"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
The Real One (Part 3)
mir-a-cle Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin miraculum, from Latin, a wonder, marvel, from mirari to wonder at
1 : an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs
2 : what happens when you mix dire circumstance and men of faith
As distant as Demetrius could see in the late Summer heat, there were only brown, dead fields. People would be dying soon, he thought.
Usually in September the grain crops would be setting their seed, and the harvest would come only a few weeks later. But the drought had come and the fields had died, and there would not be enough grain to eat.
Talk was, at the seaport, that the famine was already spreading in other countries in the area, that it was not just Myra that was hit. Demetrius wouldn't know, he had never left this town, never walked in a field more than ten miles from here. He would leave that to the soldiers and sailors. He was a farmer.
For what that was worth, he thought.
In October, famine came to Myra.
Demetrius had to make a choice between feeding his livestock or selling it. Feed was expensive and livestock prices were down, everyone was trying to limit the number of mouths to feed, and selling their animals left more precious grain for the people to eat. So Demetrius sold his goat and his cow. They were wasting away anyway, there had been no forage for them, and there had been no milk from either one for some time.
The lamb he slaughtered himself, as sick and spindly as it was, and his family shared it with his neighbors. This would be the last meat they would eat for a long time.
And the grain was running out. They had been eating the seed grain, the grain that would have been planted to bring next year's crop. Demetrius could see no hope of rescue, but he put on a brave face for his wife and their children, praying with each of the children each night, and usually giving his own meager portion of food to them.
And so it happened that he found himself standing on the dock, at the seaport, on that morning he would never forget. The dockside was always busy, but this time it was especially busy since a fleet of ten ships had docked at daybreak. They were from Vienennsis, bound for Alexandria.
And the ships were full of grain.
With him on the dock he saw the Bishop of Myra. He seemed to be looking for someone. When the captain of the fleet stepped onto the dock, the Bishop was right there waiting. Demetrius, curious, nonchalantly moved closer to hear what they were saying.
"I am Nicholas, Bishop of this district of Myra. Are you the captain?"
"Yes, I am Proclus, captain of this fleet of ten. It is a surprise indeed to be greeted on the dockside by a bishop!"
"Captain Proclus, I would like to buy all of the grain from your ships. We are in the midst of famine and my people are starving to death. I will pay you 20% more than you have already contracted for, if you will sell to me instead."
The captain looked crestfallen. "If only I could. But these cargos are already meted and measured, and not a bushel must be missing when we dock in Alexandria. I have given my word."
"I will double the price, and then you may give them the profit when your ships arrive."
"I cannot. I cannot sell you this grain."
Both men sat quiet for a moment, each knowing that something had to happen or people would die as a result.
"I will do this," said Proclus. "I will have 100 bushels delivered from each of the ten ships. That is 1,000 bushels in all. That is the best I can do."
That would only be enough for a few days, at best, Demetrius thought. What was the use in that?
"Thank you," said Bishop Nicholas. "What payment would you like in return?"
"No payment," said Proclus. "And I am also to deliver to you regards from my brother, Flavius, who served as a centurion here once."
Yes, now Demetrius could see the resemblance between the captain and the centurion that had been stationed here during the persecutions. But all Romans looked alike to him, so it was hard to tell.
"God will reward you for this act of charity, Proclus." The Bishop made the sign of the cross, blessing the fleet.
Dockworkers began loading grain onto wagons to take it to the town storehouse. Demetrius immediately joined in to help, and all too soon all of the grain was on the wagons. It wasn't nearly as large an amount as hoped, but perhaps there would be more, from another ship.
Just as the grain wagons began to head towards Myra, Bishop Nicholas asked them to stop for a moment. He went up to each wagon and prayed over it. Demetrius had boarded one wagon so that he could help unload the grain in town, hoping for a bit of it to take home. "Father in heaven," Bishop Nicholas prayed. "Bless this grain to our use and make it fruitful. Thank you Father for taking care of us." The Bishop walked to the next wagon to do the same, and Demetrius felt his wagon lurch as it set off towards town.
