by Nicholas P. Snoek
There are no telephones between the monastery and Paro, so there is no way to let anyone at home know what happened to Viktor. It is decided to bring the boy's body straight home, not stopping anywhere. A long and gloomy ride.
As they approach the house, the girls and then the ladies come out into the yard. They're surprised to see the men back so soon.
Maartje, "Bert, you're back early. We thought it would be several days yet... What's the matter? You look dreadful!... Where's Viktor?"
Siem, "Marie, something terrible happened to Viktor..."
Marie, "What? Where is he? What happened?"
"He fell. He fell off a cliff. And he's... dead."
"Dead? No! NO! Where is he?"
"Right here, in this blanket."
"Oh God! How can this be! Let me see." and she pulls back the blanket.
She stares in shocked silence, then starts to cry. All the others go towards the house, to let the parents be alone.
Bertus, "Maartje, this is the priest who was shot when the soldiers took the monastery. As you can see, he survived. Brother Andre, this is my wife Maartje, and these are my daughters Ietje, Truus, Janthe, and Mel. The lady with Siem is his wife, Marie."
Maartje, "How are you. Won't you all come in? Tell me what happened." They go inside, Bertus explaining.
"Jack and Viktor separated from the rest of us, so Jack could show Viktor some of his favorite spots in the woods around the monastery. Jack, would you tell everyone what took place after you and Viktor left us?"
"Well, we really wanted to know what was going on at the monastery, and we figured we'd be able to see down over top of the place from the cliff to the one side. So we went up there right away. Viktor was getting dizzy once in a while, I guess from the height. I never thought of that when he said we could climb a tree to see better. We picked out a tree and climbed up. When we were high up there he slid out onto a limb. I said not to, but he did anyway. And then he suddenly got dizzy and fell.
The tree was leaning out over the cliff, so he fell a long ways down. It was hard to find him. When I did he was all bloody, and his leg was twisted. I could feel it was broken when I straightened it out. He was still breathing then, but when I got the others and we found him again he wasn't breathing, and we couldn't find a heart beat."
Maartje, "Those poor people, to lose their son just like that. And while they're on a holiday! This is going to change everything. We'll have to cancel the plans for the rest of their time here. And we'll have to make all kinds of arrangements."
Bertus, "Siem wants to send for the other children. They could get on a plane to Calcutta and be here in a couple of days. They all have passports and everything, for going to Canada. So we'll have the funeral after they arrive. That's simpler than taking the body back to Holland."
Brother Andre, "And I will clear everything with the King at Thimphu. Mr Spiets asked me to conduct the service."
The house is very full after Viktor's brother and sisters arrive. The six girls, two older and four younger, and the younger brother Pietje, are very subdued, and pretty much stick together. They've never experienced a death so close in the family, and are quite shocked.
The evening before the funeral everyone is in the large front room, when Siem suddenly says: "Brother Andre, I don't remember seeing any graves or cemeteries, except for the tiny one we're using tomorrow. Does everyone get cremated around here?"
"Mr Spiets, I don't know how to put this exactly. Cremation is becoming more common, but the usual custom in the high country, and from time immemorial in Tibet, has been to dispose of the dead by feeding the cut up body to the vultures. When that's done, the remaining bones are gathered and as much as possible with a limited wood supply, burned. Of course the bodies of more notable persons like renowned lamas, are embalmed and become like relics. As for the vulture method, I know this can be quite repulsive to people from a Christian background."
"Disgusting!" several of the company all mutter at once.
"Yes, the best you can say for it, it's quite practical. There's not a lot of soil or wood in some of these areas. They can't afford to give up ground for the dead, when the living need every scrap of it for their barely subsistence farming."
Addie, hesitantly, "But what about the Resurrection? If a body is all eaten up and burnt up... What about that?"
Brother Andre, with a quiet smile "Well, you see, whether a body decays in a grave or loses its form any other way doesn't really matter, does it? If it's going to be re-constituted for resurrection it shouldn't make much difference exactly what happens to it until then. I think we can trust God to put all that in order."
Addie nods, but still looks puzzled.
