’t believe I’ve never gone over there. In all my life.”

“You should have gone before. You’re old now, old man. Too old. You lost your chance. It’s too far to go now,” Isabel answered.

“You’re probably right. Ten miles you think? That’d take a good part of the day just to get over there. Probably would have to spend the night. Probably take some blankets…some food. Ten miles isn’t that far,” Pieter reasoned.

“What are you blabbering about? You’re aren’t going over there. I can’t afford to lose you. You’d kill yourself trying to get all the way over there,” Isabel responded.

“Yeah, you’re probably right….You should go with me!” Pieter exclaimed.

“What?! You want to kill me too?” Isabel retorted.

They both laughed and finished eating their dinner. Isabel had gone on to think about other things, while Pieter lingered, silently mulling over the details of a theoretical trip to the mountain. “Naw, she’s probably right. I’d probably kill myself.” He got up and cleaned the dishes and then returned to the table and rubbed his wife’s hands, which had become stiff with arthritis as the years had worn on. Once he got them reasonably limbered up, Isabel returned the favor and rubbed his back, which had grown hard and sore from years of rowing. Tired, they both prepared for bed and tucked in early, watching the glow from the stove as they fell off to sleep.

(to be continued)

~FS

A World Without End

You may be surprised by the things I have to tell you. I will try to keep it short, but bear with me, as there are many details that should be shared, if you are to properly understand how it is that I came to the very brink of immortality.

It sounds impossible, doesn’t it? But you must know that research into this had been ongoing for a long time. Billions of dollars had been poured into genetic manipulations, hormone therapies, stem-cell utilizations, not to mention untold resources devoted to the means of hybridizing humans and robots—and merging artificial intelligence with human, to extend the life, indefinitely, of human beings. All of these had been undertaken with the goal of stopping the aging process, or reversing it, or if all else failed, creating ourselves anew—using better parts which could be replenished, recharged, or replaced, over and over again, forever without end. So that we would not know death.

The greatest minds and the deepest pockets of our age—and of generations prior to ours—had devoted themselves to this noble goal. So that none of us would ever have to say goodbye to our loved ones again. Imagine, how wonderful to live forever with those you love, loving them deeply, being together, never again to be separated by disease or death.

Thanks to men and women, like myself, this was no longer a mere dream, nor was it simply wistful thinking, but it had become the reality. Certainly, we had been near this pinnacle of human achievement for some time; and inevitably, we had now reached the very top.

You may be thinking to yourself, there must be a catch. Immortality, here and now is just too good to be true. You’re thinking that something was bound to go wrong. But what if there wasn’t a catch, and it isn’t too good to be true, and it didn’t go wrong? What if man had finally found the fountain of youth? And with a few simple tricks of nature manipulated by us—a little nudge here and there, a little snip-snip, and a few sacrifices along the way—eternity opened its doors.

I will admit there had been unexpected deaths along the way. We made mistakes and some compromises were made, which we all wished could have been avoided, but remember—the ends justify the means! Especially when it comes to attaining eternal life—the goal is the most important thing! Don’t trouble yourself too much about how we got there.

Death never made much sense to me. How could we exist one moment and then be gone the next? No. It always struck me as one huge mistake, the worst mistake of all. So we set about to remedy that mistake, and do what God (if there was one) couldn’t, or wouldn’t; we made man immortal. And life was finally blessed; and we found it good—very good indeed—at the beginning.

For those of us who could make use of this new technology we enjoyed bodies which no longer suffered disease. Our muscles didn’t atrophy, our skin stayed soft and supple, our organs didn’t malfunction, and our minds never fell into decline. Those who couldn’t enjoy these benefits—for a variety of reasons—experienced no worse than what man always had: a traditional aging process and then an appointment with death. This outdated arrangement was to be pitied, but what could be done about it? We were working on it, but it seemed that immortality just wasn’t going to be for everyone. There had to be winners and losers—not exactly based on merit—but a fair system overall, I think; and it worked. The right people enjoyed the benefits of forever, while the others still enjoyed their life, even if it only lasted a few short decades. No harm was done.

