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THE SEA IS WAITING (On retrospective pilgrimage throughout the time: from Hugo to Bunyan.)

by Marcin Malek

Some people are convinced that they were born under the lucky star, and so the time have no significance to them. Others that they came here just at the right time, ergo ? there’s nothing left to be discussed. Finally there are also some who claims that they always pursue the time just to miss it by a whisker.

Be that as it may; the time in this context is not so much a secondary phenomenon but rather the matrix, of which all stems - mostly the future offers nothing but uncertainty.

The more we doubt the more it seems legitimate to write: no matter who you are, no matter where you are, or when you are, you’ll always ask yourself the same questions: are we deserve tomorrow? Are we truly reaching for it? Or perhaps it is just our past that seize the next day. Maybe we could never be free within certitude that we are who we are only because of yesterday. Then our history makes nowadays, but only now. However there always be some tomorrow, and always imminent, nearly within a hand reach but indispensably away, driven consistently by force of circumstances - a few steps ahead.

Every great story begins within a simple say and ends longing for something that cannot be truly determined.

But does it ends indeed?

According to some writers not necessarily.

Even such figure as Victor Hugo’s Jean Valjean ? he wins his life only at the last pages of the novel, thus his freedom is ransomed by readers invention. It is as if someone’s voice would urge from the nonentity: The sea is waiting, set sail!

In terms of academic Les Misérables are oddly honest as well as thoroughgoing novel and by all means (despite the awareness of horror of consequences) it makes people think.

In most literary works time usually serves at the expense of characters but not here. Here time comes in aid of stranglers, it whispers and guides, eventually to set every spirit free. Well... almost every.

Even obsessive Chief Inspector Javert finally earns his peace in the murky waters of the Seine. Apparently his death does not end’s anything, on the contrary, it triggers new implications. Thanks to it time accelerates, which in addition stimulates readers imagination. The only person who seems to be unaware of time shifting is Cosette, probably the most symbolic character throughout the novel. This is because she passes between the real and imaginary time increasingly becoming an idea rather than flesh and bone person. In this form she embodies the hope for tomorrow, or we may say: she lights up the dawn of the future.

What impresses most, she may be an only character who does not entirely understand her privileged role while others consciously fulfilling their parts. She leads the plot becoming not so a motive for actions but rather their core of existence. On the other hand, she has no power over the time, being only its tool, however a powerful one. Without Cosette there would be no future for either Valjean nor for Marius. Javert would attained his purpose escaping destiny and plunging everyone around. The axis of the novel would move up to the point where each of the characters would have to be born again and live their life once more, thus creating a brand new reality.

Against this background stands out Marius who is a genuine time lord. His engagements lead directly to future, to imagined people and places, but still likely to happen. In this sense Marius prevails over the time by shaping the coming day within decisive manner. Yet not entirely. There is a moment when he is forced to rely on someone else’s decisions, when he entrust his fate into another man’s hands. Therefore uncertain future takes over every encountered life in the book.

Valjean and Marius are walking the same path, but time brings different offers for them. Former convict have lastly manage to settle himself by finding the only place in time, where future and the past are merging into a protective dome of further readers inventions. On the contrary, despite undoubtful happy end, Marius did not accomplish his journey yet. In fact this kind of pilgrimage never ends, always hiding in store some compelling secrets.

This after all, should calmly wait for a different opportunity to be told.

As for the pilgrims: it happened sometime ago, that unconsciously but fortuitously I have overheard a unique conversation between two upright gentleman. They talked about John Bunyan’s book The Pilgrim’s Progress describing the experience of the Christian life presented in a colorful narrative pilgrimage from the "City of Destruction" ("this world"), to the "Celestial City" ("that which is to come": Heaven) atop Mount Zion.
Two elderly individuals were arguing on Christian lament "What am I going to do?!"

In the book, narrative character passes through the desert of this world and enters the cave, where he finally falls asleep. In the dream he sees the Christian who begins to read a book (the Bible), and by this he witness as under the influence of this reading awakens (within the Christian) tremendous awareness of sin, and the future destruction of his city (“this world”). “I saw a man dressed in rags, (Isaiah 64:6) standing in his hometown, with a book in his hand, and a large hump – a beastly looking burden – on his back. (Psalm 38:4). I looked, and saw him open the book, and read. As he read, he wept, and trembled and, finally not being able to contain himself any longer, he let out a mournful cry, saying, “What am I going to do?” (Act 16:30 – 31)

*Recently I’ve read The Pilgrim’s Progress. Have you read it? (Faintly begun elder interlocutor)

Yes, quite a long time ago.

*Oh ... but yet you remember it?

