My life was spent on a ship. For as long as I could remember, the life on this ship was hard, very hard. The requirements of our lives encompassed continuous movement. Constantly moving. Never stopping. Every moment of our lives was spent rowing the ship. No matter how tired we may have been or how sick we felt, rowing the ship was the orders given by the captain.
No one had ever seen the captain. We had heard he was a ruthless fellow, beating those who question and killing those who rebelled. Rumors had been spread that the captain was once good and pure. The story surrounding the captain was mysterious and questionable. How could this man once be good and pure and yet be so evil. No one knew for sure, except that if we didn’t continue to row, the whip would make our back bleed.
Every moment of every day, the faceless beings walked up and down, cracking their whips crying, “Row you meaningless dogs! Row!” Those who were too weak were beaten until unconscious. Others who refused to do their task, were first beaten and then placed into the brig, where blood curdling screams could be heard. We heard rumors about that as well. Death was assumed, torture guaranteed. Some would eventually return to their task of rowing with us, while others were never to be heard from again. Only those who had been there knew, but no one ever spoke about what they experienced down their in the chambers of death.
Those with me were family. My father was to my right, my mother to my left. Father was hunched over his section of the oar handle, sick and exhausted. Mother and I continued to row hoping the faceless crew didn’t notice. Suddenly the air behind me snapped with authority. “Row, you meaningless dogs”, exclaimed the faceless beast. I could then feel the air suddenly retract and then snap with the same authority. “I said row! What is this a sleeper? If you don’t row, I’ll make an example out of you!” shouted the faceless beast.
Each member of the crew was faceless. No one ever knew how they spoke or how they breathed. No nose, no mouth, no eyes, yet they saw our every move. Their body was that of a man, but their voice was lower pitched, raspy and toned with evil, like a serpent that could speak mans native languages. Their whip was always drawn, their hatred always present. They stood about seven feet tall. They wore a simple vest and torn shorts. Never did they wear shoes for that was a sign of inferiority.
“Father, wake up”, I whispered.
“Silence, you little puppy! Let your father speak for himself”, exclaimed the faceless beast.
Father didn’t respond, nor did he move. All that could be seen was a beaten man, hunched over lightly breathing. “Father, wake up”, I screamed shaking his shoulder.
A slap was heard across the ship, but I felt the impact. The faceless beast drew his closed hand and struck me on the back of the head. All I could hear were the muffled cries of my mother as she screamed for help. A ringing had interrupted all other sound and my sight was blurry and faded. A few moments later I came to.
“Are you alright honey?” my mother asked with tear filled eyes.
I nodded acknowledging my mother’s question and subsiding here fears. looked to my right to see where my father was. Father was still there. Barely rowing, sweat dripped down his body. His clothes were drenched in sweat and blood. He had mustered all of the strength he could find in order to stay out of the brig. Father had been there once, but like the others, he never spoke about it. Knowing he was here relieved my fears and nightmares. I wanted to reach over and give him a hug but could not due to the chains we all bore.
Every slave on the ship had rusted shackles on their wrists and ankles. Each one was connected to the other. As I looked down, I could see my feet dirtied with soot, blood and slime. My wrists were swollen from the incessant rowing. No matter how much they hurt, I knew I could never stop.
Suddenly, my shackles fell. What just happened? I looked around and others had shackles that had fallen. The chains that held us to the ship had fallen off and no one understood how or why. What if the faceless crew noticed the shackles had fallen? Would we end up in the brig, the chamber of death? Questions arose in my mind, but no answer could be held.
“Get up and leave”, whispered the voice inside my head. Was I to move? “Get up and leave”, the voice said a second time. I leaned over to my father and noticed his shackles had fallen off as well. My mother whispered, “Did you just hear that? I was just told to get up and leave.” She had heard the same inner voice that I just experienced.
In an instant, my father regained his strength and grabbed my shoulder. “Let’s go”, he said to my mother and I. We stopped rowing and stood up. The faceless beasts continued to whip the others around us, but seemed to leave us alone. As we left the benches we were previously chained to, a few observances came to mind. First, there was darkness all around us. Never had the daylight breached the thickness of night. No stars were in the sky, no water beneath the ship. How were we floating? Where were we rowing to? Nothingness appeared to be everywhere. Hopelessness, despair, fear and trembling surrounded those still chained to the oars.
“Come toward me”, whispered the voice. All of us looked at each other. We all had heard it. Where was it coming from? “Come toward me.”
As I looked around, I saw a distant beam of white. It was like a black canvas that had a single bead of white paint. “There! The voice is coming from there!” I shouted to the others. Many others whose chains had fallen began to walk toward the white dot. I just stood there observing my surroundings, wondering what was happening.
“If you want to live, then come to me”, exclaimed the soft voice.
What did it mean? Of course I wanted to live. Life was the very thing that kept me alive for so long. Each moment that I rowed, I thought of what the possibilities were had I not been on the ship. I desired to run with other boys my age. I longed for a time where my mother and father smiled as I played in the park, happy and free. Life was the very thing that kept me alive.
“If you want to live, come toward me and never look back”, said the voice.
I began to walk with my father and mother toward the dot and then realized we had left the ship. Desiring for others to join us, I decided to turn back and see if others could be freed. As I turned my shoulders, my father grabbed me and said, “You heard the voice, son. Never look back.”
It was then I remembered a story that my father had told me when I was younger. It was a story about a man and his wife who were told to leave the City of Sin. The city had been so evil that destruction had crept toward them. In order for them to survive, they needed to leave. Unfortunately, the wife desired to return to the City of Sin. She turned back and took one step when she froze into a pillar of salt. I knew that I didn’t want to end up like that. I acknowledged my father’s words and turned toward the white dot.
It had grown into a brilliant light, that was more beautiful than anything I had ever seen. Peace and joy exuded from the light. I then noticed that we no longer wore the torn, bloody clothes we had left the ship with. We now wore robes of white, brilliant white with clean cushioned sandals.
As we walked forward, I could hear the screams of torture and death. My curiosity desired to see what was happening, but my desire to live outweighed that option. As the blood curdling screams continued, we entered the light until the screams could no longer be heard. Now the brilliance, peace and joy surrounded our very being. Finally, we had entered the promised land, happy and free.
“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.” – Psalm 107:13-15 (NIV)