The funeral is small and quiet. Not many people are notified, hardly anyone knows the family.
Brother Andre gives a short and simple talk. The two fathers lower the homemade coffin with ropes, and the whole thing is over in a very short time. Marie cries loudly. Some of the girls are sobbing softly.
Jack is very quiet. He has been worried.
It takes him a long time to get to sleep that night.
/// Jack is walking down a wide hallway. He's in a building of a kind he has never seen before, very large and bright, and made of strange materials. There are big windows with glass all along the wall on one side. So much glass! Doors appear at intervals in the other wall.
Between the doors on the colored walls are large pictures. He feels drawn to them, and walks slowly by, looking intently at the very life-like portrayals of strange prehistoric creatures.
He stops for a long time, studying the scene of a number of primitive humans, all hairy and a little stooped, with big long arms, brutish faces, overhanging eyebrows, and receding chins.
Where was that? When was that?
There is another troop in the background. Are they related and friendly? Or maybe another tribe. They all look about the same, very dark and husky. Do they fight, and kill each other?
The countryside setting seems peaceful enough, sort of gentle sunny afternoon... But some of these creatures look formidable, and quite a few of them are holding knotty clubs.\\\
Jack is lying in bed, just waking up...
Isn't it amazing how things happen.
I meet this older boy from Holland just
About two weeks ago and just as suddenly
He's dead; he's gone, out of my life forever.
Out of his life forever.
I killed him.
And I keep worrying and waiting, someone
Is going to say it was my fault.
If I had not insisted on us going our
Separate ways; if I had not presumed
To be the leader, to exercise control,
Poor Viktor would still be alive today.
Why is it that no one has said to me
`Why didn't you just follow with the others,
Why did you have to lead poor Viktor out onto
That fatal cliff, and climb that dreadful tree?'
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned in deed.
The days following the funeral go slowly by. There is little to do for the children. Everyone takes long walks. They go in pairs, or small groups, and just walk and talk and think. No one knows what to do. Playing doesn't seem right; anyway, no one feels like it.
The Spiets children rarely speak to Jack. They're not fluent in English, and they have mixed feelings about him. They don't know if they should blame him or not -- it's hard not to. For his part, he feels awkward with them as well.
Mr Schuurman does tend to his business affairs, but usually Siem goes with him now instead of Jack.
The ladies do a lot of handiwork, and keep everyone fed and clean. They talk with the children constantly, trying to reconcile them to what has happened. It is difficult to understand. How could God let this happen?
Brother Andre is much in demand, to explain how a good and loving God can allow this to happen. And not just with the younger ones; he has long talks with just about everyone. He is torn between his need to go see about his monks, on the one hand, and his responsibility to Jack and these two families on the other. It seems everyone is uncomfortable, ill at ease.
Siem has been having a rough time of it, trying to come to terms with this, to absorb the fact of his son's death. This young life, so full of promise, cut off so abruptly, so quickly, without any warning. He feels betrayed and abandoned, to have the slowly developing partner-son relationship with his oldest boy summarily terminated. And all the spent care and nurturing, all the guiding and counselling, all the built up hopes and happy pride -- all gone! All wasted!
He wishes they could have had some parting talks, to straighten out any misunderstandings that might have been there. No one is ever prepared. A sudden death shakes up one's whole world, shocks one with a sense of inexplicable doom. What lies in the future?
Siem tosses and turns in bed that evening, unable to sleep. Marie complains several times.
At last he dozes off.
/// "Hello, Siem."
He is startled. He's sitting on a warm rock in a bright sunlit clearing, overlooking a brown-green valley down below, with a silvery meandering stream defining outlining the rounded russet masses of maples along its banks. There are no roads or houses or any other signs of humanity.
On another rock in front of him is the young girl who spoke to him just now.
With a quick appraising glance he says "Hello. Who are you? And where am I?"
She's a cheery young thing, with sparkling blue eyes and bouncy blonde curls. She's wearing a light brown dress, very plain, gathered at the waist with a yellow sash. And on her feet a pair of simple dark brown sandals.
