What does a world do when it begins to realise that there is nothing left for it to do? That it no longer has a purpose or reason to exist? Indeed that it soon may no longer exist at all?
What if you had the chance to leave the world you have lived in all your life for a new world - and a new purpose? What if you have to answer that question for real?
As he passed the old man noticed another new brothel had opened up on the corner. He had lost count of how many there were now in the city. “So many and yet they are still not satisfied”, he muttered under his breath, remembering the news of yet another three rapes last night. Anger had long since given way to a sad and weary resignation. Anger cannot be maintained indefinitely. Anger requires lots of energy and he was an old man, a very old man, and he needed all his energy for other things.
He stood a moment contemplating the clientele strutting from the brothel to the gaming and drinking place just down the street while their replacements meandered in the opposite direction. Some stopped briefly by the shopfronts in between to ogle the latest risqué fashions. Elegantly crafted modesty had long since given way to a kind of blatant and lustily enhanced nakedness. Others gawked at the myriad trinkets and gadgets spawned by a society desperate to keep the “money-go-round” twirling and playing its tinkling song of comfort. Conscious of the great contrast between the sophisticated, glittering facades of the shopfronts and the ever present dangers lurking and lingering in the alleyways and lanes between and the multitude of personal tragedies and tales of desperation hidden within them the old man felt a wave of desolate hopelessness and frustration momentarily engulf him.
For a long time now the old man had felt marooned in a world not his own. The irony of it was that it was more his world than it ever would be theirs. He remembered back to times when it was different, or perhaps it was just less obvious back then. There were so few left now who could remember those times. Indeed he was an old man even before most of those around him were even born. Older than most of those around him would ever be. “Move over OLD man”, they would taunt as they rushed by and pushed past him like he was irrelevant flotsam and jetsam on the rushing torrent of life. “The world belongs to the young”, they would laugh and chide, eyeing off lustfully the woman, or the man, by their side, as if the uncontrolled and insatiable desires that drove them made them masters instead of slaves.
The old man had long ago resigned himself to simply stepping aside. Only under his breath now did he sadly proclaim, “Alas my child you do not even yet know the truth. The world has already been given to the old, to the very old indeed”. Long ago he had come to the realisation that whether he spoke loud or quiet they heard only the ramblings and mutterings of a crazy old man. “Flesh!” he thought sadly to himself, “how much pleasure could they get from it? How far could they push it? How much could they stuff into it? Is that all mankind will ever be remembered for? What would the epitaph for mankind be? Here lies mankind – from the dust and water of the Earth he arose; and then just played in the mud of his own existence until he died!” He looked at the ancient flesh of his own hand. “Flesh is but a vehicle fit only for the journey. It is of no further use once you arrive at your true destination.” The old man’s final destination still lay well ahead. “Hang in there, we still have a ways to go,” he said wryly to the back of his hand, “don’t you fall apart on me yet.” His mind turned to more recent events. “I wonder if this is how HE feels?” wondered the old man, emphasising the ‘he’ in the way he normally spoke of the nameless one who had come to him from beyond the stars. “After all HE is way, way, older than I am. Admittedly HE does not age the way we do, but HE has seen so much more than I, or indeed anybody in this world.”
Out of the corner of his eye he watched one of the many gangs of incredibly young and incredibly violent and vicious teenagers holding up a man and his wife. He didn’t turn his face or break his stride, for it was no longer wise to do so. None would come to assist you and he was no match for the physical outpouring of such evil venom and hatred that utterly ruled those young hearts from which all tenderness, mercy and love had long since perished. “Even the children are no longer innocent,” he thought with the heaviest sadness of all as he waited, without actually stopping, until the gang disappeared around the corner before doubling back to help the distraught couple. Help they gladly received before that now depressingly familiar look of recognition crossed the wife’s face and she tugged none too subtly at her husband’s sleeve. He bent an ear to her whispering lips. The old man realised that for sometime now he could hear the words “That’s that crazy old man” without actually hearing them. All appreciation and goodwill slid off the couple like a hastily shucked robe full of fleas as they hurried off without even a backward glance.
All innocence, all mercy, all love and appreciation and honour and devotion had indeed perished. But long ago the old man had determined that as long as he lived they would not become extinct like so many creatures of the past who had long since succumbed to the greed and numerous insatiable appetites of man. It was a great comfort, mixed with a bit of fatherly pride, to realise that those now almost unheard of qualities would also live on in his sons. Yet it was those very qualities that made it so hard to come to terms with the fact that all those around him had been chosen to join those long forgotten creatures in the oblivion of extinction. On the one hand his heart literally ached for these people that were no longer his people, whilst on the other hand he had been given the sure knowledge of why they were already irrevocably dead where they stood.
