by Nicholas P. Snoek
The dinner reservation is at the motor hotel at the edge of the little lake, one of the better places to eat. Jack leads his guests inside. Their table looks out over the winterized swimming pool. It looks unprepossessing, now. Cold heaps of snow on an off-white cover.
He remembers stopping here in summer, watching the tourist beauties mermaiding in carefully carefree goldentone splendor. No anguished problems, there. Sufficient unto a photographic profile is the thought thereof. If any. What would it be like, to have enough, and be enough. Languor in self sufficient fullness. What justice, in this world.
"Well, Jack, you must have a hundred questions for Cheoki."
"I'm sure they would add up to that, Brother Andre. For instance," turning to his mother, "were there any other children? Do I have any brothers or sisters?"
"No. No, Jack, you were the only one. And if I had thought things would happen this way... You would have kept with me."
"But that would have made a lot of trouble for you, right? With my blond hair and green eyes, I would have looked very different from other children."
"It would have been hard but I could have done that. I was too afraid. Afraid of how you might look. You were very hairy when you were born, and I did not think that could change."
Jack looks questioningly at Brother Andre.
"That's right, Jack. You were so furry I was worried myself what you might look like, later. But you lost the hair quite soon, within a couple of weeks. Your ears were a bit pointy at first, and your nose was very stubby. But after a few years you became more and more of a standard Caucasian. You fit in here very well, don't you?"
Another party has just come in, two ladies and a man. They stare at Brother Andre, in his ko. They seem to decide he is a nut, and seat themselves at some distance.
"Physically there seems to be no great problem. I'm not so sure I have a very standard mind, or brain."
"What do you mean?"
"I seem to be quite different from everyone else. I think differently, I talk like no one else. I have problems that don't seem to bother other people."
"Well Jack, those things haven't been at all apparent to me. You seem to talk normally. Of course we haven't talked a lot. Am I missing something? Tell me more. What sort of problems?"
Cheoki has been staring at Jack intently, as if to absorb the look of him, to imprint and store it in her memory. And Jack has been getting more and more uncomfortable with this. But he has some idea of what she must be thinking and feeling, so he doesn't say anything. In the back of his mind he's half aware of a more positive attitude taking shape, about her. What could she have done very differently, in those circumstances. He can hardly blame her for things she could not help.
"Well, I don't know how people can just go on with their lives without troubling themselves about the way things work. I'm talking about human evolution, and human consciousness. When I talk to others about those things they just think I'm crazy. They don't know why I should bother about it. And I can't understand why they don't. To me it's as if we're a bunch of ants happily busying our lives away on top of a burning stump. Do people really think that what they don't know won't hurt them?"
"Hmmn. You're concerned about your roots, aren't you?"
"Well, I don't know to what extent I might have been subconsciously influenced before, in my time in Bhutan and in Holland, and here before I got that letter, but it seems to me I've always been full of questions about God and man: what they really are, and how they can and do and how they should relate to each other. Or for that matter, what anything is. What anything means."
"Oh, Jack. Sounds to me like you're a budding philosopher. The questions you're busy with are typical of those that drive philosophy. Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, theology. So. What is so disturbing about that?"
"Well, why aren't other people like that?"
"Ha. Just think, Jack, what life would be like if everybody walked around with their heads full of those things. Who would keep the workaday world workadaying? It's a darn good thing most people have neither the interest nor the capacity to be that way. And that's just fine! All the better for you, you know? Enjoy the difference, and take comfort in the fact that you have a calling -- you're a born philosopher. You're doing what comes naturally. Horses run, fish swim, and Jack thinks big thoughts."
With a subdued smile at Cheoki, Jack responds "I never thought of it that way. I suppose that means there isn't anything really wrong with me, about that.
But I do have a problem with authority. I just can't seem to accept anything at face value. And if someone tries to get me to do something, I find myself rebelling before I can even figure out if it makes sense. It's as if I have to go through everything right from scratch; I have to know what it is, how it is, how it works -- everything about it. And I have to do it myself."
Brother Andre sighs. "Yes, Jack. I remember you were like that very young. I wondered about it, then. But you're almost a man now, and they haven't hanged you yet, have they? So you can probably work your way through that. Try to restrain yourself in that regard, to give yourself time to work things out before taking a strong stand. Remember, you're not a finished product; you are work in progress. Alright?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
A waitress sets a glass of water at each place, and lays down the menus. Then she retires to give them a chance to decide what they would like to order.
Cheoki "You do not fit very good anywhere, Jack. But it is not necessary. I did not fit either. That is okay."