"I am Sharon. We're sitting on a hill top. I don't know what it's called. It's a good place to have a conversation without distractions."
"This isn't Heaven, is it? I didn't die or anything?"
With a tinkling laugh, "No, no. You did not die. Don't worry, you'll be fine. After we talk a bit you'll go back to where you were. You'll wake up, and if you remember anything, it will seem like a dream. That's all."
"Is that what dreams are? What this is? Is this a dream? Am I dreaming you?"
"You are not dreaming me. That is, you are not creating me in your dreaming. But you are dreaming, even so. Sort of.
It's kind of complicated. Dreaming covers so many different situations, you see. You can have all kinds of experiences while your body is sleeping. I guess they all come under the heading of dreaming, from your point of view.
Try to think of it this way. You're familiar with the idea that people have a body and a soul. Well, the body can be in bed, sleeping, and the soul, or at least a part of you that we can call the soul for simplicity's sake, the soul can leave. It can leave to learn lessons, either directly or by way of some sort of illustrative-symbolic drama, or just by seeing some happening or situation. To help you to understand or deal with something that troubles you. Do you see what I mean?
So quite often you do not create your dreams, nor the beings that appear in them. What seems like creating comes from the way in which, as you remember or partly remember what happened, you try to make sense of it by imposing familiar concepts on it. And that can be especially difficult or confusing when your experience involves witnessing something far removed in time from the present. Your linear thinking imposes a sequential order on material that is not necessarily in any sort of time sequence.
The events or scenes you enter as observer can be back in time, or forward in time; they're not restricted the way your conscious living is, to the present point that seems to move ephemerally from past to future. So, you re-create your experience in keeping with your beliefs, and the result is what you think of as a dream."
She's an attractive young thing, barely out of her teens, and Siem has a hard time concentrating on what she's saying; her soft lithe body draws his gaze like a magnet.
"Yes! Ahhh. Right. But how can you know all this? You're just a young girl. Aren't you?"
"Yes and no. That doesn't really matter, does it? Does my age make any difference? Are you going to let my age determine or affect the meaning of what I say to you? Or my looks?"
Siem is embarrassed. Fixing his eyes on the rocks around them, he says, slowly, "I am sorry. Please go on."
"Right. I suppose you're wondering what we're doing here?"
"Yes, of course."
"Okay. Tell me, what do you think it will be like when you die, yourself. What will happen to you?"
"Well, as far as I understand, I will either go to Heaven, to Hell, or to Purgatory, depending on the state of my soul when the time comes."
"That's basically an oversimplification. A way to make complicated things simpler for people who are not yet ready to know more. I would like to tell you more, so that losing Viktor may be less traumatic for you."
"You know about Viktor? How do you know that?"
"Yes. As I just said, helping you deal with Viktor's death is in good part the reason for my being here with you. The mechanics of my coming to know what is troubling you are not really important. Not to you, not now. I know about you so I might help you. Alright?"
"Now, I think it's very sad that even people in your situation, who believe that dying is a transition to a better state, or say that they so believe, still act as if dying is a curse, a final parting, a theft or deprivation.
And you react to Viktor's death as if God took something from you. As to yourself, in spite of your conviction that as a reasonably good person you would go to Heaven if you died in, as you would put it, a state of grace, you still fear death as if it were some terrible and unfair imposition."
"Well. That doesn't seem so unreasonable! When you die you leave all your family, your friends, your whole life, behind you. They never see you again, and they don't know what happened to you. It's a disappearance behind a blank wall. Poof! Gone. Just like that. Of course it's unfair, especially when it happens to a young person like Viktor, who had his whole life to live yet, and is just cut off before he even has a chance to get started.
You don't think that's unfair? How can God allow that? What sort of God would allow that? Isn't God supposed to be good and loving?"
"Oh, Siem. This comes close to blasphemy. How can you carry on like this, like a spoiled child. Now, listen carefully. No, just get hold of yourself and listen to me. I'm going to try to explain to you how it looks from the other side. Okay? Take it easy, and just listen.
