“Before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.” -Sir 15:17
We find ourselves on a river in a strange land. A heavy fog hangs over the water and about the banks. With hands on the rudder of our little bark, we hear the faint roar of a waterfall ahead - how far, we cannot tell. The chill, dank air sets our shoulders trembling, and we long for home, to be with those we love, and to feel companionship’s warmth around an enkindled hearth.
The rush of waters downstream means that we’ll have to put-in on one of the two banks, but we can’t decide which. Faint glimmers of light weave their way through trees and fog from one bank, whereas only a deep darkness blankets the other. Quiet whispers, nevertheless, float over the water from that black bank, and, while we cannot tell what they say, something in their tone entices us. Our rudder shifts with our curiosity.
Are those groans and cries behind the whispers? Or are they only the waterfall’s echo off a crag? A break in the mist unveils a large rock with a small niche scooped out the side. Curled in a contorted ball within the hollow is one that looks like a man; only, his skin seems to blend with the rock like an elastic fabric stretched taut. His smoke-like skin looks inflamed and fevered as though scalded by some unseen fire, and his mouth falls agape in a mixture of pain and terror. In agony, he steals glances back across the river, and the aspect of his gaze hovers over desire, but falls into hateful rage. Here, a thickened mist conceals him again.
So close are we to that harrowing bank that we nearly run aground on wood protruding above the shallows. We spot a quay and realize that the wood is from canoes, dinghies, and skiffs that travelled this river before. Now they lie, torn, crushed, and sunk, useless as passage to the other side.
Away from this horrible site! If there be a home, it is not here! We pull our rudder hard to the side, but the river’s current has changed; it pushes against our hopes. On the shore ahead stand silhouettes of some hellish gang, waiting. Are they fishing and fishing for us? The current keeps strong; our advance lags; and still, we skirt the evil-smelling mud of the shallows. We are yet in reach of those ahead - in reach!
Repenting of our foolish curiosity to explore this bleak bank, we hold our rudder fast, press our heads against our hands, and pray. A minute passes, and we feel no tug on our boat, no pull nor snag. Lifting our heads, we realize that we are back in the fog-dense channel.
We breathe thanks and aim to beach our craft on the yonder side away from the gloom. Perhaps there are other lost travelers floating behind, wanderers wondering where the way is to home. So, we call out, hoping our voices will rise above the flow of rushing waters.