Yes, for as much as it is polite to remember.

*Even so, you have your opinion?

I have some thoughts.

*Share them then – please.

Of course. I think that the book was just right for its time. Today it is more a curiosity – something in good taste. It is good to know it, but that is all. Today’s man would not learn much from it.

*Why is it so?

Because we are currently experiencing a crisis of faith – not only a crisis of belief (I mean the belief in God as such) but also, if not primarily, a crisis of self-confidence (described as belief in human nature). We are a bit like this pilgrim, who cried with regret: "What am I going to do?!"

*Ultimately there is something what links us to the book.

My dear friend, the only thing that binds us with Bunyan is that pathetic cry. Nothing else. We are afraid of what we are, or rather, we fear the consequences of who we may become. We’re not believing in ourselves anymore, it makes us blind to our guilt’s, we only see the certainty of punishment, in face of which, we think, we are powerless, like convict under the executioner blade. The cry itself will not change anything here, you still need to do something. But what, if majority believes that nothing can be done?

*I disagree. There is always something ahead – future at last.
Yes, but only when we offer „this something” (we may as well call it everything) to the present. What can you offer to it? Despite insincere confession that you are innocent? No my dear... No! You would not spare any thing. Just bear in mind - innocent like you are the first victims. Have you ever wondered what prevents most people from peeking into the mirror? Cowardice maybe? No, I would not name it as such. I would understand it more as a lack of trust to this, what could gaze back. Fear indeed, but certainly not cowardice. Our pilgrim in spite of doubts has eagerly move forward while rest of us chose to do nothing. Enchanted rocks - that is what we are. The only thing left is to outcry again „what am I going to do!?” World is a difficult place because we made it such. We often talk about terrible things as they would happened next to us but beyond us, as if the world was separated by a specially reinforced glass...
 Yes, we explain all these horrors lovingly but in doing so we do nothing to prevent terrible outcome they bring. Then, I ask again: what can we offer?

*You saying that the Divine Providence demands victims? I cannot accept that! I do not want to imagine God as the one who rewards and punishes his creations. Such an idea would mean that, in fact, such a God is not much different than we are. If I can offer anything ? I repeat: if I can – I would only offer myself. Of course I would be delighted if you wanted to do the same. The decision however must be yours.

Oh no my friend, a thousand times no! God sees in us his children – certainly not victims. I never consider myself a victim. Even if I had to be a one, I would not offer more than I can. I would rather sick answers (through the deeds ), and hope for grace of liberation from all kind of indifference that just touches everyone at least once in a lifetime. Yet every one of us, especially at night and in solitude asked himself why everything falls on me? But there is no answer, and only a dream seems to be a reasonable salvation. Then comes another day, and the question returns – we may as much weep: "What am I going to do?!" Only the voice itself (even the loudest one) would not convince the God to appear in order to deliver salvation.

*Yes I agree. But, it occurred to me that the only possible way to this salvation, is the way of "self-generosity”. A bit like in Paulo Coelho’s novel "The Pilgrimage". I do not remember exact words, but I will try to get to the bottom anyway. He said that we have to sternly deal with any attempt of self punishing, even the gentlest ones. Also to uncover, when we become cruel to those around and to ourselves, we must transform any minute of spiritual pain in to a physical one, such as guilt, remorse, lack of determination, cowardice. By transforming spiritual pain into physical we get to know evil that it may produce. We usually suffer for someone who does not love us, who abandoned us or for someone who does not want to leave us. We are living alone, if nobody love us: having a wife or husband, makes marriage slavery. This is really horrible. Certitude that the God exist, certitude that brings meaning in to life is much more appealing than the ability to do evil with impunity.

Indeed! We can do whatever we please! Although secretly we oppose this wholeheartedly. Something within us cries, something rebels. Thence the despair and mourn "What am I going to do?!" Our pilgrim have learned that his city (presumably - this World) will be burned with fire from heaven and completely wiped out unless there is some hope for us (but to this moment, I do not know [says pilgrim], as if it could be). How to respond to such a confession? Can we look forward and back, as we would tried to run, and in fact do not move an inch, because we cannot afford to choose the right path? And may we humbly wait for the anticipated catastrophe, because, as we believe, nothing on this earth, even our imagination, can save us from the God’s wrath. If the answer to this would depend on us, and I think that it is so, inevitably destruction will come upon us. You asking why? Because according to Bunyan Pilgrim survived only thanks to Evangelists. Thus, as Arnold J. Toynbee said - it is impossible to suppose that the nature of God is less constant than human, we should, and we must pray, so that once granted grace would not be denied at the first earliest opportunity. Who prays for such things nowadays? Who prays at all?! What does God thinks in your opinion? Would he choose goodness over the welfare? Or, maybe imposed goodness is a kind of stimulus that triggers impunity within our hearts, what, eventually becomes a sort of contribution assistive in choosing evil. The thing is, that none of our sins will be punished, and only catastrophe to come is the one brought by human, not by God’s hand. Why? Because there is no such power that would stop us from what we y on ourselves, believing that Divine Providence have laid it’s vengeance upon us.