"You didn't? How did you not fit?"
"I was different from other women like you are different from other children. I always had to have reason, and I made my own deciding very young. And I wanted to know about new things. You see? You are my son; you are like me. You are proud and independent. And I am proud, proud of you. It is good."
Brother Andre "It might be, Jack, that even if your origins had been normal in every way, you still would have been the sort of person you are. You must have a lot of your mother in you."
"I suppose so."
Not my coloring, not my height, not my knees, not my egg-head. How much of my mother? How much of my father? Maybe little of either. Maybe most of me fell from the sky. Melchisedec in the modern age.
They each intermittently study the menu before them, almost without seeing it, and take automatic sips of water.
To Cheoki "What is it like where you live? Do you live with family? Do you have brothers and sisters? Do I have cousins over there? Do they know about me? Does anyone look like me?"
"Stop, stop! No, no one looks like you. I live with my mother in Laya. She looks like me. It is very high and very cold. We grow barley, and we have some dzos."
"Dzos? What are dzos?"
"They are part yaks, part cows. We keep four. They give very good milk. I have a sister near Yatung. She is still there. She lives alone. She did not marry. And I have a brother, but he was fifteen when I went away. I don't know where he is. His name is Tundeng. My mother has not heard about him. We don't know where he is. We don't know if he is alive. That is the only family. My sister knows about you. She helped me when you were born. My mother knows about you now. I told her when I left."
"Perhaps I am her only grandchild."
"Yes. Probably. She would like to see you before she gets too old. Before she dies."
"I guess so. That would be hard to do. So far away. It would cost a lot, and take a lot of time."
Brother Andre "Maybe you could come back with us, Jack. Any chance of that?"
"I'd have to talk it over with Mom and Dad. I don't know. When will you go?"
"A couple of days, I think. We'll be swinging down through the States to visit my home parish in New Jersey, and look up my brother, on the way back."
"Your brother? Is he a priest too?"
"No, no. He's an electrician. He's married, and he's a grandfather. I've never even met his older kids, let alone his grandchildren. It's been some thirty years since I saw him. And everything will be very different in the diocese too. This is the third bishop I haven't met personally. It's gratifying they've been so supportive, every one of them."
"How do you mean, supportive?"
"Well, the monastery couldn't have survived on just the income from growing and selling herbs and medicines. We've had donations from the churches in that diocese right from when we first started. And this will be my first opportunity to visit those good people, to thank them in each parish church, and to tell them in detail everything that has happened. All about the Chinese soldiers, about my getting shot, and how I survived. About getting things back together. You know."
"That will be quite a story. They'll enjoy that."
The waitress has been discreetly waiting, trying not to intrude. "Are you ready to order now?"
Brother Andre, "Oh, I'm sorry. Could you give us a minute?"
"Okay, just wave when you're ready."
Leda is doing daycare at McNary's, a cattle ranch. It is noon, Tuesday. Jack is at the payphone in the little store across from the school.
"Hello, Leda? Hi. Listen, could I pick you up after supper tonight? Brother Andre is here from Bhutan! Remember? I told you about him. My mother is here too, my real mother. I'd like you to meet them."
"Jack, they don't want to meet me! I'm nothing to them, and they'll never see me again. Why don't you just visit with them yourself, you don't need me getting in the way."
"You would not be in the way. You are my girlfriend. Of course they want to meet you. Don't worry, they're good people. They won't bite or anything."
"Okay. I guess so. About seven?"
"Yeah, that's good. See you then."
In the evening, Jack and Brother Andre and Leda are in a little cafe along the lakeshore. Cheoki has decided to stay in town to visit with Marie, as Siem is at rehearsal for a production of `H.M.S. Pinafore.'
Brother Andre "Leda, you come from a large family too, right? Jack tells me you have three sisters and three brothers?"
"Yes, there are seven of us. It's a lot of mouths to feed. And my dad says we don't even earn our pepper."
"Earn your pepper?"
"Yes. You know how people say you have to earn your salt? Well, we don't earn our pepper, let alone our salt."
Chuckling, "Oh, I see. I guess that many kids keep your mom and dad hopping. What does he do?"
"We have a small sawmill. Dad and Len run it, and sometimes they have some hired hands. Just one right now, Norman. We sell the lumber to bigger mills. We take special orders for odd sizes, sometimes. And we run some cattle."
"A family operation. I suppose the other kids help around the house and on the farm. Do you keep milk cows too?"
"Oh, yes. A couple of them, and chickens and pigs. And we grow a good big garden."
"So, do you have any plans for your own future? Any thoughts about what you'd like to do later on?"