Why he, a man already far beyond old, should be chosen to have a new future and a new life with his family when all about him had but days left to them was still somewhat of a mystery to him. He had only lived his life as a life should be lived. His was a simple life and he could not even comprehend living it any other way. But the one who had arrived so unexpectedly and unannounced had knowledge and understanding far beyond even the wisest mind of any human alive - or dead – and the old man in his usual simple and uncomplicated way did not hesitate to trust in HIS judgement, even if he could not readily understand it.
That a coming disaster loomed in the Heavens above seemed unthinkable, and yet the old man accepted it without question. It seemed unthinkable that from the skies overhead a swift and sudden cataclysmic destruction would soon descend and wipe mankind from the face of the Earth that was his only home, and yet the old man trusted implicitly the one who had come from the heavens to ensure that mankind did not suffer total annihilation. That some of mankind, at least, might be snatched from the jaws of certain extinction. There was but one chance to escape, a ship. But a ship like no man yet knew how to build. The one who had come had detailed instructions on how it was to be built and had impressed on the old man the need to follow those instructions carefully and precisely. The ship was the way to a new world where man could start over. An escape pod. But it could take only a single family – and his family had been chosen.
The old man and his family had worked day and night to finish it in time, guided step by step by the one who had come. Its sheer size as it jutted high above any houses in the district and dominated the skyline made it impossible to hide. It soon became the number one topic of discussion across the whole nation – and the butt of every conceivable joke and insult. “The crazy old man and his ship”. As he passed by scoffers would look up in the air and point. “Look, there it is! I can see it, the end of the world.” Another would point elsewhere, “No there it is over there!”. Another would say, “Oh good! I thought it was yesterday and I missed it”. Crowds would gather outside of the old man’s fence to gawk and have a good laugh. “Well if the world doesn’t end at least he’ll have a few rooms to rent with excellent views. I reckon you could even see the ocean from up there.” Amid the peals of laughter at witty asides some would protest against the gross and useless waste of resources when there were so many hungry and poor. “The rich grow richer and the poor grow only in number.” They would shout and chant as they looked toward others to salve their own guilt at being among the “haves”. Others raised public safety issues and concerns, ignoring the fact that if it fell the only house in danger was the old man’s, and the only people in harm’s way were his own family.
Leaving the town area behind the old man walked up the now deserted laneway toward his house. The easily bored crowds had moved on in search of fresh spectacle. He and his family were “old news” now. Good for a laugh around a drink or two but hardly worth the effort of a visit anymore. The outer hull had been finished weeks ago and all activity was now concentrated inside away from scoffing eyes. With nothing more to see the crazy old man and his ship had become boring now as most things quickly do for the insatiably bored. “Will that indeed be the epitaph of mankind?” the old man mused to himself. “Here lies humanity – it bored itself to death!” Long ago the old man came to the realisation that purpose, not excitement, is the antidote to boredom. He and his family were certainly not bored, but as he turned and gazed sadly down across the town below, blazing with a myriad glowing lights, he knew full well that the frenzied activity, the hustle and bustle, was not one of purpose but a frantic struggle against boredom. The whole world desperately trying to flee its own pointless existence, having rejected its one and only purpose for existence. It is as if, the old man realised, that despite all their scoffing, somewhere deep inside they already knew that purpose had abandoned them and so they desperately sought refuge in the only thing left to them – excitement. They embraced the last resort of the purposeless and bored – they were throwing a party, and end of world party. The old man was not invited to the party, which was fine by him, he had too much to do and much purpose to fulfil.
As he turned once more toward home he was, as always, amazed at the result of the labour of his own hands when combined with the great understanding and vast knowledge of the one who guided those hands every step of the way. His house and fields were now dwarfed by the ship towering above them. As it had so many times before, a niggle of doubt crept up on him, catching him unawares. “Could anything that large every rise up from where it rested? Could it even rise clear of the massive “cradle” that kept it upright? Am I really just a gullible crazy old man?” The doubt was short lived as usual. His trust and faith in the one who had come was absolute and unshakeable.
Approaching the gate to his property he was surprised to see that the “cargo” had arrived and was dotted all around his fields. His eldest son was standing near the gate surveying the scene intently with an incredulous look on his face. “How is it going”, the old man asked as he approached. His son swung around surprised by the unexpected voice of his father behind him. “Well we’ve finished everything we needed to, the rest,” and he gestured widely across the fields around the ship with a bemused expression, “is kind of doing itself!” His son smiled broadly and shrugged, still not really believing the evidence of his own eyes as the “cargo” steadily and methodically loaded itself on to the ship. “At this rate it will all be ready by late tomorrow morning I think.” A sudden and solemn silence descended on the pair as the full impact of those words drove home. In wordless accord both looked skyward at the gathering doom.
