Sorry I have been away from the keys for so long. I’ve missed you! What follows is yet another excerpt from the novel in progress. Let me give you a little bit of background here so that the post may make a little more sense. The characters who are speaking to each other here are Rachel Thompson and Jacob Eaton. If you’ve been reading along as I have posted from the book over the last few months, you know that Rachel is the main character in the story. She’s in her late 30s/early 40s and recently widowed. She has decided (foolishly, according to all her friends) to sink all of the proceeds of her late husband’s life insurance policy into rehabilitating an old, once grand house in her home town. Jacob Eaton is a man who dated Rachel briefly some twenty years before, when they were in high school. She rejected him then. He has gone on to tremendous success as a lawyer practicing in the world of transactions involving masterpieces of art. He is rich and famous. He has come to Rachel’s door to renew his suit for her. This conversation takes place in Rachel’s house, still in the little town where the two of them grew up.
Thanks for reading.
“You’ve had an interesting life, Jacob. I have heard the outlines of it and it sounds almost unbelievable. More than you might have imagined back in our day. You’ve got to see yourself as very successful.”
“I see myself as very fortunate. But I won’t say that I have more than I imagined back in our day.”
“You imagined this? What you have now? Great wealth? An international reputation? Friends all over the world?”
“No. Not that. But I did imagine fulfillment. Complete fulfillment and rest. I saw what I thought I was meant to be. I saw the life that was meant for me. I saw my destiny.”
“And that has come true?”
“In ways, yes.”
“In ways? Oh, come on, Jacob. What else could you want? What else could anyone ant?”
“I can’t put my finger on it, exactly. I can’t explain or describe it. It’s something I feel.”
Rachel had been leaning forward as they talked, but as she heard this last answer she exhaled and sank back into the couch. “I think I know what you mean,” she said. “I do know what you mean.”
“Can you help me, then? Can you describe it? Explain it? Give me a clue?”
“No. But for me it is tied up with the house. The old Phillips place. You know what I am doing there.”
“I do. And on one level it seems crazy to me. I’ve lived in the world, Rachel. I’ve seen all kinds of battles fought. And I know that there are losers. There are folks who venture and lose and who spend their lives thereafter, as Shakespeare put it ‘bound in shallows and in miseries.’ You could lose everything in that place. It could really happen and the consequences are real.”
“Consequences are something I’m willing to talk about. Look at this town. Look at our home; the place we lived; the place where we once dreamed. Look what has happened all around us. Every sign of grace is gone. What is that the consequence of?”
“I don’t know exactly. It would be hard to count all of the forces that are at work here. Some are economic. Some are cultural. And I wouldn’t have said this twenty years ago, but here it is: some are demonic. But you are fighting too big a battle. You can’t expect to prevail.”
“Then what about the missionaries? What about those people who went to the four corners of the earth? Who took the gospel into the most hostile and primitive cultures and nations against all odds? They had no money and no power. What do you say about them?”
“That there are forces greater than money and political power. That there are forces greater than the forces that corrupt. I know this to be a fact. It is invisible to many; to those who stay at home and know nothing of the world other than what they hear on the news. But there are powerful forces for good that are operating in the world and they often work through the simplest and most subtle of means. Through friendship. Through some individual having the courage to speak the truth in the right place at the right time. I must admit I did not know that you were thinking of this project of yours in those terms.”
“We spend so much on charity abroad. How many years the twenty-eight churches in this town have given thousands upon thousands to build up institutions elsewhere. Hospitals and orphanages in Africa and South America. That’s all to the good. But what has happened here? Things fall apart . . . the ceremony of innocence is drowned. There is no vision.”
“But is this response of yours really rational? Isn’t there something else? Some other means of employing your energy and resources that would not risk the complete ruin of both?”
“I think that being rational has almost nothing to do with it. Being rational is what got us here. What this place needs – what I need – is something that is almost necessarily irrational. That is extravagant. That is above the common. That is an inspiration. That gives a vision. Something that speaks not of practicality but of rapture and complete fulfillment.”
“Fulfillment is my word. I said it first.”
“Okay, then. You tell me what you mean by it. Do your best.”
“I had a speech ready to give when I first heard that you were alone again. I saved it, of course, until enough time had passed to make it permissible and proper for me to approach you. It’s been a year and a half now, and I have. . . well, not a day has gone by in that interim that I did not think of this speech and work on its perfection. I have never been more motivated to communicate something. But when I heard from Linda that you would not want to see me again, I put the speech away. It would have been, I thought, not only useless, but painful to us both to revisit the emotions we – or at least I – once had. But now you have asked the question. I haven’t manipulated you. It’s fairly before us now and if I am to answer your question I can’t be more true or honest than in giving you the speech I polished and thought to abandon.
“Have you ever heard of the valley of Eschol?”
“The name doesn’t ring a bell.”
“It’s a place in Palestine. I don’t know if anyone really knows where in Palestine. But the point is that it is – was – a place in the Promised Land.
“You remember the story of Caleb and Joshua?”
“Not sure. Give me a start on it.”
“There were twelve spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land as he and the children of Israel camped in the desert just outside. When the men returned, ten of them told the congregation that they should not try to enter in. That the inhabitants were as giants and that at their hands the Israelites would face certain annihilation. They saw the negative forces. But two of the spies – Joshua and Caleb – said just the opposite – that the land was as rich as had been promised and that it was theirs for the taking. That God’s promise was enough for them. They would conquer. They would inherit. They would prosper. They would find rest.”
“I remember. But what about the valley of Eschol?”
“That was the place in the Promised Land that Joshua and Caleb saw. While they were there they picked a cluster of grapes. The bible says that the cluster was so big and so lush that it had to be carried on a pole between two men. A single cluster. That’s how rich the land was. The bible says that they came to the valley in the season of the first ripe grapes.
“And you know the rest of the story. The naysayers – the guys who warned the Israelites not to attempt to enter the Promised Land – carried the day. And Israel was thereby doomed to wander for 40 years in the desert, until the entire generation that had cowered had passed away. That generation spent their lives in shallows and in miseries when they could have taken the land and in lived in peace and abundance.”
“It’s a great story. But why tell it to me?”
“Because the season we had together all those years ago was the season of the first ripe grapes. We could have entered in. We could have known peace and prosperity and the fulfillment of our destiny. That is what I feel. That is what haunts me.”
“But, even so, why now?”
“Because there were two exceptions. Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the Promised Land. They endured. They lived. They found rest. When I heard that you were alone again I thought that I had my second chance to enter in. It’s only been twenty years for me and not 40, but I was sure of it.”