Jack is looking at her expectantly. What is she going to say to that? Marry Jack? Or anything about him? What is his future, about to come from her mouth?
"I've only got grade eight. I don't know what I'll do. Probably be a housewife. I've thought about being a nurse, but I don't see how that can be done. You have to have grade twelve even to have a chance at getting into the program."
"Couldn't you go to school? Why did you leave school when you did?"
"My hands sweat."
"Your hands? They sweat?"
"Yes. My hands sweat so much that anything I touched got all wet. I couldn't do my work. The teacher got peeved with me and made nasty remarks. The doctor said I should take lessons by correspondence, at home. So I did. And then it just gradually petered out. Mom and Dad were not too interested, and I guess I wasn't either. That's all. It just sort of got dropped."
"That's too bad. Do your hands still sweat? Maybe you could go back now."
"I don't think so. I have to earn my pepper!"
They all laugh, but not heartily.
To Jack. "What about you, Jack. What are your plans?"
"To begin with, I want to marry this young lady, here." There, if she doesn't say anything about it, I will.
"Haha. That's not a big surprise! But I hope you're not too much in a hurry with that. You're both pretty young yet. Right? No, I was thinking of your education."
With a sigh, "Yes, I know. Well, I'll have my grade twelve this June, and then I can choose. I can take grade thirteen and stay at home, I can go to U.B.C. like quite a few of my classmates are planning, or I can go to Our Lady's College in Nemson. I think I'll go to Nemson. There are some scholarships and bursaries I lose out on, doing that, but I'll manage."
A whole new life. What will it be like?
Lonely. Isolated. Victor II in the mountains.
"That's right. It's affiliated with a Catholic university in Spokane. But it's just a general community college right now. The credits are recognized at U.B.C. I made sure of that."
"That sounds pretty good to me. You'll have a taste of being on your own for a while before you go getting married. You'll be a bit older then, when you do, if you do. And there should be a good atmosphere at such a college. Some courses you can get your teeth into. Some interesting people to meet. You're all set."
Jack, looking at Leda, "I'll need a lot of letters."
"You'll get a lot of letters. Just don't be too critical about them. I'm not a teacher."
"No. I guess not."
It's Wednesday evening. Jack and Brother Andre are walking up Harbing Road. It's chilly and dark, the trees are waving in the wind and there's a skiff of snow flurrying about. Jack is bundled up, astonished at Brother Andre's seeming comfortable in his old bare ko.
"Don't you ever get cold? This wind is icy!"
"Oh, Jack. You have to learn to breathe! There's energy in this air. It warms itself inside of you, if you use it right."
"I've read about these yogis who can melt snow around themselves in below zero weather. Can you do that, too?"
"I don't know. I never much bothered with fancy tricks, you know. But it's nice to keep warm without a whole lot of fuss. You were asking about a Mr Ryle."
"Oh, yes. I was reading this really astonishing book about the mind, he's written. It kind of destroyed a lot of ideas I had before, and now I'm not sure what to think about some of these things."
"I've heard about him, but I'm not familiar with the book. What's it about?"
"It's about the mind. He claims there is no such thing. He says only our bodies can meet, the mind is just a redundant idea. An idea we don't need and can get along without, quite nicely."
"Just like that? Bang. No more mind? What sort of evidence, and what kind of an argument does he come up with?"
"It's a good book. He carries you right along, and it's hard to see anything wrong with what he's saying. For instance, he says intelligence is a quality of action; you do things intelligently, but intelligence is not something separate from that. And there is no thing apart and existing by itself that we can properly call mind. Mind is a property of the brain. Mind is the brain in action.
And when he talks about reflexive consciousness he has a startling approach there, too. In his view it has to do with a higher order action, referring to a lower or primary action.
Like this. I do something, it's an action. I say to myself, `That was a dumb thing to do.' That's a higher order action, regarding a lower order action. And that's all self-consciousness amounts to, a sort of stepping aside and commenting on some earlier or other happening."
"Interesting. Reductionist. Negative. Well, I must confess, Jack, I don't really know what to say about that. You realize I cannot agree that the mind is nothing but the brain in action. But there may be something to the rest of it. Sounds intriguing. I'll have to get hold of that book and see what I can make of it. Too bad you can't go with us, we could work our way through this together."
Oh, that seems awful vague. Fat chance. Not real, not right.
"Yeah. But they've built a new type of sawmill near town, and they've given me a chance to learn to run it over the Christmas holidays, a scragg sawing job. I'm looking forward to that. And Mom and Dad were not at all keen on my leaving right in the middle of the school year. But it would have been fun to go."
