Wednesday, August 9, 2017

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You

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There is something strangely satisfying about listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, BB King, and other guitar greats tear it up while reading the Bible and reviewing science fiction. I would encourage anyone to try it at least once.

The Bible part is the opening chapter of the book of Job. In case you aren't familiar with the story, it starts with a description of one of the ancients, who was a really good guy and happened to be rich. He was rich in sheep, oxen, camels, and donkeys, as well as servants to take care of them, and he had a large and loving family as well. Being rich didn't mess with his personality, though, and that's important. Please be clear on this: he didn't do anything wrong to deserve what was about to happen to him.

You know how in all the stories, things happen in threes? Well, this one doesn't follow the pattern; it's really a 'four plus two.'  I don't know any other stories that use this format, which suggests to me that I had better pay attention, because that alone makes this story special.

Here are the four: One after another, four servants arrive and tell him everything he has is gone. The first servant arrives to tell him raiders took his oxen and donkeys; the second tells him fire from heaven wiped out his sheep; the third tells him a different group of raiders stole his camels; the last of the four tells him all of his children are dead. Each one ends his report with: "and I alone escaped to tell you."

There's more to come, by the way; it's four plus two. Job gets sick, and his wife repudiates him; those are the two.

Warning: I am about to distort the meaning of the message radically.

Today, and every day, I have alone escaped to tell you. What does that mean?

Well, first of all, it means that despite all of the company I've had along my journey, I'm the only one who is left to tell you. Some have passed, others have moved, some are still in my life but at a greater distance. In any event, if you want to hear my message, I'm the only one who can tell it.

Second (and this is the tricky part), I'm the one who determines what the message is. Yeah, that's different.

See, the servants in Job's story were just reporting what had happened. They weren't providing any interpretation at all. But that really isn't a story, is it? Any more than the lyrics by themselves are a song. The interpretation of events: that's what matters. And I'm the only one who can create the meaning for my story.

So, think about that. You are the only one who can tell your story; you are the only one who can decide what your story means.

At least, that's the insight I have at this particular moment.

Now, as far as I can tell, NONE of this has anything to do with David Burkhead's story. A Google search for 'Live to Tell" results in a bunch of hits for a Madonna song; while I greatly appreciate Burkhead's work, I don't love it so much that I'm going to listen to Madonna to see if that is his inspiration. I sincerely hope not; he strikes me as the sort of gent who has better musical taste, but we've never had the occasion to raise the topic.

His story (the short story, not his life story) concerns a certain Sergeant Yamada, who is a solidly messed up individual, due to having been a prisoner of war of an alien species.

They are not nice people.

In fact, they use prisoners as game animals, and hunt them with primitive weapons.

And now, their warship has overtaken the hospital ship that is evacuating Yamada and other wounded back to safety. It's a sure bet that they are going to take everyone aboard as a prisoner.

This isn't so much a story of vengeance as a blurry path of redemption. Yamada is still having active flashbacks at the beginning of the story, due to his experiences, and it's a combination of his training and determination, plus the requisite opportunity, that allow him to leave the protective & reactive mode.

It's a good read, and it's well worth your time. The writing is tight, the characters are real, and the monsters are appropriately monstrous. Plenty of action, and there is enough narrative that we have no problem understanding what is going on inside Yamada's head.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Peace be on your house.

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