In all His perfect loving goodness God has created this wonderful world for you people to live in. He has provided you with everything you need to live beautiful constructive lives, to become good and loving persons, to move and breathe and grow in freedom and knowledge and wisdom...
Now, how can you take that so lightly? How can you claim all that, as some sort of right? As something you're entitled to? Who or what would you BE without Him, without what He has given you?
And how, in God's name, can you possibly presume to question the way He runs things?
Yes. Life can be hard. You may be knocked around from time to time. You bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, so to speak. But can't you see that all of that comes under a far greater plan? You cannot learn life's lessons without the experience of them! Without undergoing them! You cannot grow without adversity. To become more than what you are now, you HAVE to endure more than you, as you now are, can bear! Don't you see? Suffering is part of growing. Do not question God!
And suppose you tell me. Do you have a better idea? No, never mind. Let me talk.
Okay. Let's have a calm look at losing Viktor, shall we? A good part of the problem here, is in that over-simplified account of what happens at death. I tell you again: Death is primarily NOT an ending but a beginning. I know, I know, that sounds weird to you, but it's a question of perspective, and to understand all this you have to change your perspective, you HAVE to. There is no other way.
When a human being dies, one of two things happens. If he has had a full life, and has experienced in good measure all of the normal human situations and learned from them as was intended, he will proceed in time, to his next life experience on another world, closer to his eventual destination, first in the direction of the headquarters of his superuniverse, and later in other living sojourns, ever closer to Paradise.
Now please realize that these experiences are not lives as you know them. Your time on earth is the only three dimensional life experience you will have, and you have not had any other before this one. So you are not reincarnated, you see. Later you will have, to put it simply, more spiritual forms. Okay?
Now, if someone is cut off before his time, as happened with Viktor, he resumes his present adventure on the Mansion worlds, and that's a special arrangement to allow him to complete his earth education, you might say. If he did not marry on earth, he will marry there. If he did not experience and learn from parenting on earth, he will have that opportunity there. And so on. So he will have it all. He will suffer it all. He will be denied nothing from having died too young. You see? Do you understand now? He will not lose out."
Frowning, Siem says "Is that Purgatory? Or is the other case Purgatory? And what about Heaven and Hell?"
"Good questions. If we have to use those terms, I would say that the Mansion world experiences are more like Purgatory.
And being in Heaven would be the eventual attainment of the vision of God on Paradise, but that is unbelievably far away. Almost impossible for the human mind to contemplate. It is far away in space, although the concept of space almost loses its meaning as one approaches Paradise. And it is far, far away in time, both as time that is required to travel there and as time needed to successively `grow there' through all those incremental experiences on other worlds."
"We don't just go to Heaven."
"Certainly not. Do you think you would be ready for that?"
"I don't feel ready for anything, not even this life."
"A healthy attitude, for now. It's all so much more wonderful and so much grander than people can realize."
"So, what about Hell?"
"Oh, yes. No such place, sorry. What would compare with your beliefs about Hell is extinction."
"Extinction? Like extinct species?"
"Something like that, but more thorough, more complete. When a person is absolutely evil, has become so wicked that he is beyond hope of redemption, when he has spurned all attempts to set him on the right path and has irrevocably denied God, he is then judged, and if that assessment is confirmed, he is extinguished utterly. It would be as if he had never been; he is totally eradicated. If you are not worthy, you will not be. Simple as that."
"No everlasting punishment, no hell fire."
"Think about it, Siem. Would you do that to anyone?"
"No, I hope not."
"Right. So why should you think God would be less good, less human than you are?"
"Doesn't infinite sin call for infinite punishment?"
"Do you think a person suffering forever would measure up to the offense? Do you think betraying God could be set right by any amount of suffering on the part of a pathetic human being? The very notion makes God look like a petty tyrant."
"I suppose so."
"I have to go now, Siem. Okay? And please try to keep some perspective on Viktor's death."
"I will try." \\\
Siem wakes up, feeling cool and refreshed. He is trying to remember something about a dream. There was a very pretty young girl. Wonder what happened.
Better not say anything to Marie about that. Try to remember more later. Could be interesting.
Siem and Bertus are heading to the dzong.
