August 2004, Kenepuru Sound, New Zealand
Oh, God, I still miss her. The cry came from way
down inside—a place no one can find on an anatomy chart, but we all know exists, assuming we haven’t cauterised the connection to it. Much of the pain had gone, but that didn’t change the fact he did still miss her. The dull ache was always there. It was a distant but constant reminder of the way it once was.
Sam didn’t go there quite as often these days. Was that a blessing? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Was it possible to be both? He’d learned that you can manage the pain, rather than lose it all together. It was something he had learned the hard way. Without Max it never would have happened. Not that Max knew what he was doing. Max was there when he’d needed someone. Max had a house in the Sounds, a place you could get away from the world, and the world would leave you alone if that was what you wanted. That was exactly what Sam had wanted. He needed a place where he could process things in his own way, without the supposed benefits of the many well-meaning souls who offered him their support and counsel.
He bore them no grudge; they were, after all, only doing the best they could. And, for the most part, their motives were good. But if all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Haven’t I already been hammered enough? But he knew they were only trying to help.
That made it easier to handle. But Sam knew they all had their own struggles. And he knew that most of the answers well-meaning friends had offered him were fine in theory, but they hadn’t exactly brought radical change in their own lives.
They had done what he and Amanda had done so often. They had lent a sympathetic ear, given out their idea of good advice, and when needed, provided a shoulder to cry on. That’s what ‘good people’ do, isn’t it? He and Amanda had always tried to be good people. The world obviously had great need of them.
So yes, the good people had tried. But somehow, it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t explain why three masked intruders would break into their house in the middle of the night, beat him senseless and stab his wife of 30 years to death. The good people couldn’t make the pain go away, and they couldn’t offer him any sense of hope in a world where such things happened all too often.
He’d been just like those good people. He’d been quick to come up with answers when others were in crisis. He had demanded the government change ineffectual laws. He railed against changes in everything from education and social policy to the influence of TV programmes and the colour of the flag.
But Sam now knew that none of that made a blind bit of difference. They weren’t the real problem. They were simply symptoms of community in crisis. To tinker with them was like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. They might bring a sense of temporary relief or even privilege to those who orchestrate them, but they had very little relevance when it came to avoiding icebergs. If thousands of years of so-called civilisation show us anything, it’s that nothing really changes. The tools may have improved, but people hadn’t. But we choose not to see that. We’re mice on our treadmills. We continue our frantic pushing. And why not? Isn’t that what we’ve been programmed to do?
When he first began to see that, Sam was angry. He was angry with a world that blind, that stupid. He was angry at the so-called leaders who kept saying the same old things and telling us to do the same old things—always expecting a different result. Perhaps, most of all, he was angry with himself for allowing to be conned for so long. He’d been part of the system. He’d helped to perpetuate the mirage—the veneer of how clever we all were and how advanced we’d all become—when all the evidence around him was screaming otherwise.
In the days that had followed that revelation, Sam began to see the world through different eyes. Surrounded by the incredible beauty of nature at her best, he began to see the main characters who had influenced his life in a whole new light. He could see the reality behind so many of their masks, including his own. He didn’t like what he saw. It wasn’t pretty.
He had wondered what all those counsellors and well-meaning souls would have said if he had dared to talk about such things. But Sam knew how they would respond. It would be in the same ways he would have if anyone had dared to say anything like that to him. There would be all sorts of well-meant comments about the importance of reinforcing the positive and not being judgmental. They’d presume it was coming from his pain. He was like a wounded animal, striking out at anyone and anything, even those who were trying to help.
Sam was acutely aware of that factor. He could see its impact on his thinking, but he could also see it wasn’t enough to allow him to deny the truth. How long have I been living in this phoney world of pretend? Is that what life was all about? Is there nothing else to look forward to? What sort of a world was it that made three unknown strangers kill an innocent woman? What drove them to get spaced out on P? Are we doing anything about that world—I mean really doing something to change it for the better? Or is that all we have to look forward to?
Reluctantly, he concluded that humanity had no answers nor was it the answer. Man had tried all manner of religions, governments, therapies and education. But none of those things had yet come close to fixing the underlying problem.
