The Situation He Found Himself In


When he burst into flames, there was, to the exclusion of all else, astonishment. Astonishment, at this state, the condition, that had not been–and then certainly and completely was. Then exhilaration, a euphoria that such a thing could be. These curious initial biochemical reactions were in part a response to the instantaneous depletion of oxygen, immediately surrounding him, by the fire, and the flood of endorphins released ahead of the coming pain, which, when the brain caught up would be excruciating, right out on the edge of unendurable.

But this was nothing like that, the situation he found himself in. The flames were survivable this was not.

The sea in ancient mythology is the region of chaos, not uniformly malevolent, but eternally unknowable and in that, terrifying.

Not included in the most commonly known story of the deliverance of the slaves from captivity in Egypt, was what they saw as they passed through the chaos. At his god’s command, Moses held out his hand over the abyss and the Lord drove back the waters so that the fleeing slaves walked on dry land on the bottom of the abyss, with walls of great water humming on both sides.

What they saw as they passed through the chaos was every kind and possibility of darkness writhing and striving just on the other side of the surface of those walls. Even the purpose and promise that could be glimpsed was overwhelmed by mammoth shadows of creatures further back from the surface. How far back or how large or even the shape or intentions of these beasts was unknowable. It was as if the creator was saying, freedom, yes, but this is what you must pass through and rarely will it be held at bay—held back. To live freely is to contend with these.

Many fled back to Egypt, meeting the pursuing army on the way, pleading for capture, preferring slavery, the kind of limited and knowable cruelty, to the possibilities of the kind of freedom offered.

The situation he found himself in presented this kind of choice, flee backwards on his heals, tripping, stumbling onto the mundane shore. I kind of life could be made there, not entirely numbing. Moving toward pleasant, almost. Or he could walk on, step, keeping his eyes down or even searching behind the walls of the abyss. He could name the shadows if he felt he had it in him. There was always another way. Stand there, not forward or back until the humming walls of water collapsed.

He had a memory of Crater Lake, he was chasing his dog, Moses through some scrub woods, playing really, only half believing he needed retrieving. He lost sight of Moses, but continued running in the direction of the chase, thinking more of the sheer drop that must be coming up quick than of the dog. He put his head down and quickened his pase. He broke through the low branches on the very edge of the crater, only six feet to the precipice, it appeared as if he had steeped out into the sky. He tripped or instinctively dropped to the ground, face down, his momentum continuing to carry him forward. He slid on the rock, flattening his body and trying to dig in with his feet and hands. He stopped just as head and shoulders passed beyond the rock face. His heart was desperately trying to regain some regular rhythm, his lungs digging for air. His arms and hands spread behind him pushing down hard on the top of the cliff to hold him in place. He shimmied back until he was fully a couple of feet from the edge and stood up. He swooned a little as he looked across the six mile to the other side and the thousand-foot drop. He had to look at the ground to gain his balance, but when he did, he looked out again into the abyss and thought, oh, this is how life can be, and it made him laugh and tremble as he walked back to the camp and to find Moses.

The situation he found himself in was not like the sliding toward the edge of Crater Lake, except of course if one could not stop ones self. He had the urge of a possibility, even in this situation. He could move or make some movement up and around and through. It might be done if he felt he had it in him.

Something fired in him, or off to the side at the periphery of his vision. He knew what he would to do. The very next thing and it wasn’t like answering a question or not completely asking one. Maybe it was like the suggestion a series of questions, but open, wide question. Maybe it was more like an agreement. A shrug that says, yes, this is what I did and given the situation, well….

Well, yes, like standing up in you small wooden boat in the deep trough of a thirty foot swell, walls of water rising quickly on either side, humming, and tying a beach towel around your neck, wearing your underwear on the outside of your pants, placing your fists on your hips and declaring in a knowingly ignorant, and self deprecating smile, I am here.

Rev. Russell Rathbun