One silver lining—we eliminated the death penalty. We determined it was more punitive to incarcerate someone for eternity than to simply put them to death. It used to be ridiculous when someone who could only live 80 or 90 years at the most, was given 450 years in prison. But now, if they got that term, they served every last minute of it; it was a useful deterrent. Another silver lining—the abortion rate dropped. I can’t speak for everyone, and what I heard about this is only anecdotal, but many women apparently found that carrying a baby for nine months didn’t seem so bad, now that they could live forever—just a drop in the time bucket. And if they chose not to allow their baby the technology—then they’d be gone in a century or even less. And the mothers would have an eternity of youth still to enjoy, after their children had passed away.

I know some of this sounds crass. I’m sorry. But one thing all of us learned from the lesson of immorality is that we didn’t have time to worry about “sounding good”. It is, what it is, as they say. Morality can be tedious, and honestly, sometimes it can get in the way. But here is where the whole experiment got interesting. While we could make ourselves biologically superior, thanks to science and human ingenuity, we weren’t able to use the same tricks to make us better people. In fact, perhaps the opposite occurred. Without the threat of death looming over us, many of us unshackled ourselves from good manners altogether.

With an over-abundance of time, we applied ourselves to the things we did best, and the things we wanted the most, but not necessarily the things that were best for us, or what we needed. Let me explain. With no limit on our time, we could perfect our natural talents. Good businesspeople could get even better, and risk everything, and become rich beyond imagining. They had nothing to lose with so much time at their disposal. Powerful leaders could consolidate their power, destroy their enemies, and eventually rule with an iron-fist. Strong athletes or talented artists could become world famous and leverage this fame for whatever they pleased. Did the immortals prey upon the mortals? Of course. Did they take advantage, and manipulate, and cheat to get ahead? Yes, they did. Perhaps a few didn’t, but I never met any of those.

And what do you think happened when the powerful and the immortal confronted one another—when neither could die—did they make peace? Rarely. They feuded indefinitely and they fell into deep depravity. With no limits upon their time or their desires; they fell into literal bottomless pits of debauchery. We grew evil, hateful, bored and numb to life, and to each other. You would think life should have grown more interesting and more wonderful, with all the time in the world to enjoy it; but it became less so, and it became terrible. Life dragged on and on, like an interminable disease. Many of us desired death but couldn’t find it.

Back in the time when we could die, death had imbued with significance the things that would otherwise seem insignificant, and the possibility of loss intensified the value of what we possessed. For us, immortality devalued life itself. One day I had been walking in the woods. I passed a fern, and on it was a shiny black beetle. It brought to mind a memory of my boyhood, and I stood a moment watching the little creature as it walked along the margins of the leaves. It meant nothing to me and I cared nothing for the insect; but I remembered the wonder I had once known as a boy, watching a similar little creature so many years ago, and before death had become an impossibility for me. The contrast between that childhood joy, and the indifference I now felt, horrified me. And I thought to crush the little thing, but envy held me back; no, if I couldn’t die, then neither shall it.

But this experience made me shudder, and I considered the possibility of God for the first time in my life. Could there be a God—or had there been, at one time—who made this world and my life? And, if so, had he circumscribed my life within limits, for a reason? I mean, for instance, had he given us death, limiting our time on this earth, for a good reason?

Up until then I had simply done what came easy. I followed my instincts and fulfilled my desires. I made use of this life as best I could, and tried to make the best of things. I hadn’t tried to uplift myself in any way, since I was content with myself. But the interminable pain of a never-ending life on this earth finally stimulated me to think above myself, and to hope in something beyond. My scientific training had taught me to observe and theorize, to test my assumptions and conclusions, to observe again, recalibrate, and to learn and grow, ever building upon this process. Yet I had always limited my observations, intentionally or unintentionally, excluding a preponderance of observable phenomena from my field of vision. I allowed science to open my eyes to the things I desired to see, but also to blind me to the things I didn’t wish to consider. The possibility of a new world was then opening up to me, and it impressed upon me that I needed new eyes to see it, and new ears to hear it.

Our immortality promised perfected relationships, ones that could be enjoyed forever and never lost to the separation of death; but what it delivered was isolation and loneliness. Time pressed upon us in new and unforeseen ways. Or rather the lack of that pressure caused us to float about like molecules in a vacuum, drifting further and further apart, each becoming a world unto themselves, devoid of connection and unable to love. We had lost the urgency of life, and thereafter, surprisingly, lost interest in life itself, and in each other. It was as if in seeking after paradise we had accidentally fallen into hell.