"Siem, I've been meaning to talk to you about Jack. I think you understand that Maartje was never quite reconciled to the idea of him staying with us long term. She is concerned, much more than I am, about his being Catholic, and about one of the girls eventually getting involved with him."
"Yes, I can see that. As a matter of fact a few days ago I saw him kissing Truusje."
"What! Kissing Truusje? What did she do? But she's only eight! And heavens sakes, he's not even ten yet!"
"Well, that's why I just let it pass. They're just kids, playing house you might say."
"Lord, lord. That's not how I remember playing house. Siem, playing house is pretend eating breakfast and pretend going to work, and, and spanking dolls. That kissing game is quite another game; I don't like it a bit. And Maartje would have his guts for garters!"
"Hey, didn't you play doctor and nurse with other kids?"
"No, did you?"
"Why sure. I think most kids do. A little nakedness, some touchy feely giggling, that's all. Nothing there to worry about. Nothing actually sexual happens."
"I can see you had a different childhood than I did. If boys and girls getting naked together is not sexual, I don't know what it is. But it fits right in with what I meant to ask you. Since Maartje feels the way she does, and now I can't say I blame her much, what would you think about taking Jack to Holland. He fits into your family much better than into ours. You are all Catholic, and so is he."
"Hmmn. That may not be a bad idea. Marie seems to relate to him better than Maartje does. And I don't mind him at all; as a matter of fact, I quite like him. But you know, Brother Andre has a sort of prior claim here. He's the one who took him in, originally. I can't help regarding him as more or less the primary father figure to Jack. And he knows the boy better than the rest of us. Let's begin by talking with him."
At the first opportunity, the three men get together.
Siem, "Brother Andre, Bertus and I have been talking about Jack going to Holland with us. Jack is Catholic, and Maartje is worried he may get involved with one of her daughters when they're older. Or worse yet, before they're much older. In our family that would be less of a problem."
Brother Andre, "Would you be thinking of adopting him? When Jack spoke to me about coming here, he made half a joke about being orphaned twice. I didn't think it was so funny. All these changes must be hard on him. And now we're talking about a third uprooting. I grant you, he is a very mature nine year old, but almost any child would be traumatized by being pulled from pillar to post the way he has. He needs a stable home. But either of you could give him that, I'm sure.
And I must express my admiration and gratitude to you, Mr Schuurman, for taking him in the way you have, please have no misunderstanding about that. But whatever we do now, we better do for keeps. Don't you both agree?"
Siem, "We have to talk about this with our wives, and with Jack."
Bertus, "The legal system here is very different from that in Holland, or in Canada. They have no lawyers as we do, there is no advocacy before the courts as we know it. That makes things both simpler and more complex. An action can take forever, or be done just like that. And you can never count on which way it's going to go. But a formal adoption would almost certainly take much more time than is available before you have to leave."
Brother Andre, "Gentlemen, we do not need to go through formal channels at this time. When I spoke of adoption I was not referring to a piece of paper. Red tape is not essential, it is peripheral. We do not need it now, and we may never need it.
Consider this. Viktor came over with his parents. The arrangements are no doubt still in effect for his way back. He cannot go, but Jack can go in his place. No customs official is going to say to Jack, `Your name is not Viktor, it is Jack!' you see? If you are willing, the way is clear. Later on you can do whatever else is required."
Siem, "My gosh. He's right! Brother Andre, you should go into business with Bertus! That's just the sort of thinking he's good at. You two would make perfect partners."
Bertus, chuckling, "Okay, okay. Let's both talk to our wives tonight. And if they agree, it would be best if Brother Andre spoke with Jack tomorrow. Alright?"
They both nod their assent.
Brother Andre is concerned.
About the Letter
And what am I to do with this new twist.
It looks as if my Jack is going to leave
Me yet again; I think both men are for it,
And both their wives, I expect, will follow suit.
He is as good as gone.
It will be best
In most respects, I'm sure, but then what happens
About this crucial letter? I have
A new responsibility to yet
Another family, and they will be
Away in Holland, or in far off Canada!
