The small house I bought was almost a mile away from the little fishing village. It was surrounded by vast woods from every direction except where it is closest to the river. That is where a large clearing was created by cutting many of the trees at different levels from the ground so that I could see the river from my bedroom window in the second floor. It was exactly what I hoped for, to provide the peace and tranquility I needed to write my new book. Having just moved in and settled down, I decided to take a walk by the riverside. It was still early in the morning. The sun was up and the river looked calm and refreshing. I picked up my netbook, which also served as my digital recorder and walked out. The mild breeze was stimulating and pleasant. After walking for some half hour, I came back to where I started and sat down near the edge of the water. I could see some schools of fish jumping around in the clear stream. The place was quiet and inspiring and I was getting ready to put down my notes. I did not realize that I had company until I heard him speak,
“You are the big shot who rented Logan’s cabin?”
I turned to see who was speaking. He was sitting on a stump of a tree at the distance. I wondered if his question implied any hostility. I said,
“My name is…”
“Alexander. Stephen Alexander. I know who you are.”
“And you are?”
“My name is Josh…like most people here, I am a fisherman”
He seemed to be in his thirties, with an athletic build and a heavy tan, wearing only a pair of shorts, had little hair and unshaven face. He got up and walked slowly towards me while asking,
“How long do you plan to stay Mr. Alexander?”
“I don’t know Josh. Please call me Steve. You see…I bought the house. I may stay here until I finish the book I am writing now…I may even stay here for good”
“Is there a problem?”
“No. no problem at all.” He sat on the grass close by, “This property was vacant for several years as you may know. When old Logan died a few years ago, his wife left and went to live with her daughter somewhere in the east coast”
There was a brief silence as I shut down my computer and turned to take in the view of the river again, and then I said,
“Is that your boat?” I pointed to the rowboat pulled up half way onto the ground and tethered to one of the trees. He hesitated for a moment before answering,
“Um…Yes. I hope you don’t mind. I know it is on your grounds and if…”
“Don’t worry. It doesn’t bother me at all. Carry on your daily routine. I am not here to disrupt anyone’s life”
I felt his approving gaze as he was gauging my sincerity. He was probably wondering what I would ask in return. I thought I should relieve his curiosity,
“My agent had already made arrangements with Rebecca, one of the ladies from the village to provide me with the necessary stuff I may need. Besides, I will drive over to the city from time to time. Actually if you need something from the city…”
“Yeah, I know” He interrupted, “It was in one of the local newspapers last week”
“Well, it is good to see that at least this part of the introductions is out of the way”
Now he stood up, walked towards the water and started to feel it with his bare feet.
“So, Steve…What are you writing about? A horror story? A romance? A thriller? What is it you usually write about?”
“This book is about two of my friends who passed away when they were still very young. They were as pure as saints. I want the entire world to know their stories. I believe it will benefit a lot of people…especially the young…er…do you…I mean you like reading? Um…I don’t know too many fishermen”
“I think you are in the right place” He spoke ignoring my question; “If you are looking for ‘pure’ it cannot get any better than here. Would you like to take a little trip onto the river? I can take you in the boat. It is a tiny fisherman boat, but it should be safe”
“Thank you Josh. I shall take you up on your offer some other day”
I had many other encounters with Josh over the following weeks. One Friday evening we were by the riverside with several other villagers enjoying some fresh char-grilled fish and watermelons. After the other villagers left, I sat down on the grass, leaning back on a tree stump, while Josh went for a swim. I was deep in thought when he emerged out of the water and prodded me into joining him. I was embarrassed to tell him that I don’t know how to swim so I politely declined. Finally he sat down close by,
“Are you almost done with your book?”
“I cannot go past the first half of the first chapter.”
“Why? What is the problem?”
“I have a writer’s block. I cannot seem to focus on the direction of my thoughts”
There was a long period of silence. Then Josh suddenly made a strange statement,
“Look at the river. Where do you think the river flows?