*So what else can we do - utter a cry? Then continue to be same thing as we are now? It is what you see?

Yes, something alike... Can you remember what Mephistopheles said to Faust?
“[...]I am the Spirit that denies!
And rightly too; for all that doth begin
Should rightly to destruction run;
'Twere better then that nothing were begun[...]

In a place with no regrets... As I said at the beginning, we would not learn much from it - maybe someday, but I highly doubt. We are different now, we profess other values, and we adhere to other passions ? „Twere better then that nothing were begun”, but it begun, and sadly there is no good use of it. Every day we die of loneliness, despair, hatred or love - of what gave us the world. The world that we have designed, that we raised from the ground up, using corpses instead of bricks and concrete. The best solution would be to forget all about God. The worst thing we can do now is to invite God straight in to our filth.

*How dare you?! You ought to be ashamed!

Why would God save us?! Why?! Even his love has its limitations. Curiously, God does not have to punish us, he does not need to save us either, he easily can refrain from any action. It is just enough to leaves us with the choice, and we already chose to cry - thus nothing changes. Even echo gives us silence in response. And time shifts inexorably towards the future we invented.

*I do not understand. You really believe in that? I do not expect a response from the echo, or God himself, I just want to hear the voice of another man, a man who believed, who embraced the God along with his sanctity and with suffering - which is inherent of that sanctity. I expect nothing but a prospect of life among people like I am ? filled with faith and hope, without any need of weeping.
As I have said before - I fully entrust myself into a God’s hands. This is my response on fear that chokes us since we were born.

My dear friend it is easy to lay down your life as an sacrifice in favor of the Lord, it is quite natural. But I would call this choice an abbreviation. Once there is no earthly hope the only solution is a Divine Providence to which we can always cry out: "What am I going to do?!"

The man is a victim of his own illusions, he thinks that he have lost the future, which always could prove to be better. The snag is, - it will never be. The worst enemy of man is his imagination - we are not afraid of real threats (in kind of sudden illness) what’s frightens us most is the imaginary menace - and there is no boundaries in this respect. Here’s how the imagination does not allow us to move forward, causing hesitation, stimulating indecision... Lastly we have a ready-made recipe for pure fallout. Isn’t that so? Just do not say anything - I know what you’re thinking... Of course, reckless decisions as well as reluctance can put us in face of similar situation, - and here’s how the devil deals the cards... We face eternal dilemma - to act or not to act? The easiest way is to wash your hands and entrust all to the eldritch powers – it is such a simple behavior. But please remember: all that brings us closer to this act; each gesture, every moment, and all that afterwards will follow from it, is more complicated than we might think. Entrusting is only the beginning of the road into the unknown.
 In fact, our pilgrim was not afraid of destruction, he rather was afraid of the road, at the end of which awaits promised salvation. The only question is: at what cost?

*I cannot be sure, but it seems to me that at cost of lost time, and more importantly, at cost of unfulfilled sacrifice. By sacrificing we are proving that we know how to live, it is indeed our ability of life: who does not know how to sacrifice himself, does not know also how to live. As Alphonse Gratry would say: the sacrifice of current, partial and transient life is a necessary condition of fulfilled and eternal life.

Please forgive me, but I really do not know much about eternity. Present preoccupies my attention, I do not care about the past nor what will happen tomorrow. I stand here and now, as pilgrim stood once, but something else bothers my head: is there anything more terrifying than to realize that we have achieved the present moment? If at all we can bear such thought, it is solely due to the fact that our mind somehow become resistant to time... It is, as if a man found himself in a deep well?—?solid walls separate him from the past, and the future is somewhere high above ? for him is just now: deep, dark now. This is an our burden - resistance to time in every form. Imaginary life within imaginary realm aiming towards imaginary future. And who knows, maybe we too are just someone’s fantasy. Almost like this unfortunate pilgrim, who due to the overwhelming reality could only mourn: "What am I going to do?!"

And we? What shall we do, when sinister time will crawl again beneath open windows of our homes? We may as well reach for another book, to once again prevail over the known and unknown universes. It is because the ability to read is still the most powerful weapon known to humanity. Who reads is able to destroy and resurrect entire worlds – then, what threat may bring an innocent time? What possibly could happen?