We still want to live in denial. We still need to dope ourselves up. We still feel compelled to attack those who are not like us, and we can’t stop destroying the environment that sustains our very lives. We live in fear while we try to create a sense of security that none of us can provide. The truth is we live in a broken and hurting world, and despite all our attempts to pretend otherwise or change it, we still live there.
But we aren’t allowed to admit it, so we go on pretending. We adjust our ideas and our dreams, and we focus on our own survival in such a hostile place. We do our best to make the best of it. So, hey—don’t get in my way, man. You’ll get run over!
But through all his anger and pain, Sam began to ask himself questions. Is that the way it’s supposed to be? Is this as good as it gets? Is there any alternative? Surely there must be something better? Where can I go to find out? Who knows the answers? Who’s been there already? Who can show me the way?
Sitting on a rock, watching the tide slowing take ground in the middle of nowhere, he knew of no one who had those answers. He knew no one who lived a life that showed he’d discovered such a secret. Was he out there? Surely there must be someone, somewhere? But the only answer he got was the chirping of a million cicadas.
Sam often sat there on what he now considered to be ‘his rock’. It was a good spot for such thinking. Occasionally, boats would pass by and throw their wake at his rock—but he felt secure. Their puny attempts to dislodge him were futile. There’s a picture there. Those boat owners don’t give a toss about me. They’re just going about their lives and creating a wake in the process. I don’t think for a moment they’re deliberately trying to sweep anyone away. Has my life been like that? Have I gone about living my life without realising that I may be buffeting those in my wake? I must have. And what if they didn’t have a rock like this one? They could have been knocked around. Did they resent me? Did it make me change? Did it cause me to even think about them? Did I even know, let alone care?
And the more he sat there, the more the same question seemed to be replaying again and again in his brain. How can a world of such incredible beauty and diversity give rise to such a paranoid and destructive race as human beings? It makes no sense. The cicadas seemed to agree. Somehow, Sam just knew there was an answer to be found here, sitting on his rock, surrounded by the best of all creation, safe and secure above the worst that passing man could throw at him.
The weather had been remarkably settled, but he did get the odd stormy day. Even then, Sam would go back to his rock, his thinking place. The storms simply added to his earlier picture.
In life there are storms we can’t blame on men. They can make our path more dangerous and more difficult. But we can survive them. We can’t blame anyone for them. The idea of suing someone to try and ease our pain is pointless. We can only triumph over such adversity by going through it. We grow, even if we don’t always appreciate the process or the effort it demands. And sitting on my rock, at times like this, gives me a whole new insight into how small and insignificant we are, despite how we try to pretend otherwise. Look at those waves. Listen to that wind. There are powers out there that dwarf our puny human efforts and abilities.
That last thought was both scary and encouraging. What if I’m wrong? If it’s all up to us, surely we’ve blown it. But if it’s not? If it’s up to something beyond us, beyond our ability to take control and make it happen, then maybe there is hope. Maybe there is something more. Maybe there is something better.
Sitting on a rock in the rain is the ideal place for the doubts, fears and voices of dissent to assail the questioning mind. But they only threw questions. They only had reasons why not. They offered no answers, except having to stick with the status quo. What do you mean something beyond our ability? Do you mean some sort of creative force? Do you mean beings from some other planet? Don’t tell me you’re starting to believe in God? You’ve got to be kidding! That was disproved years ago. What will people think of you if you become all religious?
Sam knew very little about religion. He didn’t want to. The little he did know didn’t endear it to him. Religion in its many guises had been the cause of more wars and misery than anything else he could think of. He tried to think of the people he knew who were religious. Most of them come across as small-minded bigots or pushy zealots trying to carve another notch on their Bibles. Surely, I don’t have to become like that if all I want to do is believe in the idea of a god that somehow created all this? It’s a whole lot easier to believe that some big bang just happened when some random non-existent chemicals just happened to meet, and it created all this. Sam looked around at all he could see from his rock. No, I’m not struggling with the idea of a creator who is bigger than men. I’m just struggling with what happens to the people who say they believe it.