The question sounded absurd at first. Then I blurted almost mechanically,
“It can only flow towards the Ocean”
“I heard that there are some rivers that never reach the ocean. They end up forming huge lakes in some wilderness; some of them even dry up and evaporate in the summer heat, like the Okavango River in Africa and the Kootenai River in North America” …I looked at him in amazement and then I let out a short giggle…
“You amaze me Josh. I mean…for a fisherman….You…”
“I wasn’t always a fisherman. I used to be a teacher but that is another story,” He said with a smile, “you see this river here. It forms a wide lake at this spot. You can hardly see the other bank from this point. It is so deceptively calm and clear. But you certainly know what kind of a crazy river this is. It comes from high atop the mountains and runs for thousands of miles till it pours itself into the sea. In some areas it is relatively shallow and in others it is extremely deep. You may also be familiar with its cataracts and whitewater rapids. It is like a wild beast with multiple personalities”
“You must have been a teacher of Geography?”
“Biology?” I laughed loudly, “You certainly know your Geography well”
“And History…Archeology and a little bit of music…” He said smiling.
“Why in the world would you leave all that…to…I mean…”
“I may talk to you about that someday. For now, let’s talk about the river.”
“What about the river?” I asked, “It’s one of the most mundane and unexciting systems of the world. As essential to life as it is, it doesn’t even come close to stirring the imagination like say…mountains, or jungles or even deserts…”
“You are very wrong.” He answered enthusiastically, “A river – no matter how short or long – is far more exciting than any of those things you mentioned. Can you imagine the Egyptian Civilization without the Nile? Or Rome without the Tiber? Or London without the Thames?”
“Don’t be melodramatic. Look at the river here. It floods, and turns people’s lives into miserable nightmares. It stays down some years and creates devastating droughts all over the place. Yes, it looks picturesque and beautiful now, but it is awfully deceptive. It cannot be trusted at all.”
“Exactly my point…A river is like a living organism. It affects everything and everyone it comes in contact with. To me, it is the closest reflection of what a human being is like.”
I gasped in disbelief. Yet in a few moments, my amazement turned into admiration. I looked at the face of the man who likes to call himself a fisherman. The moonlight seemed to accentuate his skin tan and make him look like a mythological alien from another planet, or a ghost from some ethereal realm. I had to smile as the thought crossed my mind, so I said,
“Wow…the closest reflection of what a human being is like…well, don’t forget Philosophy…” He chuckled while I continued, “How did we get to this point. What led us to this discussion?”
“I believe you were saying that you’re having difficulty going through the first chapter of your book”
“Yeah…but what has that got to do with my writer’s block?”
“You cannot see the connection till now?”
After a long silence, he stood up and slowly walked towards the woods. Just before he disappeared between the trees, he turned and paused for a moment,
“Again…Some rivers cannot be stopped…not even by a dam. While others will run aground into a wilderness or a desert where it pools into a lake or evaporate”
He disappeared into the distance, leaving behind an unspoken question,
“What kind of a river are you?”
I did not see Josh for several weeks after that. One morning as I was finishing my breakfast, Rebecca walked in with my supplies in her usual cheerful way,
“Good morning Mr. Alexander. How are you doing today?”
“I am fine Rebecca. How are you? Is your son feeling better now?”
“Yes thank you. I hope your stay around here so far had been Pleasant.”
“Certainly… The People here are very friendly. The weather is perfect. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.” I grabbed my cup of coffee and stood up.
“Very well, I got the usual supplies you ask for. I found the batteries but I am afraid I could not find the brand you mentioned, so I bought something similar.”
“Very good…Thank you.” On my way out of the kitchen, a question clicked in my mind so I fell back saying, “By the way Rebecca… How is Josh? I haven’t seen him in a while”
“Josh? Who is Josh?” She looked puzzled at my question.
