A Fable: Good, Evil, and Boat Building

Once upon a time there were a brother and a sister who lived on a small island, connected to the the mainland by a bridge.  They had both recently been through divorces. Brother was over at Sister’s house, sitting on her big bright gold and green and purple couch, drinking coffee, while she drank tea. They were talking about all the crazy times they had gone through, consoling one another. Suddenly the sound of the loud tsunami siren blaring startled them on to their feet.  A fierce flood was rushing over their island.

They jumped into Brother’s pickup truck and drove toward the highest hill. Many other folks had the same idea, so traffic was thick. As luck would have it though, Sister’s house was an inexpensive one, one of those without a water view and far from the shore. So they were already a few miles away from the coast when they began their drive. They even managed to get halfway up the hill, well away from the flood waters, before the traffic came to a halt. They ran out of the car and stood aghast, looking down at the waves and flooded homes.

Once the waters receded, they went back down, to look for their flooded homes and boats and to assess the damage. They were shocked to find that that everything where they lived had been swept into the sea by the flood and the wind.  

But first things first. The bridge to the mainland had been destroyed. They and others on the island would need medicine, additional food, and other supplies that could only be gotten from the mainland. The land lines for telephones were down, the cell phone tower was down, and as far as they knew, no one on the small island owned a satellite phone. So, while they cried over their lost homes and boats, and the devastation around them, they began to gather wood.  They would build a new boat to travel to the mainland to get supplies.

Soon it occurred to them that no one else was building boats, and that the boat building would go a lot faster if more people pitched in and helped by contributing work and tools. Maybe some folks could mentor others. So one evening, after a hard day’s work, they walked around the island, trying to find others to join in their effort. They came to a group of folks who were screaming and crying to one another, in a state of grief over their destroyed homes and lost relatives. Brother and Sister weren’t able to get their attention.

Brother and Sister saw a couple of people hauling cold cuts and bottles of water from an abandoned store which someone had broken into. Those people rushed on by. Soon a couple of new folks came along, who looked calmer than the others.

Sister explained that she and Brother were building a boat to travel to the mainland to get supplies. “Would they like to help?” The others asked what political party Sister belonged to, and she told them. One of the others snarled, saying “You’re not in the same political party I’m in. Are you blind? Can’t you see that my party is Good and your party is Corrupt. You party is responsible for all of the Evils on the island. You are Evil and can not be trusted.” The two others raved on about the various Evils of Sister’s party. Surprised and hurt, Sister defended her party’s policies, and argued about issues.

After a while, Brother grabbed Sister by the arm to pull her away. Sister was a strong woman, and could easily have pulled herself free. But she told Brother “You’re right. This argument could go on forever. We’d never get the boat built. By the way, if you want my attention, please just touch my shoulder. Don’t grab me and try to haul me away, okay?” Brother agreed that next time he’d just touch Sister on the shoulder. “Thanks” she said “I appreciate that.”

Brother and Sister went back and slept all night on the beach. They worked hard the next day. When evening came, they sat down to take a break. They saw two folks walking by, who were younger and stronger than themselves, though perhaps not as skilled. Brother and Sister looked at one another. “Well, no harm in asking” Sister said. But first she asked them “What political party are you in?” One answered “Oh, we’re not in a party. We’re not very political.”

Sister heaved a sigh of relief. She began explaining the boat building effort and asked if they would like to join in. But, to her surprise, one of the young folks shouted at her “You’re not in the same generation we’re in. Can’t you see that all the harm your generation has done to this island? People of your generation are Evil and can’t be trusted. People of my generation are the only Good ones. ”

Sister decided to take a different approach this time. She listened to the grievances of this younger man, asked questions about how he came to these conclusions, and asked about his fears, his desires. After about an hour of Sister listening and asking questions about his concerns, he began calming down a little. But he still was not interested in Sister, or Brother, or their boat building effort, or anything else but himself. Then Brother gently touched Sister on the arm and asked “Do you want to sleep now, so that we’re ready to build the boat in the morning?”

The next day they continued to work hard on the boat. Maybe it wouldn’t take too many more days to finish. Sometimes people came up to them and asked what they were doing. Brother or Sister would briefly explain and ask if they wanted to join in the effort, so that folks on the island could have supplies sooner.  

But the new people always turned out to be in some other religion or race or social class or other group that was Good, while Brother and Sister’s group was Evil and could not be trusted. A few of their divorced friends came by.  They were horrified that a person would trust someone of the other gender enough to build a boat with them. Brother and Sister sighed. Then they turned their full attention back to their work.

They got a few death threats from people who were in Good groups and who thought that some group that Brother was in, or some group that Sister was in, was Evil, and so they should be destroyed. Luckily, no one carried out any of these threats. So they lived on, and kept building.

In time, they were able to finish the boat– a small one that would hold only the two of them. They hoped to get the help of other people with bigger boats, once they reached the mainland.

They set out as soon as the boat was finished and seaworthy. At first, Brother had to do more of the boat rowing, because Sister was so fatigued, frustrated and depressed from having tried to persuade so many people to help with their efforts. And she had a headache from trying to listen to people for hours– people who never took a turn listening to her. Brother didn’t mind, because he knew Sister had put forth most of the effort to try to get others to help them. He knew that it had been worth a try. Sister soon recovered enough to do more of the rowing. They were both very tired. But they rowed on as strongly as they could, occasionally catching a fish to eat.

Just when they were almost too exhausted to go on, they reached the shore. They fell down on the beach in exhaustion and slept for a few hours. Then they awoke to see what was before them. The mainland wasn’t in such great shape either. But some people had managed to survive the flood. There were some abandoned stores that had been broken into, where they were pleased to find food and fresh water. But all the boats they saw, other than their own, were in pieces, destroyed by the storm. Sadly, they began taking apart their boat, and collecting more wood, in order to build a larger boat– one big enough to bring back food and medicine to the island.

After several days of collecting wood and then starting to build, it was clear that it was going to take a very long time to build a new bigger boat. Sister thought about asking more people to join in the effort. But as soon as she thought about this, she was overcome by a wave of sadness and exhaustion running through her body, as big as the tsunami wave. She shook it off and went back to boat building with Brother.

That night she became sad again. Instead of going to sleep on the sand there as usual, she wandered off into the nearest town. She found a liquor store that had been smashed open by the storm, grabbed a bottle, and began drinking. Then she went next door to a pharmacy. She crawled in through a broken window and looked through the bottles of drugs. She started popping various pills into her mouth, to try to ease her distress.

The next morning, Brother was shocked to find that Sister had disappeared. On other mornings, she had always popped awake like a bird at dawn, and began working on the boat, even before he had finished drinking the coffee that he had found in the abandoned store.

Brother rushed off to search for her. He found her lying in the street, dead from all the drugs and alcohol. Brother’s heart fell deep into grief. The formerly quiet Brother wandered around wailing loudly, feeling lost. He felt like killing himself.  He didn’t. But it was going to be a while before he went back to building a boat.

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