Then, the elderly man said, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.”
The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity – it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is just a passing shadow of a cloud.
It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards, even unto our names. Witness Simon who is called Peter, Matthew also known as Levi, Nathaniel who is also Bartholomew, Judas, not Iscariot, who took the name Thaddeus, Simeon who went by Niger, Saul who became Paul.
In both cases, we look at an animal, and see a mirror. The obsession with putting ourselves at the center of everything is the bane, not only of theologians, but also of zoologists. I learned the lesson that an animal is an animal, essentially and practically removed from us, twice: once with Father, and once with Richard Parker.
Much hostile behavior and aggressive behavior among animals is the expression of social insecurity. The animal in front of you must know where it stands, whether above you, or below you. (…) It is a question of brain over brawn. The nature of the circus trainer’s ascendancy is psychological. Foreign surroundings, the trainer’s erect position, calm demeanor, steady gaze, fearless step forward, stranger roar (for example, the snapping of a whip, or the blowing of a whistle)-there are so many factors that will fill the animal’s mind with doubt and fear, and make it clear to it where it stands, the very thing it wants to know.
But religion is more than rite and ritual. There is what the rite and ritual stand for. (…) The individual soul touches upon the world soul like a well reaches for the water table. That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression, is the same thing. The finite within the infinite, the infinite within the finite.
69 – 70
What were those words he used that struck me? Ah, yes: “dry, yeastless factuality”, “the better story”. I take pen and paper out and write:
Words of divine consciousness: moral exaltation; lasting feelings of elevation, elation, joy; a quickening of the moral sense, which strikes me as more important than an intellectual understanding of things; an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably.
I pause. What of God’s silence? I think it over. I add:
An intellect confounded yet a trusting sense of presence and of ultimate purpose.
178 Chapter 56:
“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It
has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into
your mind like a spy” (Martel 178)
tears flowing down my cheeks, I egged myself on until I heard a
cracking sound and I no longer felt any life fighting in my hands
The flying fish was dead
It was the first sentient being I had ever killed. I was now a killer
I was sixteen years old, a harmless boy, bookish and religious, and
now I had blood on my hands
I never forget to include this fish in my prayers” (Martel 203).
“It came as an unmistakable indication to me of how low I had sunk the day I noticed, with a pinching of the heart, that I ate like an animal, that this noisy, frantic, unchewing wolfing-down of mine was exactly the way Richard Parker ate.”
“One haul brought me something I had lost. I considered it. Cradled in the palm of my hand was all that remained between me and death: the last of the orange whistles.”
“I could not abandon Richard Parker. To leave him would mean to kill him. He would not survive his first night. Alone in my lifeboat at sunset, I would know that he was burning alive. Or that he had thrown himself in the sea, where he would drown. I waited for his return. I knew he would not be late.”