“Josh the fisherman. He…used to be a teacher…he came by many times…”
“Mr. Alexander we don’t have anybody in the village by the name Josh…”
I was completely shocked. I continued to press her with more questions and describe the man to her. At last, I asked her if she would inquire around the village in case someone else might know him. She finally looked at me smiling…She handed me an apple and said,
“I wouldn’t ask anyone if I were you. The villagers already think that there is something funny about you; because sometimes you seem to talk to yourself…one of them would swear that he saw you laugh one evening while talking to thin air…May be our picturesque settings are letting your imagination go wild. That should be good for people writing books I guess?” She laughed merrily.
Needless to say, I spent several days and nights agonizing over one question…who was Josh? In the beginning, I tried to convince myself he was a visitor from another village. But I looked at the small fishing boat tethered to the tree near the riverbank and realized that I never saw him actually take the boat out. I assumed he did when I was not around. Then again, I remembered that we never shook hands or had any kind of physical contact. So who was it I was looking at…listening to and arguing with?
I strolled to the river one evening wondering if he would show up suddenly and explain himself to me. A teacher…a fisherman…with such knowledge of several fields of scholarship, seemed like a figment of …No…No way…I just cannot believe it…I absolutely refuse to believe it….
I walked to the small fishing boat and examined it closely. It was covered with leaves and smelled quite musty. It had not been used for a long time. I found the tree stump closest to the water and sat there thinking. If Nagy or Sabry, the two friends I was writing the book about, had not departed so early in life, each one of them would have grown up to be of similar stature and demeanor. Could it be one of them had somehow materialized from the world beyond, to help me out with my writer’s block? But, you don’t grow older after you depart to the next life…!! Besides, Nagy was an Archeologist while Sabry was an Engineer. Neither of them would claim to be a teacher…and a fisherman? Well, under any circumstances I would’ve recognized either of them immediately? In addition, Josh had eased into the picture as soon as I arrived at the village…before I experienced the writer’s block.
It was getting dark. The moon’s reflection on the water lapping against the uneven bank seemed to conjure a fuzzy image deeply embedded in my mind and struggling to break through. The rounded silver disc was shaking, breaking and re-assembling over and over. I stood up and walked closer to the water, and then I stooped over trying to see my own reflection. Suddenly I felt like an electric shock has numbed my whole body…
Josh was almost the exact antithesis of me. He is everything I wanted to be and never could…or never dared. The athletic posture, the vast knowledge and the awful confidence that reeked through his words and character were things I admired and could never achieve. This was the kind of character I write about in my books, but could never bring to reality in my own life. My mind soon went back to the last time I saw him, as he was urging me to go for a swim. I always wanted to swim in the ocean, or a river or even a lake…but never did. The closest thing to a swim was when I dipped myself into the heated pool of the Hyatt. I took another look at the shaking liquid image of the moon before me, next to my distorted reflection dancing on the surface of the water…That must be it. I was talking to the Stephen Alexander who never was…but whom I always dreamed to be. Oh, no…no… how can that be? Then again, am I going crazy? May be those villagers were right, after all, to think I was missing a few marbles…I know I saw him go into the water, come out of it later, wet and dripping to sit close by on the grass…that could not be my imagination…or could it?
