Here’s an analogy to start 2018. Enjoy.
You’re standing at the base of a flagpole at dusk, gazing downwards and stepping in place as you’re fascinated by the crunching of the snow beneath your booted feet.
Well, maybe it’s not exactly a crunch, but rather a deep squeak. More like a muffled, low “squirk.” *squirk, squirk, squirk*. You keep stepping on the fresh snow that’s lightly falling around you. As you drop your foot onto a previously untouched patch, you can almost hear the individual snowflakes whispering against each other as they’re dispersed under your tread. That is, until they get compacted and start to squirk.
In fact, you get so caught up in all the squirking, stepping in more and more of the fresh powder as it continues to fall around you, that you find yourself wandering further away from the flagpole. The clink of the flag upon the pole is starting to fade into the background.
Before, the gentle clink of the flagpole was clear, along with the flapping of the flag. It was sometimes intermittent, coming and going with the wind that had its own way of flowing, but you always knew where the flag was. You always knew it was there. You always heard the evidence of it once you stood still and listened for it. Through the quiet, it always made itself known. It always represented itself, presented itself.
But that knowledge is fighting to be recalled now, as caught up as you are in the sparkling snow that you’re so delighting in. It’s like you’re a kid again when you used to make snow angels, moving your limbs to and fro tossing snow. You’d stick your tongue out, waiting to catch some small snowflakes, marvelling at how something so small could exist and then collect to form beautiful blankets that covered the earth and matched its contours. Amazing!
The wonder of it all is great indeed, but at the moment misplaced, for the snow is falling heavier and heavier and dusk turns to dark. It’s no longer time for playing and squirking and frolicking. It’s time to return to the flagpole and hold to it. It’s dangerous otherwise with all the wildlife, hard winds, and hazards beneath the snow.
The wind picks up, shovelling a gustful at you and shaking you from your distraction. You brush the snow from your jacket and remember where you are again, and why you’re here: to stand by the flagpole and help out any other lost travellers.
You turn and make out the flagpole in the short distance but more so, you can hear it flapping and clinking fiercely now in the strong wind. The trek back is fairly easy, but it’s still a trek. You remember how much easier it is to return when you haven’t ventured out so far. Goodness. Shaking your head and smiling at yourself, you start clomping back through the rising snow.
Once you reach your station again, you clap your mittens together and brush off your toque. You reach behind the pole and dig out the lantern from your pack that you’d left there. You turn it on and firmly plant your feet beside your flagpole, waiting.
The snow continues to blow, the night plods on by and the cold does its best to thwart you, along with a territorial moose or two, but you’re stubborn. You haven’t stood by this flagpole for so long only to abandon it out of fear. You still hear the clanking of the flagpole and its flapping, and you know you’re good. You know that as long as you stick to your post – clinging to it if necessary – you will not be moved.
You recall that one time when you ventured out into the night to investigate a mysterious sound but almost wound up getting lost when the blowing snow covered your tracks. You only made it back because the sky briefly cleared and the moon showed its face, guiding the way back. You won’t make that mistake again.
Right now, the night is still scuttling on by and the snow is yet blowing. You’re still holding your lantern, though now it’s sitting atop the snow beside you. You’ve finished eating some soup you had stashed inside your pack (there’s somehow always more whenever you reach inside it), and you’re all warm and toasty amidst your layers. You feel as though you could sleep standing up, despite your surroundings.
That’s when you hear it: a hacking cough piercing through the distance, as though someone’s been out in the crusty cold without any supplies, any sources of warmth – without any support. You don’t know how you can hear it through all the wind, but you can.
You make to step towards them, to help them in any way you can but you stop in your tracks, wondering how to go about it without getting lost yourself.
Aha! Check the pack! That’s right! Whenever you’ve needed something at times like this, there’s always been something useful in there. You reach down and dig around, mittens and all. Finally, you come upon some sturdy rope. Perfect!
You tie one end around the flagpole and the other around your waist, firmly securing it. You’re a little nervous about this since you’ve never ventured out like this before, but you’re confident in what you found in your pack. This was in there, so it must be good. You know it to be.
Swinging your pack onto your back and grabbing your lantern up again you start out, following the sound of the coughing. It’s a little further away than you thought. You hope your rope will reach all the way there.
After a short while, you come across a patch of trees. As you step around a needly spruce, you see a traveller downed in the snow, shaking and coughing. They’re not wearing near enough layers! You can see their lips moving and their eyes squeezed shut, but they don’t seem to be aware that they’re laying in a mound of snow.
You call out, hoping to draw their attention. Nothing. You yell louder, hoping to jar them out of their trance. Still nothing. You take a step forward since they’re only a few metres away, but that’s when your rope pulls taut.
No! You’re almost there, but they’re just out of reach! You look down at the rope tied around you, your lifeline. You know you shouldn’t cut it. If you do…you know you can’t blatantly disregard the consequences of that. You strain against it a little more, trying to gain a little more distance, a little more give, but it’s useless.
