The old woodsman held out his hand. The village chief looked at it, looked at the river. Looked at his wife, his children, and the villagers behind him.
It was raining. It had been raining for days. The waters were rising. Not even the oldest villager could remember when the river had been this high. And it was dark. He couldn’t see the other shore. In fact, he could barely see the woodman himself. If he let himself, he could imagine that arm attached to nothing as the man himself faded.
On the other hand, the village was on a small island in the river. Its people lived off the river. The island was rocky. Perhaps if they went to the highest rock in the center, they would be able to stay above the water level as the river continued to rise. It had worked in previous floods.
Copyright © 2014
Henry E. Neufeld
And who was this woodsman anyhow? They all had seen him. They knew of him. He lived out with the animals in the woods. He had no family. Nobody knew who his parents were. He was dirty and rough. The villagers weren’t rich, but they were respectable. The river provided a good living fishing for them. They sold the fish downstream. They were businessmen. Respectable. Anchored. How could they trust this nobody?
And that rope the woodsman was standing on. The one he held. Were they well attached? It was all well and good for an unattached woodsman. If he went into the river, there’d be nobody to mourn. So what did it matter? Could he be trusted?
The chief wanted to send someone else, to claim that, like the captain of a ship, he should be the last off the island. On the other hand, he wanted to send his children first, so that they’d have the best chance of surviving. He wasn’t sure which of these thoughts was the most noble, and which the result of cowardice. Should he go first to show the way? Should he stay last so that others had the best chance?
He looked at the woodsman with a question in his eyes, with all these questions together. But the woodsman only thrust out his arm. He’d already told the chief about the logjam up the river. It could break at any time. When it did, everything would be swept from the island. Anyone on his rope bridge at that point would be swept away as well.
But the chief wondered if he could trust this nobody. Would it really happen? Would safety not be found in the same place it always had?
The woodsman thrust his arm toward the chief again.
What would you do? (Be honest with yourself!)
(Though the details are somewhat distant from it, this story was suggested to me by the Lectionary reading, Proper 14A, Matthew 14:22-33. You can ask yourself some of these questions, and others, by placing yourself in that story as well.)