I started walking by the riverbank thinking, “So what did Josh…or is it the other Stephen say? Rather what did he leave out? The question, which was left hanging in the air…what kind of a river are you? Well…Me, I must be that unfulfilled river which never reached the ocean, ended up pouring itself into some desert, and evaporated. But fortunately the book is not about me. It is about Sabry and Nagy. Well here are two mighty rivers. These could be the Colorado and the Mississippi.” I stopped. I slapped my forehead in bewilderment. What was the expression? ‘A river is the closest reflection of what a human being is like’
My heart was pounding. I dashed back to my cabin…grabbed my netbook and started recording at the speed of thought. I began the story from scratch… this will be “A Glimpse into Heaven” …
In a few weeks, I finished the draft of most of the chapters of the book. My netbook went with me everywhere. I was taping in the kitchen, the bedroom, and the riverbank or even while driving to the city. By now, the villagers realized that when they saw me talking to thin air, it was when I was talking into the hardly visible tiny microphone tucked to my collar. I was pleased with the result so far. Now I came to a point where I wanted to portray an imaginary interview with my two beloved heroes after their departure. But as I started to record, an incessant thought was getting more and more overpowering in my head. Am I exploiting the memory of my beloved Saints for my own gain? Am I doing them justice? Would they approve of my effort if they were asked? This was quite disturbing. I even thought of incorporating these agonizing thoughts into my proposed interview. Somehow I felt I was at a cross roads of some kind. Should I scrape the whole project? Should I keep going? Or may be just change direction?
My progress was stymied and brought to a complete halt. I struggled with this conflict for several days. Then I decided to do something crazy…
I went out to the boat. I inspected it closely. It took me almost a whole day to clean it up very well. I found two oars tugged inside it. I prepared it to go on a daring river trip.
The following day was a stormy day. I had to wait until the storm abated. It was well into the afternoon. I hesitated for some time and wondered whether I should go on with my plan or wait for another clear and sunny day. Then I decided that I was not going to let anything stop me. I took some sandwiches together with my netbook, and walkman as I decided to spend some time out on the water. It was still cloudy, but I thought that to be a good thing since the sun would not be too harsh. It was the first time I ever dared do something like that. It was completely out of character and defied explanation. Or maybe I suddenly wanted to get some inspiration from…the other Stephen Alexander inside me? So, like a real sportsman, I rowed on…
I was almost midstream when I pulled up the oars and sat there listening to my music and trying to collect my thoughts. The scene from this spot was fabulous despite the cloudy skies. I could see the tops of the hills at the distance…the village far away looked small as it was separated from my cabin by more than a mile of thick woods. The woods on the other side of my cabin extended as far as the eye could see. I could see the other side of the river too, with its Rolling Meadows and high hills. Eventually I got busy with my recording. I don’t know how many hours I spent there before I realized that the boat was moving slowly downstream. It was getting dark. The village disappeared. Instead of improving, the weather worsened fast. Another storm erupted suddenly and it started to rain heavily. It was as if somebody decided to turn on the spigots of heaven all at once. I got the oars out again and tried to paddle towards the riverbank. That was easier said than done. The wind picked up and was toying with the boat in a terrifying way. I got about thirty feet from shore when disaster struck. I felt the wood at the bottom of the boat suddenly give way next to my left foot. The rotten area was big enough to allow water to gush in quickly. I panicked. I tried rowing much faster in a futile attempt to reach safety as the little boat was filling with water mighty fast. Before I knew it, I was already in the water trying to stay afloat. Since my swimming skills were next to nothing, the situation was practically hopeless. Despair was gradually setting in as I felt myself being pushed away from shore and further downstream. Somehow I could never yell out for help. Who would hear my screams here? And if any body hears me, would they be crazy enough to risk their lives and brave the storm to save a total stranger? The wind has become ferocious now with sheets of rain and claps of thunder. The waves were getting higher and I was getting weaker. I felt that I drank almost half the water of the river. I don’t remember what my last thoughts were before I finally succumbed.
When I opened my eyes, it was a little before day break the following morning. Every inch of my body was aching badly. In the faint light of a crescent moon, I could see that I was in a grassy landscape near the riverbank, with rolling hills to the one side and the thick woods on the other. I could not see the other side of the river. The storm had subsided, except for the wind roiling the waves close by. I was lying down on the ground, wrapped up in a blanket next to a little fire. I removed the blanket to lean on my elbow and look around when I heard his voice,
“I hope your writing is much better than your swimming…”
Flabbergasted, I sat up despite the pain, and looked for the speaker. He was at a distance walking towards me carrying a pile of branches. I was speechless for a moment…then I managed to get the words out of my lips,
“You? You are not…Oh my…”
He knelt by the fire and began feeding it with the branches he collected, so I could see his face glowing next to the flames, which got stronger now.
