Chapter 1:

The Wayfaring Stranger

The Wayfaring Stranger

I awoke surrounded by darkness. With so little light, even my own body was hardly visible to me.

I knew not where I'd been. Nor where I was. Nor where I was going.

I thought and thought and thought, but not even the faintest of memories returned to me. Even my own identity was a mystery to me.

Despite that, my head felt… serenely clear. A calm resided in my heart that put my every worry at ease. Although the situation appeared dire, my mind had no sense of urgency or panic. I was well and truly at peace.

“Well met, stranger. You look like one who may need a guide.” The tranquil silence was broken by a voice. A kindly voice. That of an old man, by the sounds of it. At the end of its words, a light appeared before me. A flame on the end of a long staff.

And illuminated by its light was the face of an elderly gentleman. Tall, though not muscle bound, and wearing a large grey cloak, like that of a journeyed wayfarer trekking across an arid desert.

Slowly getting to my feet, I faced the man and began to talk. The gentle look in his eyes soothed the nerves of meeting a new person.

“I know not where I am, nor who I am, but I do know that I am lost. I’m afraid I’ve nothing to offer you, but if I may be so bold as to accept your offer, I would truly appreciate a guide.”

The man’s expression turned to a warm smile, and he held his illuminated staff slightly off the ground.

“I need nothing in return, for guiding the lost is my calling. Your company on the trip will be payment enough. As for myself, I’ve been called many things, but most know me simply as the wayfaring stranger. Follow behind me, my young lad. I will bring you to the place you ought to be.”

Needing no further prompting, I stood beside the Wayfaring Stranger, who had now turned the other way, and walked by his side under the yellow light. The world around was still blanketed in darkness, but under that small flame we had all the light we needed. And the Wayfaring Stranger had no trouble navigating through the otherwise black world.

As we walked in comfortable silence, memories began to return to my mind. Not all at once, but in snippets. A birthday party when I was a child. My first date when I was a young man. The day I finished university as an adult. Happy memories, but ones that lacked context.

“Mister Wayfarer, might I ask where we are? In my fragmented memory there exists no place so devoid of light.”

“This is not a place you would have visited before, my young lad. But as to where it is, none can truly say. It is where we’re going, not where we are, that is important on this journey.”

“Where we’re going? Where might that be?”

“You’ll see soon enough, my boy. Our journey is unlikely to be a long one.”

“How long will it take?”

“That, my dear young man,” he turned his head to face me as he spoke, one again showing that warm and gentle smile, “depends on you and you alone. I can only guide you. I cannot set your pace.”

His answer confused me. For if one knows where they’re going, they must surely know how long it takes to get there? But, deciding that there was little point arguing, I continued to walk leisurely at the old man’s side.

The fragmented memories were, over time, beginning to form into a coherent story. Before long, I was able to piece back parts of my identity.

Yes… I was a scholar… a doctor of my field, it seemed, though I was unsure of what field that was. It seemed I had a normal life. Going through the motions as any man does. Growing up. Falling in love. Working to achieve my dreams.

Yes, it certainly seemed that there was little out of the ordinary.

But as those memories slowly came back together, another emerged that left a sadness in my otherwise tranquil heart.

What was this event that affected me so greatly? The more I tried to remember it, the more distant it seemed to be, and yet, it remained. Taunting me, it seemed.

“You appear troubled, my young lad. What ails your mind?” The stranger’s voice ends the silence once more, keeping the same resolute calmness as it had always had.

“The memories I thought I had lost are returning to me. But there is one that evades capture, no matter how much I grab at it. I do not believe it to be a happy memory, but I do believe it’s important.”

In response to my words, the old man let out a gentle breathe, and spoke in the tone of one wisened by a thousand year’s experience.

“Memories are a fickle thing, my friend. You may scratch and claw your way towards them as much as you want, and you will never find them. But if you steel your heart, empty your mind, and calm your soul, it may return to you in due time.”

Deciding that frustrating myself with futile attempts to recall the memory I could not reach was a waste of time, I took the old man’s words to heart.

Confident that I can maintain my pace without sight, I closed my eyes, cleared my mind, and waited.

Slowly… ever so slowly… the memory that had evaded me began to return.

As it finally took form in my mind, I opened my eyes, and was met with a breath-taking sight. An enormous sea, seemingly stretching on forever, was visible even in the pitch darkness. And at its edge stood the old wayfaring stranger… no, the old ferryman, beside a small wooden ferry. A ferry with seats for only two.

I had finally remembered what that dark memory was.

“I… I’ve passed on from the world, haven’t I?”

“Yes, my boy. You have passed on.”

The memory was of the day of my death. A sudden event, a stroke of bad luck that could have happened to any man, woman or child in my place.

The randomness of the world of the living had removed me from it.

“Mister Ferryman… is this the end for me?” I asked, an immeasurable grief in my heart. But the Ferryman’s smile did not falter, nor did his tone lose its gentleness.

“Nay, my dear boy. Death is not the end. It is a new beginning. A garden of peace in which one rests, after the chaos of the world of the living. Your story does not end here. It simply begins its final, longest chapter.” As he finishes speaking, the Ferryman steps into his small ferry and holds out his hand.

With a new hope in my heart, which was not absent of its prior sadness, I cautiously took his hand and stepped into the boat. The waters were calm. Peaceful. Not a disturbance in the world but our small wooden ferry.

And as we pushed away from the shore of never ending darkness, the Ferryman rowed us away into the sea. And as he did, he began to sing, in a tone of both solemn grief and peaceful hope.

I am a poor wayfaring stranger

I’m travelling through this world of woe

Yet there’s no sickness, toil nor danger

In that bright land to which I go

I’m going there to see my mother

I’m going there no more to roam

I’m only going over Jordan

I’m only going over home

As I listened, my heart was cured of its painful grief, and I drifted away to my new peaceful eternity.

Jon Spencer
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