I had no idea how to extricate myself from this unexpected predicament. But my mind reflected again and again upon that shiny black beetle, and for whatever reason the creature spoke to me, in a figurative sense. It offered me a new way of living, something more humble, less ambitious, more hopeful and less grasping; that little insect showed me in its strange way, how to lose myself in this world, and find myself again deep within my heart. Somehow, I learned from it, that the way to free myself from this interminable world would be by emptying myself of all I had ever desired, and then accepting my life, not on my own terms, but on terms given by one greater than me. Whoever had given me this life—God I suppose—had to be reckoned with. I could no longer take his place in my own life. I had to relinquish control, abandon all hope in the world I created, and step out in faith into the world created by him—the only real world that ever could exist. The world of our imagining was not a real world after all.

Had we really created immortality for ourselves? It is impossible to say for certain. We were able to extend our lives for hundreds of years—that much we knew. But this came at a tremendous price and depended upon enormous resources, without which we couldn’t sustain our lives. Could we have maintained this feat forever? It seems impossible that we could have, without a break in the supply chain, or a shortage of some vital genetic material, or hormone, or some other medical or scientific advancement upon which the whole house of cards we had created depended.

For myself, I began to listen and to look for other possibilities. A very narrow range of light is visible to the natural eye, and a very narrow range of sound is audible to the human ear, and yet infinities of light and sound exist beyond these narrow ranges. What possibilities there must be then, in our vast universe, for the eyes and the ears of our soul; and what truths must exist beyond the limits of any science predicated only upon our narrow perceptions? Certainly The Bard is correct that there are many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.

So I began emptying myself of these philosophies, while seeking truths deeper within my soul. And out of the silence, eventually, I began to see things that caused me to believe. How can I describe these things to you now? They are not easily portrayed in words. I pray that you can believe me, even though I am unskilled at putting flesh to spirit, or conjuring words to explain the inexplicable. But the loneliness I felt, that we all felt in our world without end, began to fall away as I felt a new presence of someone else within my heart. The cold emptiness of space which had filled my heart for hundreds of years, was repopulating with a warmth that promised renewed connections—old loves made new again.

I came to believe that immortality was indeed our birthright, as human beings, but just not in the way we had gone about it. It wasn’t to be had through manipulation and trickery, or by violence. Rather it was to be a gift, a grace, or a blessing if you will—an act of love from the Creator towards his creation. I cannot say how I came to understand this, other than to say that as my heart warmed and was filled, I could now clearly see what had never been previously possible to see, nor had I ever conceived.

And death, what of that? We believed we could outwit it, applying our powers to evade it eternally. But we couldn’t avoid death in our own power. Eventually, I understood this as well—death is unavoidable in this world, and death claims everyone. And yet, if one has eyes to see and ears to hear, one can penetrate into the mystery of death. It too has been circumscribed, just as we have been. There is a limit to death. Death will not live eternally; and yet, by a beautiful irony, we will.

Death has been destroyed by the Creator who gave us life. Although, in the way that time unfolds, we unfortunately cannot clearly see this as of yet. But this too is wisdom. Otherwise, wouldn’t we make the same mistakes all over again? If we clearly understood that death has no sting, if we laughed in the face of death, I fear we would try yet again to live our immortality in this world alone—with the same disastrous results.

Death cannot destroy us, but we all still must die. And through our deaths, we are born anew into eternal life, through the love of God who conquered death two millennia ago. Is it strange for a man of science to state such a thing? No, there is ample evidence in support of these claims to tantalize a scientific mind, if it is unclouded by prejudice. Yet, also room enough to allow an avowed skeptic to freely stretch his unbelieving limbs, if he desires.

But there remains a deeper science of which I am speaking—a science of the heart and of the spirit, which speaks to the mind and teaches the soul matters of faith. This is the science that assures and comforts us; and it reveals glimpses of eternity, even from the vantage point of this world, to those who have sought and been given the eyes to see it.

Immortality was something we tried to take by force—motivated by pride, ambition and fear. Yet, all along eternal life was a gift freely offered to us, if we would only accept it in a spirit of humility, innocence and love.

~FS

I Could Use a Good Joke Today

It is difficult to tell a good punch-line, when we’re preoccupied with pulling our punches.

I’m all for you protecting my feelings, but I’m feeling it’s time for some good jokes.