“I thought…Oh no, this is crazy…for a while I thought you were just…I mean…” I couldn’t finish my sentence…when he was done with the fire; he stood up and said,
“I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you. You were saying…”
“Nothing, I was just talking to myself” Said I anxiously, “Oh Josh am I…am I glad to see you … and grateful too. But … Why?” I stuttered, “If I may ask…um…why you stopped coming to visit at the cabin? What happened?”
He went to the little mound where he had his shirt and what looked like a sleeping bag, sat down and spoke nonchalantly,
“Nothing really…I just thought I was becoming a little annoying”
“Annoying? Or annoyed?” I objected.
He chuckled and said, “Well, to tell you the truth, I was not supposed to come to the cabin at all. I’ve lived around here for almost five years. Nobody knows me and I don’t know anybody. That is the way I liked it. Then when I found out about you, I thought you’d be around only for a short while…so I figured there would be no harm in having a little chat with a famous intellectual book writer who is here today and will be gone tomorrow. The last time I went to see you, I was surprised to see all these villagers gathering with you for the barbecue. Thankfully, they thought I was a friend of yours who came to visit and I did not try to correct their perception but I realized it was no longer a good idea to go there anymore.”
“Well Josh…um, when I found out you were not one of the villagers, I began to doubt my own sanity. For a while I thought you were a ghost or something. Ah, any way how do you survive out here…it’s really…I mean…”
“This is pristine nature. It’s a wonderful place.” He said cheerfully, “It has everything I need…plenty of water, plenty of game and I even planted a little garden complete with fruits and veggies. Every other day I go fishing too. It is a healthy, natural and peaceful world around here. It is like paradise… without the serpent,” He added with a wink.
“Oh but why do you want to stay out of sight? Are you running away from something? Oh, sorry I didn’t mean it the way it sounded…”
“Never mind…I am not running away from anything.”
I was expecting him to elaborate. I waited politely for a while, and then I had to speak,
“If you don’t want to talk about it, it is OK. I don’t mean to pry…”
“No Steve…it is very simple.” He looked at the still churning water of the river in the faint light of dawn for a few moments. He turned to look at me with a smile and began to tell me about himself,
“I was a very successful high school Biology teacher. I told you that already. But the world we live in today, seems to have no room for people like me…who are a little too stubborn about such obsolete concepts like… integrity, morals or faith in an almighty creator…like the two noble friends about whom you are writing your book.” He relaxed a little, leaned on his elbow as he turned to face me and continued, “To make a long story short, one day I discovered that the girl I was engaged to, was stealing from her employer to support her drug habit…to add insult to injury, she was having an affair with my best friend. To tell you I was shocked would be an understatement…that kind of wound never heals!” He paused a little then continued, “Anyway, in spite of everything, I tried to help her…I tried to get her into a rehab clinic. I even offered to pay back the money she stole from her employer… but…instead of appreciating my help she tried to implicate me in her scheme. Can you believe this? I had to go through a very painful process of extricating myself from a very dangerous situation… Then in the school where I was working, the textbooks were forcing me to teach all those new generations a bunch of lies and present it to them as facts. I could not even bring out any scientific criticism to that spurious material…I am not talking about my opinions, I mean solid scientific criticism.”
“You mean evolution…the theory they pass around now as a proven fact?”