The trees are bare of leaves, and the branches rattle against each other like bleached bones.
Beyond the roadside fence they can just make out the outlines of some farm buildings. Jack realizes he must be looking at the barn where he and Keith played some of their games. He swallows hard.
"Well, maybe someday. Tell me, what else have you been reading?"
"Oh, my reading has changed. I realized that the adventure stories, like westerns and travel yarns, were getting too time consuming. With westerns, I found myself just slowly running my eye down the middle of the page, and I was able to get the story line, you might say without actually reading. That opened my eyes a bit to how I was wasting my time. So I've pretty well stopped with that kind of stuff."
Bigger things to worry about. Evolution of jack the ripper. Molester Victor II.
He continues "The last significant book before Gilbert Ryle's was Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man. That was good. The language was a bit awkward in places. He's a native German writing in English, but there was a lot of good material, man as the symbol creating animal."
"Yes, he's good. How's your German? Could you read him in the original? I mean his other writings."
"Oh no. My German isn't nearly good enough for that. Maybe at college I can get another course, and then I can read his other books after that."
"Hhmmnn. What else?"
"Some books on sociology, anthropology. Evolution. Man on His Nature, by Sherrington, The Human Animal, by Weston La Barre.
Yes, what about that? What about this apeman business? I can't say I'm very happy about all that."
"I suppose. Just what do you have trouble with, exactly?"
Jack stares at the ice on the road. Treacherous.
"Being an apeman. I'm an apeman, a Bhutanese Buddhist Dutch Canadian Catholic United Bahai Born Again Christian Apeman."
"Jack!" Brother Andre turns to face Jack, and puts both hands on his shoulders...
The two figures are barely visible, lost in the half dark of the winter night, two indistinct shadows, two hovering now spots of past imaging out future, juxta-collaging their respective mind moments in such a scene as must have been enacted by former dreamers of the people in icy ages past; the older shaman loving the shining hope ideal actuating the younger's anguish, the younger absorbing the faith assured sustaining the older's peace --
"Jack, you are...
THE GREAT CHAIN
Glossary and Pronunciation Key
Words and names that are pronounced more or less as written are not included here, nor those for which a meaning can be derived by the immediate context.
Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo. Ite, missa est. -- Latin, "The Lord go with you. And with your spirit. Go, the Mass is ended."
Ecce homo -- Latin, "Behold, (the) man!"
euglena -- a one celled freely moving organism, like an animal, but having the chlorophyl to manufacture food from light, as a plant does
Geis -- The Dutch `ei' vowel combination is difficult to render; it falls between the British `aye' and the Canadian `eh' or hay
je t'aime -- French, "I love you"
mea maxima culpa -- Latin, "through my great fault", part of the Confiteor
Nederland -- Dutch word for The Netherlands, used inter changeably with Holland, although (Noord) Holland is strictly speaking a province
nyerchen -- a civil servant in charge of supplies and food stores (Bhutan)
onomastics -- study of the origin and forms of words, esp. specialized ones such as in proper names, idiolects
fr Gk onoma = name, onomazein = to name
pro patria mori -- Latin, to die for your country
Schuurman -- Dutch surname. Pronounce the `s' normally, then the `ch' like the Dutch `g', which is like the Spanish `h' except more guttural, a uvular aspirant, trilling the rear of the soft palate
Siem -- Dutch form of Simon, pronounced `seem'
Sinterklaas -- St Nicholas, or Santa Claus (as seen by the Dutch, and garbed more like a bishop than an elf) St Nicholas Day is separate from Christmas proper, the latter being simply Jesus' birthday
sloot, plural sloten -- a drainage ditch, muddy and stagnant, teeming with swamplife, often level with the sur rounding pasture and covered with algae and water cress, so it looks like part of the field
sodemieter op -- curse in Dutch, flavor of "Get the f__ out of here!", or "Va t'en!"
speculaas, boterkoek, bankets -- Dutch pastries
Truus, Truusje -- the ..je suffix in Dutch gives a diminutive form, like Don and Donny in English. Pronounce the vowel uu as in Whew!, and the j as y
tsampa -- a staple food of roasted barley, bound into balls or cakes with tea and salted butter (Tibet,Bhutan)
verruckt und zugeneht -- curse in German, literally `torn apart and sown together'; flavor of "I'll be damned!", or "Sacre blue!" or "Tabernacle!"
zoentje -- Dutch, a little kiss
Zwarte Piet -- Black Pete, a Negro helper to St Nicholas;
Black Pete punishes the naughty children