You think for a moment about what to do…what to do, what to do, what to do, what to do…You stop and glance again at the stranger in the snow, still hacking from deep within their chest.
You know you can help them, but you also know you can’t cut your rope – you just can’t. You remember seeing other travellers limp past your flagpole, not even seeing it. Their rope was tied around their middle, its loose end hanging beside them, either frayed or cut. You remember going to them, your own rope intact, confronting them, trying to shake them from their reverie, speaking softly to them, offering them food and warmth and light. You remember how their eyes didn’t even see you, how they just shivered some more and said nothing. Looked at nothing. You recall how you knew it would take more than you had to help them recover; you knew you couldn’t force them to see again, to feel again. When you stepped back, they continued dragging themselves along through the snow. You remember hearing the wolves howling later, and how you shut your eyes at the thought of what happened to that wandering soul.
You shake yourself out of those memories and look back to the person in the snow. You straighten your back and plant your feet. You’re going to do everything you can to rouse them from their spot so you can help them back to the flagpole.
You take your pack off and rummage around a bit, digging for something to help you in this situation. You pull out a flare. Yes! That could work! You light it, the red glow bursting and burning as it whispers and cracks with the light.
You aim carefully, intending to throw it over to the person, hoping the light will draw their attention. You’ve seen the power of that light before, of the crimson glow it casts. If that doesn’t do it, you’re not sure if anything else will.
Taking careful aim and practicing a gentle swing, you toss it over and it lands… right in their line of sight! Yes! Now it’s sticking straight up in the snow. Perfect!
You see their eyes flicker slightly. They’re still shivering immensely, still coughing, but then you see their eyes actually open! They blink, almost like a newborn baby, and you notice them slowly moving.
You take the opportunity to get their attention and yell and wave until they slowly turn to face you. You beckon them over, telling them about the flagpole and the rope tied to you. You tell them how you have plenty of soup and clothes to share, but that you can’t get to them right now; they have to get up and walk over. You say you’ll help them walk the rest of the way, but they have to get up. They have to!
The stranger seems to consider that for a moment, staring at the flare that’s still burning before them. They cough some more, enough to rattle some bones and then sigh deeply. They lay back down in the snow. No!
But then they place their hands beneath them and push themselves up into a sitting position. Yes! You cheer them on emphatically, practically jumping up and down with the effort. You see the tiny curve of a smile crack on the person’s face at that. They finally get themselves standing, grab the flare and trudge over to you.
Just before they reach you, they trip over a tree root hidden underneath the snow and fall forward face-first.
They’ve come just far enough though, and so you kneel down beside them and help them back up, groaning as they are now. They’re still clutching that flare, though. You brush the snow away from them, take your toque off and pull it onto their head. Grinning at them, you rub the sides of their arms to get some warmth going.
They’re still shivering and coughing, so the two of you head on back to the flagpole, carefully following your rope back. You’ve got your arm around your new friend, helping them traverse the snowy terrain.
As you travel, you listen for the familiar clink and flap of the flagpole and rejoice as you start to hear it. You explain to your friend that’s the sound of the flagpole. You speak to them of its strength, and how it’s never let you down. You tell them how you’ve always tethered yourself to it, and you’ve always found what was necessary in your times of need.
Your friend doesn’t say much but seems to consider what you’re saying. You tell them how you can always hear it when you listen for it. You tell them how the flagpole never bends or breaks, no matter the weather. You tell them how you’re trying to be just like that flagpole – a solid line, sturdy in foundation and a beacon for those around it.
When you finally return, you set them down beside the pole and dig into your pack for some of that hot soup to share. Then you go digging again and find a small pup tent and a thick winter jacket. Perfect!
You set it up in record time for your friend, who sounds like they’re coughing less and less as they work on their soup. You turn to offer the tent and jacket to them and find them staring at a section of the flagpole where there’s a simple cross etched into the metal.
Ah, yes. You were going to show them that, but they’ve already found it. They look up at you, face open, and eyes clearer than they’ve ever been. They have a look of wonder on their face that you’re sure you had earlier when marvelling amidst the snow, except this is a little different. Stronger. More grounded.
You smile and you know your face is just as open and your eyes soft. You reach out and pull them up, handing them the jacket and ushering them into the tent to rest. You lean against your flagpole and slide down to sit on the snow. You place your lantern and pack beside you and start to speak.
You speak of a great many things: things that have happened to you and how the flagpole helped you out of them or through them, things that you’ve seen, in the day and the night, and things that you’ve done while standing watch at the flagpole.
Most of all, you tell how this flagpole is also a truth pole: it’s the standard you hold yourself to, it’s the foundation you’ve been built upon, it’s both the beginning and the end, and it’s the beacon you’ve tethered yourself to in more ways than one.
It’s the unwavering gentle staff of a Shepherd who keeps His sheep close to Him, orders their steps and lavishes truth, wisdom and kindness to those who fasten themselves to Him.
Accompaniment: Proverbs 3