The question triggered a flood of follow on questions. If God did make all this, why did he bother? What was the point of it all? Is it working out the way he wanted, or did it go off track a long time ago? Why would he make such an incredible place as planet Earth and then sit back and let obnoxious, self-opinionated, greedy people like me ruin it? Somehow he knew that men had no answers to that. If they did, surely the world would be very different. He knew there was no point in asking anyone he knew, let alone asking experts he didn’t know.
Then a very odd thought stuck him. If there is a God who created all this, and he did have a point to it all, but man has lost sight of it, then perhaps I should try and ask God himself! If he wants us to know, surely he is smart enough to tell me.
Again the derision and accusations multiplied. What sort of a fruit loop are you? You want to talk to God? You? What makes you think that God, if He was, would lower himself to talk to an insignificant little rodent like you? Look at all the times you’ve done bad things. Why would any god worthy of the name want to talk to you? You’re losing it, man. Get back onto what you know, Sam. Forget all this nonsense about God. Who cares who made the world? It’s here, isn’t it? Enjoy it. Life’s there for the living, man. Just get out there and do it.
Yes, his rock could be a lonely place, even among the crowd of voices. Sam looked around for the three hundredth time that morning and wondered where all this was going.
An hour later he climbed back up to the house, no wiser, but still convinced he had to keep looking. While waiting for his rather pathetic pair of sausages to curl up in the frying pan, he began to search the house for anything that could help.
The place was never intended to host a monastic retreat. He found two-year-old magazines, fishing and tidal references, books on birds, and even an Oxford English Dictionary. He hated to admit it, but he was looking for a Bible, and there wasn’t one there to be found. Why would there be? The people he knew probably had very similar views to his when it came to religion. It would have to wait until he drove to the nearest town, and he wasn’t planning to do that until next week. Perhaps he would change his priorities. After all, what else did he have to do?
* * * * * * *
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Nothing in the last few days had helped change his mind. He’d visited a small local church on Sunday and came away with nothing to convince him they had anything or knew anything he didn’t. People went through their carefully choreographed responses, said all the right words, and walked away much the same as when they came in.
Perhaps I should have had a yarn with the bloke in charge. He looks like the sort of guy I could talk to. We could throw ideas around and maybe get some answers. He seemed nice enough. Perhaps if we met over a beer it would be different. But nah, not when I heard him trying to bully his flock into building their lives on convenient formulas and the legends of yesteryear.
Maybe it was all for my benefit? I must have been the only outsider there. ‘Do what I say, or you’ll go to hell’. Sorry, mate, that makes no sense from where I’m sitting on my rock. It just turns me off.
But Sam did ask if he could borrow one of the Bibles stacked up by the door. The locals fell over themselves, even offering to come out and explain more to him. But Sam declined politely. Could he drop it in next week? No hurry. Just when you’ve finished with it.
Back on his rock that afternoon, he pulled it from his carry bag. Where on earth do I start? This thing is huge! He sat there weighing the book in one hand as if he was lifting weights. His eyes did their familiar circuit. What’s the connection? I can see this amazing world, and this book is supposed to be connected to it somehow.
Sam flicked the book open to the first few pages and began to read. Hey, this is about how all this happened. He looked around at the familiar view. It sort of makes sense. I’m not getting wound up about whether or not it took a literal six days—none of us were around at the time, so it’s a bit of a pointless argument.
Then another verse caught his eye. In it God says, “Let us create man in our own image, our own likeness.” What does that mean? Does it mean that I’m somehow like the God who created all this? That sounds very different from what we heard in the church. How can we be like God? Then a really odd thought came to him. How can I be like God?
He read on. So why did God bother? For what did he create us creatures? Why did he make us different from all the other life on His planet? That’s what it says here. What was the point? Most people think we’re no better than any other animal or plant. We just evolved from frogs or monkeys or whatever. This says we’re special, different. I think I prefer this.
Next, Sam came to the story of Adam and Eve. Of course he’d heard of them. Who hadn’t? She’d eaten the apple and that had something to do with this thing the church seemed so excited about—sin. Like he’d heard before, Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake, and the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on. But he felt the need to read it slowly—several times.
