When you are children still fresh from the womb, your fathers will tell you the truth that their fathers told them: All things die, but not the sea. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the sea will never dry up. It has no beginning and no end. The sea is forever.
As you grow up, you will repeat this truth among yourselves. You will whisper it to one another in the morning when your fathers leave the huts on quiet feet, armed with their nets, and leap into boats whose hungry prows pierce the sea. And after they return in the evening, staggering under the weight of the spoils they have wrestled from the depths of the water, you will sit in the shadows of your bonfires, sated and sleepy, and whisper to one another:
The sea gives without ceasing. It has no beginning and no end. The sea is forever.
Your fathers will teach you how to draw life from the sea. They will teach you how to craft boats that will not crack under the force of the currents, and they will teach you how to weave nets that will not fray under the teeth of the fishes. They will show you how to read the skies so that you can divine the moods of the sea, for though she is treacherous, yet there is always a sign in the heavens of her fleeting calm, her violent joy, her blackening wrath. She is treacherous, but she can be kind. Learn her ways, your fathers will tell you, and she will give you life.
And because your fathers are skilled and patient teachers, you will learn her ways, and learn them well. And you will call yourselves the Children of the Sea.
After a time your fathers will die. You will take your own wives and father your own children, and you will repeat to them the truth that your fathers told you. Your children will listen with silent tongues and wide eyes, and they will believe you. They, too, will call themselves the Children of the Sea, though they do not understand what it is that they say.
In the night a storm will come, mightier than the storms of the days of your fathers. It will gouge holes in the hulls of your boats, and it will tear your nets to shreds. It will quench the fires you have lit, and it will lay waste to the huts you have built. Then the tide will surge onto the shore that you have guarded so carefully, and the mouth of the sea will swallow up your children before your eyes, and you will fall to your knees and cry out:
The sea gives and the sea takes away. It has no beginning and no end. The sea is forever.
When you are done with your weeping, you will rise up and look upon the wreckage, and your hearts will grow hard. To yourselves and to one another you will say: The sea is wicked. What have we done but drink the dregs of her riches? What have we done but eat the crumbs of her bounty? She teems with life everlasting, yet she begrudges us the sustenance of our mortal bodies. And now in retribution she has taken our children. Why then should we call her our mother? Why should we call ourselves her children?
Then you will cake your bodies with red paint and mask your faces with black paint, and you will anoint your heads with ashes. You will fashion spears for yourselves and sharp weapons for your wives. And you will call yourselves the Enemies of the Sea.
In time you will father more children. But this time you will tell them a different truth: The sea is treacherous, but she can be mastered. You will teach your children how to build boats that can knife through the water faster than the sharks that lurk in the shallows, and you will teach them how to weave nets that can hold the weight of a whale without tearing at the seams. You will teach them how to light fires that the waves cannot quench. You will teach them how to build huts that the storm cannot destroy. And in the morning and in the evening you will say to your children: The sea is wicked, the sea is cruel. Master her, or you will die. And because you are stern and hard teachers, your children will learn well.
Another storm will come, mightier than the storm that swallowed up your firstborns. It will break upon your boats and lash against the roofs of your huts. But you will sit in the shadows of your bonfires, listening to the fury of the sea, and you will hold your wives and your children close, and wait for the storm to pass.
In the morning you will step out of your huts and look upon the world. Your boats will lie unbroken. Your huts will stand undemolished. And your wives and your children will laugh and smile, for they are unharmed.
With pride and rejoicing you will leap into your boats and pierce the water. Before the morning is over you will slay a whale with your spears, and before the night comes you will feast upon the flesh of the whale. As you sit in the shadows of your bonfires, sated and drunk, you will gather your wives and your children, saying: Look, the sea has given up the first of her fruits. No longer will we live by the dregs of her riches or the crumbs of her bounty. For we are the Masters of the Sea.
And as night falls, you will tell your wives and your children a new truth:
The grass withers and the flowers fade, and even the might of the sea is destroyed. But we are those who have fallen and risen from the ashes. Our people have no beginning and no end. We are forever.
Before dawn you will rise, driven from your sleep by the quiet of the morning. You will look at your wives and say to them: Do you hear something? And they will say: No, we hear nothing. Then you will wake your children and say to them: Listen. Do you hear anything? And your children, too, will say: We hear nothing.
With your wives and your children you will gather on the shore that you have guarded so proudly, and there you will behold a strange and terrible sight. And you will turn to one another and say: Where is the sea?
For where there was water there is only a desert of salt, vast and white, without beginning and without end. As you search the horizon, the sun will break the sky in two, and the desert will catch the fire of the sun and blind you, and you will cry out and fall to your knees.
Then you will know in your hearts that the truth that your fathers told you was a lie, and the truth that you told to your firstborns was a lie, and the truth that you told to your wives and your children as you lay sated and drunk was a lie. You will remember that once as children still fresh from the womb, you knew a different truth, the one that was placed in your minds before you were born, the one that you buried with your wickedness and your pride. And your fear and trembling will be great, and you will lie still and listen to the truth that has risen up once more to pierce your hearts.
The grass withers and the flowers fade. The land is spoiled and the sea dries up. Even man, at the end of his days, returns to the dust. Only One has no beginning and no end. It is He Who gives and takes away. He is forever.
© J. Grace, 2015