This burden that Jack's mother handed me
Is promising to be perpetual.
Poor Jack himself is yet too young to read
This fateful missive. Though he and his new kin
Are all entitled to this knowledge; yet I
Must not impugn this opportunity
They are about to offer him. I cannot
Tell the Spiets about this letter, at least
About its contents.
Hmmn, yes, that's it!
The letter and its contents can be separate.
I must devise a way to get the letter
Into Jack's hands when he is old enough
To read it. Some time before he is of legal
Age, but after his formation is
Essentially determined, his values and
His concepts, his attitudes, beliefs
Coherent and consistent, stabilized;
About eighteen, I think, about eighteen.
I only need the way, the best approach.
In the Schuurman master bedroom.
Bertus, "Maartje, I was talking to Siem and Brother Andre today about Jack, about his situation with us, and how we accepted him more or less provisionally, not knowing what else we could do with him at the time.
And we came up with the idea that he could be taken off our hands by the Spiets. How do you feel about that?"
"I'll tell you right quick how I feel about that. I think it's rotten! You think the Spiets have lost a puppy, and you're giving them another one? Shame on you! Have you no heart, no feelings?"
"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Nobody said anything about replacing Viktor! Don't go jumping off the bridge! We're trying to do what's best for Jack. Remember Jack? The boy you didn't want to take into our family, because he's Catholic?"
"Well, I don't care if he is Catholic. He is our son now. And I think it's heartless and cruel to ship him off to another country like livestock. How do you think he's going to feel? We'll just say to him `Oh Jack, we don't want you any more, you can go to Holland now with the Spiets family, okay?"
"Maartje, Maartje. Please calm down. Now sit and think for a minute. You were worried when Jack came, that one of the girls would get attached to him, right? Well look what's happened now. Who got attached? What became of your reservations? Our Jack is that same Jack, is he not? And you are that same Maartje? Should you be letting your attachment to him cloud your judgement and maybe interfere with what might be his best opportunity?"
"Well, putting it that way... I suppose you're right. I'm going to have to think about it. But I'm not agreeing."
"No one is pushing you. But Siem and Brother Andre think it might be good for him. And the Spiets are Catholic. They wouldn't have the problem of mixed faiths with him that we do, remember that."
In the Schuurman guest bedroom.
Siem, "Marie, today Bertus and Brother Andre and I were discussing Jack."
"What about Jack? I hope none of you blame him for what happened to Viktor."
"No, nothing like that. As a matter of fact, more in the other direction. We were talking about him being Catholic, living with a Protestant family. And someone came up with the idea that he would be more at home with us, in a Catholic family. How does that strike you?"
"What, just pick him up like a stray?"
"That's not a bad comparison. He is a bit of a stray, don't you think? He's only been with the Schuurmans for a few months, and before that, at the monastery, he sort of lived on his own, not belonging to anybody. He was a foundling there, remember?"
"Well, what about legalities? Is he adopted? Would we adopt him? Is there any record of his parents, or any possibility of tracing them? Lord, this could get really complicated. We don't have time to figure all that out. We have to get back home."
"We don't need to get all that sorted out, right now. Jack could just come with us, and we'll work on all that later."
"But he needs a passport, citizenship, a birth certificate, shots, all kinds of things. It takes months! Remember everything we had to go through to qualify for international travel? If we hadn't done all that to go to B.C. the kids couldn't have come here for the funeral the way they did."
"I know, but Jack doesn't need all that. He can just use Viktor's papers. All of them. The customs people won't know the difference. Do you see what I mean?"
"Whew! What an idea! Now we're going into smuggling. Importing illegal aliens. Siem, I don't know about you. If you can find an illegal way of doing something I swear you'd sooner do it that way than the legal one."
"Now take it easy, Marie. I'll have you know that part of it came from a good Catholic priest. So what do you say about that?"
"A crime is a crime no matter what the source, that's what!"
"And I think a crime is not a crime if no one is injured or hurt by it."
"Alright. I will cooperate, but it's on your head!"
"Fair enough. I have a good solid head."
"Solid, for sure! Like a bull."