“It’s unattainable!” That’s what he said. Emphatically. As he stood behind his rough wooden chair while the rest of us sat a little less comfortably in ours. “Unattainable!” Even more keyed up this time. “Nobody can live up to the standard that some of these men seem to be living by!” “And that’s why people of my generation walk away. It either looks fake or too hard to maintain.”
The desire was real. The emotion was raw. The comment was a revelation. The other men in the room silently let those complaints filter into their thoughts. Had they known the bar was set unreasonably high? Were they intentionally derailing another person’s pursuit? Could they be fooling themselves while others saw them as fakes? No one sat comfortably now.
One man broke the heavy silence. Quietly but pointedly he firmly asserted, “Attainment is not the goal.” Here he paused before launching his next lines with growing momentum. “None of us have crossed the finish line. No one here wears a medal of achievement. Not one of us is qualified to claim a victory. We are absolutely fake if that is what you see.” He raised his grey eyes from the well worn book in his hands to the still skeptical stander.
The stander’s response came back sharply, “Then what is the point?” The question echoed from man to man as the eyes in the room looked back to the stone cold floor in solemn reflection. What was the point? If winning and achievement were not the goal, why were they working so hard? Daily they faced opposition and confusion. Their muscles ached from the tension of constant alert and imminent danger. The scars they carried whispered the sad stories of their struggle. Not one in the room was a stranger to defeat or wasted opportunity. All had lost some and some had lost all. For what? The question grew larger as they sat motionless. The discomfort now began to gnaw at them from the inside.
“The point?”, the book holder’s voice gained volume as he faced the Skeptic. “What is the point, you ask. Is it not obvious from the words of the one we follow? Did he leave us with a five step plan to success? Did he ever rally his men to pursue the victor’s crown? Can you recall any time when that original band of brothers crossed the proverbial finish line and took pride in their attainment of it?”
The air in the room was being charged with each question. Men now raised their eyes from the floor and heads began to lift. Discomfort was being slowly replaced with remembrance. Something old was freshly stirring in their midst. Even the Skeptic could sense the change. He stood rigid against the rising tide as the Responder continued.
“You speak of the goal as if it were a position or destination. Something to possess. Young men often fall into this trap. Many of us have been led astray by searching for the same allusive end. But this was never what he taught us and what he left for us is more valuable than any treasure that could be held in our keep.” All attention was aimed in his direction. Like starving prisoners drawn to the bars of their cells by the aroma of meat over flames each man hungered to hear more. The Responder’s voice grew stronger as he continued to feed them.
“By your words it would seem that you have a desire to join a more “successful” camp. Men who can readily hand you trophies won in past battles. Who wear medals of recognition and crowns of achievement that generate attention from those in their company. Men who have arrived. Men who are accomplished. Men who have overcome. Their quest is complete. They have their reward. And you would seek to join the ranks of these?”
“I would. And gladly,” came the quick reply. The Skeptic stood now more at ease. His eyes locked on the lowered head of the seated elder. The satisfied expression would last on his face for only a few silent seconds.
“And you would gladly collect dust like the trophies you would treasure!”, blasted the book holding Responder. “Tell us, what do you think you would do after the trophies? When you have attained the thing you have been striving for, what then? Look closely at the company you would rather keep. For now they appear to be living at ease, am I right? Listen to their talk. They live in the past. They speak often of their adventures gone by. The truth, my young skeptic friend, is that all life is lost in the winning. The blood of men cools when the war is done. The king returns to his throne and the soldiers are mere subjects again. Richer perhaps. Though they dine on delicacies, the company who feasts with them is not as close as the warriors that they starved along side of.”
“You see, you are right to be disheartened in your attempts to live up to the standard that you believe others ahead of you are doing. But you are wrong in believing that they consider themselves to have arrived, achieved or attained any such standard. If you keep the company of those men, and they would welcome you heartily!, you will soon learn that they are measuring themselves by the men they once revered who have now passed over and no longer walk in skin with us. Unlike the men you would seek company with, these men know that the real treasure, trophy or crown is not some object that can be handed off. Not something that belongs to the victor. But simply the assurance that we belong to each other and to a cause greater than any of us. None of us can be our best without the others, for we belong together. This is the way we serve the purpose of the sovereign who called us together. There are many temporary treasures that we enjoy together but our souls are immortally linked to a greater prize. And that prize, my young puzzled friend, is that we will all finally be together.”
“We strive to resemble the ones we honor and respect because we will be with them again one day. And that striving, that effort, has no end. We are always at war on this side of death’s door. As warriors, we understand that the bonds we have between us are more precious than any jewel in any crown that we could win. The bonds forged in battle are fierce and not broken in death. Bodies may be buried but relationships are not extinguished when men’s hearts are still. We long to meet again.”
The men around the table gently nodded with agreement. This was “the point” that they needed to be reminded of. A lineage of brothers that stands the tests of time and stretches beyond any lifetime. The appreciation of belonging to others and a disdain for chasing after belongings. This was their reward. This made every scar worth the suffering as they shared in battle.
The Responder opened the ancient book in his large rough hands and gently shuffled through the stained pages. “Listen again to the words of the one we have surrendered to.” He began to read. “It is my desire that those who follow me would live in unity. That their relationships would be closer than brothers. That they would live as one man. Encouraging, admonishing, discipling one another. Living well in this world but forever desiring to be with me in the one to come.” The book closed. The Responder looked up expectantly.
The Skeptic took an uneasy breath. “The words you speak are worth considering. This life of effort without earning is a strange existence. And building a brotherhood that deepens with each battle won or lost is a hard one.” Here he paused and straightened himself. “I mean no disrespect and I am grateful for the challenge you offer but I am not moved to remain with you longer. Perhaps you men can be content to live always reaching but never arriving. But I can’t.” With those words the Skeptic left his post by his chair, pushed through the heavy oaken door and, with one long last sweeping look at the men, retreated into the growing shadows of the late evening sun.