Demetrius helped unload the grain into the storehouse, and the line of hungry townspeople began to form. Carefully, the men of the watch meted out a small portion to each person in proportion to his family. Demetrius took his, thinking to himself that at this rate, those hundred bushels wouldn't last out the week.
But they did. Each day he would go to the storehouse, and receive his portion along with the rest of the townspeople. The next day, he would go again and yet another portion would be given to him.
After a month, he just had to get inside the storehouse to see what was up. He had a friend on the watch, so it was a simple matter for him to get a glimpse inside when no one was looking.
The pile of grain was exactly the same size as it had been when it was first delivered!
"How can this be?" Demetrius said to his friend. "If not this pile, where is the grain coming from each day?"
"From this pile. Each day we take the share, and each day the pile remains the same."
Stunned, Demetrius couldn't take his eyes off the pile of wheat.
He had never personally witnessed a miracle from God before. Even now, Demetrius had no inkling of how vast it would be. For the famine would spread for two years, and another crop would fail. It would not be until the harvest of the third year that fresh grain could be had. Yet, in the town of Myra, the people always had grain to eat, and when planting time came they had enough for seed. Every so often Demetrius would peek into the storehouse, and until the week of the good harvest the pile never diminished.
When Proclus anchored in Alexandria, he was prepared to lose his ships and his command, and also his life.
The entire voyage, Proclus had been thinking about the consequences of his gift to Bishop Nicholas. He had decided to tell the story exactly as it happened, and to take all of the responsibility for the missing grain himself. Surely he would never captain a cargo fleet again. Possibly, he would be put to death for thievery, no matter how noble the reason.
When they docked, the cargo was offloaded by scores of dusky Egyptians. Wagons loaded with grain made their way to the harbormaster, where men would carefully weigh and mete the grain, and his shortage would be exposed. Harbormaster Nubhotep was reputed to be a harsh man, but a fair man. Perhaps he would listen.
He looked out over the sea. He would miss this. How proud would his brother be of him now? Is this perhaps what it feels like to be a martyr?
He wished he had the chance to ask his brother about his new faith, Christianity. It looked now like it might be too late.
A runner thumped up the gangplank to the deck. "Captain Proclus, Sir, Harbormaster Nubhotep wishes to see you immediately regarding the measure of your grain."
A lump rose in Proclus throat as the runner escorted him to the harbormaster. Brave, he thought, he must be brave. What is done is done and what will be will be.
Harbormaster Nubhotep was an old man, his head was bald and his legs thin and knobby as he sat on the ground. His hands were scarred and calloused from handling ropes over many years, but they handled the stylus well as it wrote on the clay tablet, calculating one number then another. Proclus couldn't have read what Nubhotep was writing even if he wanted to, he couldn't read.
Nubhotep finished with the clay tablet, and wrote some figured down on a papyrus scroll next to him. He took a stone and smoothed the clay ont he tablet, erasing it, so that he could use it again later. Slowly, he stood.
"Captain Proclus." Nubhotep tossed the name out like a statement of fact, fixing Proclus with knowing eyes. "Captain, how much of your grain did your crew consume for meals on your journey?
It was expected that the crew may have a small amount of grain on the way, but nothing like the amount he gave to Bishop Nicholas. "The normal amounts, harbormaster, no more."
The harbormaster wrinkled his brow, staring even harder as if he could pull the truth out by sheer effort and will. "Are you absolutely sure, Captain Proclus?"
"Yes, Harbormaster, I am."
"Amazing. I have here the bill of lading from Vienennsis. It matches perfectly, perfectly," Nobhotep let the word sit for a moment for emphasis, "with the amounts we have just weighed. Never in all my years as a load of cargo been so accurate! It is as if you have just left Vienennsis."
It took a moment for Proclus to believe what he was hearing. It took only a moment more for him to determine that yes, he must ask Flavius about this new faith of his, where the god works wonders like this.