What am I looking for? There’s something in here that I’m supposed to see, but I’ve no idea what it is. Then he read again the verse that talked about them talking with God in the cool of the evening. They talked with God? He looked back to the top of the page and saw how God had talked quite a lot to Adam. He got Adam to name all the animals, and he even made Eve to give Adam company. That must be it. God wanted company. He made people to be like Him because He wanted company. He wanted to hang out with His humans, like a family. God seems to want us. I wonder why we don’t want Him? It must be the rules thing, the sin thing. They broke the rules, so we suffer. Doesn’t seem fair. But it says that God didn’t give up on them. He made clothes for them out of animal skins—yet no one had killed any of the animals God had made before that. So this God must have still cared.
Sam put the borrowed Bible down and closed his eyes. Where is all this going? Why am I reading all this? But he got no answer nor could he come up with anything that made any sort of logical sense. He looked around again. I wonder if the garden was anything like this? I mean how big was it? He opened the Bible and read the description again. There was an atlas upstairs. The Euphrates, that’s in Iraq. And I think the Tigris is too. I remember reading about them during the Gulf War. I must look it up on the internet. Some bright soul will have figured out where it was. I wonder how big it was. It says here that God put Adam there to tend the garden and look after it. But (he flicked over the page) it says here that after he got into trouble, Adam was told he would sweat to produce food. Didn’t he have to sweat before that? How could he look after a garden that big without raising a sweat?
Sam closed his eyes again and listened to the gentle sounds of his own little Eden. The lap of the tide, the ever-present cicadas, the odd sea bird, and even a wood pigeon or something similar. I couldn’t survive here without raising a sweat; that’s for sure. And I surely haven’t had the chance to have a chat with God in the cool of the evening. The world surely has changed. I wonder who changed it—us or God?
On the spur of the moment, he flicked over to the end of the Bible. What’s the punch line? How is it all supposed to work out? He got something of a surprise. The scene was a bit different, but it was another garden. Whatever the curse was—he assumed that was the curse he’d read about at the front of the book—it is now broken, and God is with his people again.
He still seems to want to be with people, His people. He still seems to want to have a family to keep Him company. Is that what this whole thing is about? God is—or was—lonely, so He made a family to keep Him company? They walked and talked with Him. They must have done more than that. Adam could tend what must have been a huge garden without raising a sweat. Look around. Whoever created all this doesn’t do things by halves. And it looks like he gets this in the end. I guess that’s good news if you’re lucky enough to be one of them.
He decided that was enough for one day. He was feeling hungry. He might have to raise a sweat climbing back up to the house, but there were some bits of this god’s creatures in the freezer up there, and they had Sam’s name on them. I wonder if God minds us eating His animals. Maybe I’ll find out if I keep this up. But right now, I certainly don’t feel at all guilty about the prospect of a decent piece of wild pork and a few roasted veggies.
* * * * * * *
Not much changed over the next few days. It was cool and sunny, early spring at its best. He read more of the borrowed Bible. Some of it made sense in terms of where he’d been. After Adam and Eve, their kids had a barney and one of them gets killed. But even after that, God looks after the guy who did it. That is a whole lot different from what that church guy said on Sunday. Does it mean God still wants to look after those bastards that killed Amanda? I don’t get it. What do you have to do to get off side with this God guy? Just who does He want in this family of His? Are they all deadbeats and weirdoes? Did any of them have their act together?
It was a bit hard to get an answer to that because, suddenly, the story got lost in a lot of begetting. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. He quite liked the grittiness of that first family saga. He could almost relate to that. But genealogy didn’t do much for him. But there was one strange part in there. There was one guy called Enoch who didn’t die. All it said was that he was, then he was not. He had been hanging out with God for about 300 years. Then one day, he didn’t bother going home for dinner. What if they were such good mates that Enoch decided to stay at God’s place instead. Presumably, God didn’t mind. Perhaps it was his idea. Enoch must have liked it so much that he never came back. Sam liked that idea. There were some things that he was starting to like about this God.
