A Short Story
As the sun climbed to its highest point he realized he wasn’t sweating anymore. This was probably the end. The wind, rather than providing cooling relief, relentlessly blasted his face like the old gas heater in his grandparents’ house. At first the sand was annoying, getting inside his clothes, his water bottle, his food, his pack…it was everywhere. Now, the water and food were gone, so that didn’t really matter anymore. But the wind driven sand recommitted it’s soul-quenching effort and focused instead on sandblasting the few remaining patches of uncalloused skin.
He looked around at the band of people who looked to him for leadership. They looked malnourished and beyond weary. He was pretty sure that most of them had lost confidence in him. Why shouldn’t they? He was often the voice of one calling in the wilderness, urging them to stay together and keep moving forward. And look where that had gotten them.
Some had already wandered off in search of greener pastures…literally. Those who remained were supportive with the words but their eyes told a different story. He knew it was just a matter of time. He didn’t have anything left. His encouragement was empty rhetoric, he wasn’t sure he even believed it anymore. He wasn’t really the leader anyway. He was just another member of the group. Some expected him to lead, some needed him to and others, well they just saw it differently. He was tired of trying to figure out who was who in the mix.
It had been five years since he and his family were forced into the wilderness. At first he was lost and terrified. The landscape was harsh and unforgiving and more nights than not he lie awake wondering if tomorrow would bring destruction.
Over time the landscape grew more familiar and he even learned to notice the small mercies. It took some time but eventually his eyes grew accustomed to noticing the occasional wildflower defiantly blooming against a seemingly lifeless backdrop. He learned where to search for water and food, sometimes naturally available but more often left as small supply drops from their true leader. It was strange and unexpected but with time he even learned to appreciate the beauty of this untamed wilderness.
Spectacular sunsets, crafty wildlife and those enigmatic flowers all took on a sacred aura. More and more often he found himself feeling sorry for those who were numbed by the comfort and security of home. Their senses were dulled to the majesty around them, just as his had been.
After a few years the small band of travelers expanded. They joined forces with other travelers and even sent an invitation back home to family to take the risky journey as well. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Their Leader would send periodic communication, giving marching orders and some encouragement. They were told to trust in the supply drops, He promised they would come as needed. They were never promised an over abundance of supplies – after all, they were on the move and couldn’t carry more than a few days provision at a time.
As he surveyed the exhausted faces he began to wonder if they were really receiving supplies as needed. They were still alive, but just barely. He understood the concept of traveling light. It made sense, he was on board…and he did his best to keep others on board as well. Most everyone struggled with it at times, himself included, but all in all the group got the picture.
Had he tricked everyone, himself included, into a death sentence? Lately the supplies were meager at best. Everyone was so hungry that even few bites shared among them seemed like a feast, but when it was over he realized they’d only eaten enough to stave off starvation, not enough to be filled and energized. So they’d stumble forward until the point of collapsing only to find another small stash. He still saw the flowers and they were nice, but you can’t eat or drink a flower and to be honest, they were starting to get on his nerves. They were just going to burn up in the afternoon heat anyway.
It reminded him of what his father used to say about fishing, you get a bite every now and then and its just enough to keep you from going home. He remembered how many times he’d spent an entire day fishing without catching anything, but true to his father’s words, every time he started to pack up he’d get a strike on his line and the adrenaline would start pumping. On and on this cycle went, but at the end of the day, there were no fish on the stringer to reward his efforts.
Sure they were still getting the minimum they needed to survive and he was glad that they hadn’t yet buried anyone who’d died of starvation or dehydration. But was this the grand adventure? Thriving seemed like a myth from an ancient culture, something that made a good plot line for a children’s bedtime story, but not something which they were going to experience again. No, mere survival was about all they could hope for and even that was beginning to seem like just a delaying of the inevitable. He was pretty sure he couldn’t continue the hard journey on minimal rations much longer and the faces of his companions told him he was not alone.
He couldn’t give up. He loved his companions too much. He was bound to them and would do whatever he could for them. But he wondered how long it would be before they felt betrayed and in despair turned on him and killed him. He wouldn’t blame them, he didn’t even plan to stop them when it happened. In fact, it would be a welcomed release from this burden.
But for the moment, the battered man continued trudging forward…
The sun dawned over the horizon and almost immediately the temperature began to climb. The battered man awoke and stared at the sky for a few moments. Another day had dawned and he was still not dead. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been staring up at the sky before he noticed the figure sitting nearby.
“What are you doing?”
The man said nothing for a moment.
“What are you doing?” the figure repeated.
“Surviving…at least I’m trying to.”
“No, you’re just waiting. You say you’re waiting for rescue but you act like you’re waiting for death.”
“I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Depend on the Leader for rescue…you told me that yourself. I’ve been told repeatedly not to attempt to do it on my own power.”
That was what all the sages had told the man. He should learn to depend completely on the Leader, not trying to do things himself because it would just lead to defeat. He was always told to trust patiently because the Leader often waited to act until there was no explanation for victory other than his deliverance.
The visitor was silent.
The man continued looking straight ahead. “What am I supposed to be doing here?”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to thrive. I want to succeed…but I’m not sure what success even looks like anymore.”
“So, why aren’t you?”
“Are you serious? I’ve been struggling for survival, waiting for something, some assistance, deliverance, something…anything.”
“Look, if you’ve come to taunt me, there’s a long line.”
“I didn’t come to taunt you. I came to remind you.”
“Who you are.”
“Who I am? I know who I am, I just don’t see how being me is sustainable.”
“That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard you say. And I’ve heard you say a lot of dumb things.”
“That’s helpful. If you’re here to remind me of something, get on with it because I’m tired.”
“I know. It takes a lot of energy to pretend you’re a victim. You were told to trust the Leader. You were told to rely on His strength rather than your own. But you were never told to ignore what you’ve been given, how you’ve been trained and what you were sent to do.
Get up and remember. You have been brought safely through many trials. You have passion, vision, resourcefulness. These people you feel so burdened to lead are not here to be a drain…they are here to experience this journey with you, alongside you. You were given tools to lead, and they were given tools as well.
You are a warrior, not a victim. There is a difference between depending on your own strength and using the gifts entrusted to you. They don’t come from you, they come from our Leader. This pity party is getting old. It isn’t helping you and its an insult to everyone who has invested time, energy and tears into your preparation – especially the Leader.
Those who are sent are not sent empty handed. The time for complaining is over. The time for movement has arrived…It is time to remember.”
“What do I do next?” the man said, but he knew without looking that the visitor was gone. It didn’t matter because he knew the answer to his own question. The next step was simply to deal with whatever came next.
It was a brief conversation, but something had already changed. He was no longer the battered man. He looked at his wounds and realized that most of them had already changed to scars. No longer painful, but still present to remind him of who he was and what he’d been through. The time for melodrama was over, he had work to do.
For the first time in a while, he smiled.