“Exactly, In addition to information about cloning, stem cell research…and so on. You see, I look around and see all the proper standards of morality and ethics…I mean mere morality…not even high religious Christian norms, I just mean what we used to consider regular ethical behavior…it has all been turned upside down. What was an acceptable proper social behavior has become wrong and punishable by law…parental control, teacher privilege for discipline…it cannot be applied any more. You cannot even fail a student who deserves to be held back for further effort…for fear of what they call ‘psychological stigma’ no wonder families are broken, children grow up without fathers and crime is spreading like wildfire. The funny thing is, what we used to call a crime in the past, they try to find some sophisticated word for it now. Killing a baby has become freedom of choice! Using profanity to assault Christianity, is freedom of speech! If you lie and cheat, then you can be a famous star in the newspapers, the movies or TV. Better yet if you are really good at it, you may achieve the highest ranks as a politician. You don’t really want me to go through the whole list of garbage; modern society is mired in…”
“But Josh, even though I agree with you, I think it is for these exact reasons, society needs people like you to stay around and try to stem the tide of horrors and reverse that course”
“I have tried to do my part for several years.” He stood up, started pacing the ground slowly, and added, “But then I realized…no river flows upstream!”
After a long pause, he stopped, turned to face me again smiling,
“May be writers like you can do a better job…if you can get those people to read what you write. Let me ask you, if you don’t fill your book with mayhem, turmoil and pandemonium, how many people will be inclined to read it? And if you write a beautiful edifying book like the one you are writing now about your noble saints, how many people will care to buy it…and even among those who may read it out of curiosity or even genuine interest, how many will really follow that example? You must admit that those few who try to live according to the principles of their Christian Faith will be bitterly challenged and handicapped and will certainly be at a disadvantage in this social environment.
“It had always been like that for the past two thousand years.” I hastened to answer, “If I remember my old Sunday school lessons far back when I was young, it ran something like ‘All those who wish to live a righteous life in Jesus Christ will be persecuted’ so that seems to be what you are describing now”
“In the five years I lived in the wilderness away from people” he insisted, “I felt a kind of peace which is absolutely impossible to experience in today’s social culture. Just tell me why should I throw this away and go back to turmoil?”
“…Because” I countered, “It is not just about you. It has to do with helping others as well. Josh, Listen to me…how are you going to be the light to the world if you separate yourself from the world. I remember that in his final prayer to the Father, our Lord said that he did not want us to be taken out of the world but rather that we were to be protected from evil. So many people are badly in need of a word of comfort or encouragement or merely need someone to listen to them. So you see, it is not about you or me…it is about all those others”
He leaned over and pointed at me saying irritably, “All right, tell me then…what good is it if I help all those others and win the world …then I lose my own life? Tell me Mister wise Guy”
I was kind of expecting this argument, so I moved his hand away from my face quietly and said in a calm reassuring voice, “Josh…you cannot help others and then lose your life. A cup of cold water given to a thirsty person is not forgotten in heaven. Fact is… helping others is like gathering a treasure in heaven…it can be your ticket… to win your life”
He was getting impatient with me so he almost yelled,
“I am through helping others. You try to help people and they will never stop asking for more. Worse yet, the same people you help will betray you and turn around and tear you to pieces when they no longer need you”
I had to calm things down, so I cautiously said,
“Josh, you don’t really believe that. You were just talking about moral and ethical standards. Now you tell me…What is the Christian thing to do?”
He challenged me,
“The Christian thing to do…? Aren’t you forgetting that Christ Himself was killed by the same people whom He had cured, fed and…and… raised from the dead?”
Now I had my chance,
“And yet he had asked us to emulate him… to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick…He even told us that in return, we shall be persecuted, beaten and even killed. You know all that. Don’t you?”
He had a bewildered look in his eyes. When he did not answer, I said,
“Josh…why did you risk your life to save mine this very last night?”
He did not answer right away…finally I stood up and limped gingerly on my lacerated legs towards where he was standing. He finally looked at me and said,
“I don’t know…You were…I mean, you were going to drown. I just happened to see you and be in the right place at the right time…May be…well it is mere coincidence”
“No such thing, there are no coincidences” I pressed on, “Everything happens for a reason. It is in you. You know what is right and you want to do it. Don’t let the bitterness of past experiences stop you from doing what you believe in”
“Listen,” He answered impatiently, “I…I have a bicycle here. I can take you back to your cabin now that the sun is up. Let me pack all this stuff.”