Nothing breaks the ice better than a good laugh at oneself, won’t someone please tell me some good micro-aggressions? The kind that tear the veneer off our false proprieties, and let us enjoy a good belly laugh, a chortle, or a chuckle together.

I’m Irish, so make fun of the Irish. I’m white, so tell me an off-color joke. Offend me, please!

Just let me know were alive still, were free still, and we can enjoy a little fun at each other’s expense still! These things can be told without malice; jabs can be taken in a spirit of friendship. But it’s hard to be friends when we’re always pulling our punches. Someone, please tell me a good punch-line!

~FS

Confessions On A Lenten Billboard

I came into this world, as a sinner. I’m sorry, I know you don’t like that word. Nobody does. Though made in the image and likeness of God; I came into this world, as a sinner. It was already in my flesh, a foreshadowing of bad things to come, and a flashback to evils committed before my time. If I am being honest, really honest…well, is that possible? Knowing you’ll be reading this; assuming you do read it (but let’s pretend you won’t be reading this), then maybe I wouldn’t spill out all of my shame—suicidal, and cathartic. Suicidal, as it is the death of everything I pretend to be; cathartic, as it is the peace of salvation when I’m laid to rest.

The cacophony of our worldly pursuits is a bewildering assault upon the senses; I am shell-shocked in the midst of our wars, our competing ambitions. ‘Man for sale’, in the hopes of a slice of immortality, but this hope is turned to infamy—though this fact hides unrecognized, by the branded multitudes that ply themselves incessantly upon our digital marketplaces. ‘Oh, to be an influencer!’ The ravings of a meaningless existence; but for the fact that we are made in the image and likeness of God. But does even this fact matter? (If I fell in the forest would anyone hear me fall; and if nobody heard me, did I fall?!) Is an unknown pilgrim of any value? We cry out, ‘I must be known! Or what am I?’

I have studied theology, but I know carnality. I can recite verse, but I can live vice. Love inspires me to yearn, but in the moment of truth I only love myself. I have been given time, and so far I’ve mainly squandered it. How did this come to be? A babe with such potential, squirming in my mother’s arms. ‘Why, he could be anything he puts his mind to be!’ And yet, look! ‘Behold, the man!’ If I could be but a portion of the man who was beheld when those words were first spoken, so famously. Time is ticking, my friends, is it really so profitable to make our profit?

On a lonely road, in the middle of nowhere, they’ve erected a billboard, and only you and God will ever see it. You are free to market whatever you wish; this life of yours will be painted there to promote yourself as you will it. What are you selling now? Think wisely, time is ticking; come up with a good slogan that God will like. Can we trick him into buying us too? Even monks in the desert are selling themselves. Lord have mercy! Ambition is warring even in the lonely places, and in the solitude.

Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. Take me in your arms. Free us from the ragings of our minds. Soften the indignation that arises at the mention of our sin. Let us be honest with ourselves, if not each other, but hopefully with each other too; and especially let us be honest, with you! Our hope is in you…

~FS

Rebirth

For those of us who love the well-worn paths,

Who congregate under the familiar light.

Let’s make haste into a starless night~

Take flight! Fear not!

We’ll tread across the wild places,

Thrilling our soles with new sensations,

We’ll find our souls within us;

As we blaze the new-found trails.

Discoveries array before us;

For we who do cross the veil.

~FS

In A Loving State

I’m not certain how it is that you became my mother and my father. (I’ve had those already.)

Or when it was you adopted me. (I didn’t ask you to.)

Or why you took me under your dark wing.

Should I thank you for your protection?

What do you get from this?

Your wide embrace, has gathered us to you like little chicks;

and you hold us closely.

So tightly.

So thank you,

but your concern for me is killing me.

I’d rather not. 

I am admonished.

You have chastised my wanton freedoms~

To wander, to breathe,

to cherish my loves,

as one in love with life,

and with my fellow chicks!

But you’ve set my brothers against me.

What a cruel mother hen you are,

in your love for us. 

But are we your children, or your pets?

How do you see us?

Truly?

“Stay! Wear this muzzle! Don’t go there, bad dogs!

I’m doing this for your safety, trust me.

Do this for your safety!

I love you.”

Well,

thank you, oh so much.

But please, release me from your smothering love.

Exercise your tender mercies,

on some other poor creatures.

Or better, towards yourself alone.

And let me live now, freely, until I die. 

~FS