Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Broks

Some excerpts that move me.


Loose one’s footing, as I did, and age matters not.  Ones cede all claims to childish innocence.   And my own sins were not mere nursery mischief but matter etched in stone upon the tablets of mortal error.  I broke the Commandments, day after day.  And I did it knowingly…. Like Eve, I thirsted after forbidden knowledge and ate the forbidden fruit.  For her, the apple, for me, the white hellebore [drink that coming of age Indians drink that causes hallucinatory experience] – different plant, proffered from the same hand.  And just as the serpent must have been lovely – I see him, his lustrous, shimmering scales, pouring liquid over Eve’s shoulders, his jewel eyes luminous as they gazed into her own – so too did Satan come to me in the form of irresistible beauty.

We are taught early here to see Nature as a foe to be subdued.  But I came, by stages, to worship it.

I picked up scallop shells in diverse colors and sizes – warm reds and yellows; cool stippled grays – and reflected on the diversity of God’s creation, and what might be the use and meaning of his making so many varieties of a single thing.  If he created scallops simply for our nourishment, why paint each shell with such delicate and particular colors? … It came to me then that God must must desire us to use each of our senses, to take delight in the varied tastes and sights and textures of his world.  Yet this seemed to go against so many of our preachment against the sumptuary and the carnal.

I thought of the shining bass in my friend’s hands, the raised rock, and his gentle words of thanks to the creature.  This no longer seemed outlandish to me, but fitting and somehow decent.  The idea that this heathen youth should show more refinement than we in such a matter only added to my leaden mood.

[Caleb]  “That is where he lives, is it not, your one God?  Up there, beyond the inconstant clouds?”  … “Only one god.  Strange, that you English, who gather about you so many things, are content with one only.  And so distant, up there in the sky.  I do not have to look so far.  I can see me skygod clear enough, right there,” he said, stretching out an arm towards the sun. “By day, Keesakand.  Tonight Nanpawshat.” … He prattled on, cataloging his pantheon of heathenish idols.  Trees, fish, animals and the like vanities, all of them invested with souls, all wielding powers.  But then I remembered …  the whispering to me that I already knew Keesakand, that I had already worshiped him many time as I bathed in the radiance of a sunrise, or paused to witness the glory of his sunset. … It was good, the voice whispered.  It was right and well to know these powers, to live in a world aswirl with spirits, everywhere ablaze with divinity.

…The Indians were more Christ-like that we Christians, who clung to our possessions even as read the gospel’s clear injunction to give up all we owned.

What profit was there in requiring little ones to behave like adults?  Why bridle their spirits and struggle to break their God-given nature before they had the least understanding of what was wanted of them?

[about Caleb]  In every outward particular, he was now a Christian.  But who could see into his heart?

[Of the cairns made in respect for Bethia’s father]  The stones had a kind of inner radiance that answered to the sun’s changing light at different times of the day…  We were, I think, taken aback by its power to touch our deeper feeling, every time we went to it.

[Caleb]  “Life is better then death.  I knw this.  Tequamuck says it is the coward’s talk.  I say it is braver, sometimes, to bend.”

[While Bethia and husband are int Italy] On feast days we would marvel at the procession of he papists, carrying their gilded, flower-bedecked statues through the streets.  In time, even Samuel came to wonder if our austere form or worship was the only one way to be godly.

Caleb was a hero, there was no doubt of it.  He ventured forth from one world to another with an explore’s courage, armored by the hope that he could serve his people.  He stood shoulder to shoulder with the most of learned of his day, ready to take the place with them as a man of affairs. … I am not a hero.  Life has not required it of me.  But neither will I go to my grave a coward, silent about what I did, and what it cost.  So, let these past pages be my death song — even if at the end it is no paean, but as it must be: a dissonant and tragic lament.

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