“All right, we can finish this conversation later…”
“No later… and not ever. That is why I didn’t want to talk about it” He said decisively, “I shall have to move from this place and find a new spot”
I grabbed his shoulder and stopped him from walking away. I answered angrily,
“Why… Because I now know where to find you?”
“Yes. I’m sorry Steve. None of this would have happened if I didn’t come to see you at the cabin in the first place” He pushed me gently away and went to collect the blankets, so I persisted,
“It was meant to be…providentially…listen, I promise I shall never reveal your place to anyone…you don’t have to worry ab…” Suddenly I screamed, “Oh my God…No_____”
Josh was putting out the fire, when I stopped midsentence and let out a horrified scream,
“My recorder!!! Have you seen my laptop? Oh no…I lost my laptop…in the water…stupid…stupid me. What kind of a stupid idiot I am. I shouldn’t have taken it to the boat…Oh no…”
Josh looked at me helplessly as I fell down to the ground and went on ranting, lamenting and banging the pebbles, the sand and grass with my clenched fists. He came and restrained me at last,
“There is no point in lamenting this now. What happened has happened. Your machine must be several miles downstream by now and chances are it’s been smashed into a thousand pieces. We cannot undo the past!”
I spent several days recuperating at the cabin. Three months of hard work had been swallowed by the river courtesy of my stupid mistake. When I first arrived at the cabin and discovered that I forgot to bring my backup external drive, I got a little worried. However, since the machine was brand new, I thought there was little chance it might crash. It never occurred to me it might be lost all together in such tragic manner. I was grateful to be alive, yet I was crushed by the loss. I became exceedingly convinced that the narrative I was writing was not acceptable to the very subjects it was meant to honor. However, somehow I was feeling an inexplicable deep-seated comfort. Josh stopped by the cabin a couple of times to check on me since my misadventure in the river had left several scars in my psyche and my body, and I felt that I succeeded in convincing him to stick around and not move away. Somehow, I felt that our continuous intellectual sparring would be helpful…almost therapeutic for me.
I was driving a week later, on my way to the City to get my new laptop. My thoughts drifted back to that fateful night when Josh rescued me from drowning. There was a time when I thought he was a figment of my imagination. I even thought that he represented everything I wanted to be and could not achieve, as if he were the ideal persona. Yet, when I got to know him up close, he turned out to be a human being…smart, brave and honest, but a human being nonetheless, with the same frailties and struggles like everyone else. However, if every man with such integrity and discipline fled to the wilderness and left the social arena to be dominated by the powers of the underworld, what will the future look like? Then my thoughts took a sharp turn to look inward at myself. On the other hand, there might be others out there who would be looking at me – with all my frailties and weaknesses – and think of me as the ideal persona? What a paradox?
It is amazing how the way we see ourselves can be so radically different from the way others see us… What is even more intriguing is that both perceptions might be completely wrong.
In the city, I bought my new laptop and made sure to get an external portable drive to back up all my stuff and avoid a repeat of the same horrible experience. On my way back, I decided to try to find the spot, which Josh is calling home. I figured a surprise visit would not offend him…after all I already promised not to reveal his place to anyone…
I had to park the car outside the wooded area. I did not know how far the place was. But I guessed it would not be too far from the spot where he pulled me out of the river. So I walked towards the river. It was a long walk, but once there, I walked by the riverbank downstream until I reached the grassy meadow. It was not so vast. I figured he may be staying either at the foot of the hills to the right or near by the woods. So I marched to the middle where the woods end at the bottom of the hill. By the time I reached the intended area, I was getting tired. I had already spent almost an hour walking, and the afternoon sun was getting a little too hot to bear. I sat down on a large boulder to scan the place around. It did not seem likely that anybody would find shelter among these trees. I thought my best bet would be some kind of a natural cave or recess at the foot of the hill. I started to scour the place slowly. Many spots seemed to fit the bill, but no trace of Josh was there. Finally, when I got too tired, I had to think about my trip back. I decided to ask him to show me the place the next time I see him. I picked my way back through the woods and away from the river this time, to reach the roadway where I left my car.