It was hard to tell exactly when morning came. The only “dawning” was a growing realisation they could actually see things again through the oppressive gloom. They gazed across now empty fields. “It is time!” the old man declared to his gathered family. “Time to close old doors and open new ones.” The last trip had been but a handful of paces from the house to the great door of the ship. As soon as they crossed the great seals that surrounded the main portal the massive outer door began to raise itself upward. Incredible unseen forces steadily raised the immense panel that would seal the fate of those on either side of it. On one side sealed for a new life and on the other side sealed for death and extinction. The old man looked around at his gathered family and noticed with pride that all bore on their faces the trickling stain of immense sadness. Conscious of the salty warmth on his own face the old man gazed over the town rapidly disappearing below the rim of the great door. In the twilight gloom of the last day lights still blazed as the party at the end of the world continued unabated. “In a way it was the final act of mercy for an unsaveable world”, he thought. “Blissful ignorance.” A single large drop of water splashed through the nearly closed door. Soon there was another, then another, until the great seals of the door engaged and meshed preventing any more from entering. “There will be enough tears from heaven for everyone,” the old man thought sadly. “Truly they would drown in a sea of tears of regret”
Noah turned from the now tightly sealed door, closed by the hand of God Himself. It would next open on to the same earth, but it would be a different world. “But can we make it a better world?” Noah wondered as he turned to his sons. No time for boredom on this ship, there was purpose aplenty. “Shem, Ham, Japheth, come with me. We have much to do and purposes to fulfil.”
The old man finished typing, saved his work and shut down his computer. “Lord, I hope you don’t mind me taking a little poetic licence with the story of Noah,” the old man muttered in the otherwise empty room as he stretched aching arms and shoulders. “I know you have only given us a very brief account of Noah and his times but as Solomon, filled with your wisdom, noted, there is nothing new under the sun. And I remember Jesus said as it was in the days of Noah so it shall be when He comes again. I guess I kind of think it would not have been that much different for Noah.” As always the old man wrote what he felt led, in his heart, to write. Whether it would ever be published, whether it would ever be read, he left, as usual, in the hands of the Lord. Still, he was well acquainted with the term “crazy old man”.
Sauntering into the lounge he absent-mindedly picked up the remote and flicked on the TV. His mind, however, was still in the days of Noah. “I wonder if Noah knew, even then, that history would repeat itself – sort of”. Wood had indeed kept Noah and his family safe from the wrath of the Lord, and wood had its part to play this time too, he thought remembering the wooden cross on which Jesus died. But the old man knew that this time even wood was no defence against the fire of wrath of the One who would come again. Only the encompassing of His own Spirit alone would protect those who sought refuge in it. People, not animals, would be the “cargo this time. His people would come from the four corners of the world to seek refuge, this time in an Ark of the Holy Spirit.
Loud, raucous laughter broke through the old man’s brief reverie reminding him that there was a party going on on the TV these days that he was not interested in attending at all. Another one of those “reality TV” shows was in full swing. “Reality TV, now there’s a misnomer if ever there was one,” he thought wryly. He couldn’t quite remember if this was the one where contestants were rewarded for successfully cheating and pulling dirty tricks on the other contestants to get them voted off, or if it was the one where partners were enticed and tempted beyond their endurance to cheat on and hurt the one’s they profess to love. Perhaps it was that one where the world was invited to lift the curtain a little and peep through the window with hidden cameras at scantily clad youngsters cavorting in bedroom, bathroom, and even the toilet these days. The old man remembered when “peeping tom” was a badge of utter shame. “Now they just called them “loyal viewers” and rewarded them with gifts,” muttered the old man shaking his head sadly. In the end it didn’t much matter to the old man which one it was. With a practiced flick of the remote he shut the door on the party – he had better things to do.
Donning a coat the old man went out for a quiet walk down the street in the relative safety of broad daylight although he still made a point of giving a wide berth to the groups of young teenagers loitering on street corners and around the mouths of alleyways. At the second intersection by the traffic lights he noted that a new brothel had up on the corner opposite one of the numerous pubs that dotted the city. “So many now and yet they are still not satisfied,” the old man thought sadly, remembering the three cases of rape reported on the news last night.
D.J. Ludlow Copyright 2004.