Sam had discovered the index-like part in the back of the Bible where you could look up information and had decided to check out Enoch. Did he show up again anywhere else? Yes, but only once and near the end. And Enoch sounded a bit like the man Sam heard preaching on Sunday. He’s on the sin thing again and how God would deal with the bad guys. How does that line up with God still caring about his first grandson who was a murderer? Look at the way God protected him. Why didn’t God protect the dead brother? Does he care about only some bad people?
Sam sought enlightenment from the tide, the moon, the trees and even the rowdy cicadas that had plenty to say all the time. It was almost completely dark now. He’d been there for ages, but he had no answers. He just had more questions.
A low cloud blotted out the moonlight path coming across the water towards him. I’m confused. I haven’t read the whole Bible, but I’m getting mixed messages here. You seem to care about some people, even bad people and people who do bad things. But at the same time, there is this whole sin thing you seem to hate so much that you are going to deal to us. That’s what your good mate Enoch seems to be saying. I just don’t get it. You obviously care about people, some perhaps more than others. Did you care about Amanda? Do you care about those three guys who killed her more than you cared about her?
Sam stopped. He looked up into the darkening sky and shouted at the top of his voice, “What about me? Do you care about me? If you’re up there and you really do care about me, why don’t you show me?”
He felt stupid after doing so, but it just spilled out. He didn’t want to stop. The pressure was more than enough to twist his arm. Sam had to say it. “What now? What should I expect?”
He didn’t have to wait long for an answer. The dark clouds were gone, and he saw the most incredible explosion of night sky. It danced. There was no music, but the stars danced as if to the baton of some unseen conductor. His knees felt weak as if they would fold, and he might slip off his rock, so he sat down very carefully and continued to enjoy the show. He knew. Oh, yes. Something inside of him told him, “You know now, don’t you, Sam? Does that answer your question?”
Sam sat there speechless. What can I say? How can anyone reply to something like this? The heavens are alive and I’m here to see it. I wonder if anyone else can. Who cares? I asked, and I got an answer. God, who made all those stars up there, cares about me. I can’t imagine why, but he does. He may also care about all the other dipsticks and bozos in creation, but so what? He likes me? He did all that just for me!
The thoughts went deeper than just his mind and intellect; they penetrated that unmapped place, that place where belief is spawned.
The light show finally dimmed, and things went back to normal. Or did they? Could they ever be ‘normal’ again? Sam’s definition of normal was in for a major review; he knew that. But right now, that was a long way off. Sam was happy, delirious. He just wanted to sit there and soak in what he could only call love. The word was not one which came easily to the old Sam. But what else could he call it? How else could he explain what he was feeling? How do you describe the indescribable? He knew he was loved, and it felt great.
What happens now? I somehow doubt that life will just go on the same as before. How should I respond? He likes me. He cares about me. But what does he want me to do now? What does he expect? Do I have to go to church now? If I do, which one? There are so many to choose from. I don’t know what he wants.
“Is that what you want, God? Is that what it’s all about?”
This time there was no reply, just the warmth returning to his inner places again. Was that a yes? Or was it just a reminder that he cares about me, and that’s all I need to remember? The warmth remained, but Sam had to confess he was no wiser.
I mean, surely, there has to be a point in all this? Doesn’t there? Is it enough just to know that you care about me? Or is that it? What if I want more? Is that okay? I mean is it alright to ask for more—a bit like Oliver Twist? You know, am I supposed to be satisfied and grateful with what I have, or is it alright to want more? I mean I’ve read about these guys who spoke to you—they hung around and you spent time with them. Why should that work for them, but not for me? Or do I have to earn brownie points first? Is that how it works?
There was no answer, just the ongoing sense of being at peace, much as he seemed determined to change that by asking lots of questions.
I think I’ll just settle for the peace. Why risk losing that when it feels so good? It seems pretty obvious you’re not giving me any more answers tonight, right?
Sam kept on feeling warm. He curled up like a baby and lay there, contented. The memory of the incredible light show was still there, as was the knowledge that he was loved. What more did he need?