A week passed in which I was too busy setting up my new computer and starting on my new project. By the beginning of the following week, I realized that Josh never showed up again. I decided to make the trip back to the hills in case he was hurt or got sick. This time I was prepared. I had my hat and was dressed up lightly like a real boy scout. I also took some food to share with my friend and started my trip early before it got too hot
I reached the spot which I saw before and started my search there. I even decided to holler, “Josh…where are you? If you can hear me, please holler…Hello…anybody there?” there was no response. I don’t know how long I kept searching the place, until suddenly I came upon a spring gushing out halfway up the hill and running down into a little brook till it reached the foot of the hill where it formed a small pool and seemed to run underground beyond that spot. There it was … the tell tale garden. It appeared to be an ideal spot for a hermit. Looking up, there were several crevices in the face of the hill. So I began to climb up. Right next to where the spring gushed out of the rocks, I saw a wide opening of a cave. I called Josh’s name several times. There was no response. I walked in gingerly. I had no flash light. As my eyes gradually adjusted to the dim light inside, I found myself in a large cave. Before long, I stumbled upon the remains of a fireplace. It can only be Josh but obviously, he was not there. There were some crude clay jars at one corner. On the other side, there was kind of a rocky platform, which he probably used as a bed. But there were no blankets, no sleeping bag, no utensils and no traces of anybody living there. I sat down on the bed and wondered what might have happened? A chilling idea was beginning to creep into my mind. It made me feel anxious and angry. “It cannot be happening.” I said to myself. I walked to the entrance of the cave and sat down on the grass. The view from this spot was fascinating. You could see the grassy meadow below extending to the riverbank and the woods to the right side. You can even see the other side of the river where the hills are much farther from the water. As time went by, I got more and more agitated. Was he hurt some place where nobody can reach him or help him? Or even worse, did he decide to leave for good in spite of his promise to me? Finally, I went inside again and scoured the cave more closely. I decided to leave the food on the bed so he would not miss it, and write a little note for him in case he comes back. I turned around to get out of the cave. This time I noticed what looked like a piece of paper stuck to the wall near the entrance, which was flapping in the mild breeze. As I picked it up, my heart was already clutched in a grip of anger and grief.
“Dear Steve,” he wrote, “I am sorry to disappoint you. I know you shall eventually find your way to this little hole in the hill. By that time, I shall have found another spot to call home. I strongly recommend that you try from time to time, to come here and taste for yourself the wonder of living, the way life was intended to be enjoyed…only with God and nature. I learned a lot from our conversations, but I cannot trade the peace I enjoyed here for any luxury in the world. I shall pray for you and I hope you shall pray for me as well. Good luck with your new projects. By the way, I strongly recommend that you learn how to swim before you jump into the river.”
It took me a couple of weeks to get over my disappointment and anger. I never saw Josh again. Yet, I gradually came to appreciate his point of view and respect his insistence on a life of solitude. Even though I could never get myself to agree with him, I realized it would be quite unfair – and even silly – to expect everybody to agree with me no matter how strong or even valid my point of view may be. That is how people are different and it doesn’t mean that one person is necessarily right while the other is wrong, which is sometimes the case as well. However in all cases, right or wrong, we all have to bear the consequences of our own ideas and the decisions we make based on them.
I visited the enchanting cave frequently later on. I rewrote the “Glimpse into heaven” in a completely different way… as a fictional story with the main characters being Sabry, Nagy …and Josh…incorporating the factual elements about each of these good people. Nevertheless, I never attempted to “jump” into the river again since I never learned how to swim. You see… you never know where the river flows…