Sometimes all it takes to make progress in the world is a good story. As we drift along in our lives, as the water rises, I was looking for a story, and I thought I had found one for all time. I heard it from a man named Floyd Johnson, who found himself at the bottom of a well last Wednesday, albeit many, many, many years ago. Existence is relative, so I won’t bother you with the exact date, time, place, or the particular well. Suffice it to say he was deposited at the bottom of said masonry in the middle of the night.
"No!" cried Floyd, but his voice was quickly muted and lost thanks to the damping effect of the stone, the depth of the hole, and the obscurity of the night. Escape was impossible. For that matter, he didn’t know his geographic location, since he’d been blindfolded for the journey by he didn’t know whom. At least he wasn’t dead. No, he lived—albeit closer to the bowels of the Earth and the fires of the core as it were.
He feared the mold, gas, and bacteria of the cruel climate in which he found himself. On top of that, a voice sounded in his head: "Floyd!" Oh great, he thought, I’m hallucinating—but there really was a small glowing man with a halo, clipboard, and pen neatly perched on the curved wall beside him. Floyd blinked; the glowing man said, "Are there pixies?"
"No," said Floyd—or, actually, he tried to say, but the word only formed in his mind. In reality, he fought for air.
The glowing man persisted. "Are there fairies?" he said, raising his eyebrows as he spoke.
Floyd ignored the question. I have to get out of this well, he thought, but the spirit was not through. "Is there God?" it said. The glow filled the well; the walls shook; there was an explosion of rock, dust, and dirt; grime oozed into the well.
"Stay on top of it, stay on top of it! The well fills!" cried the glowing figure.
One, two, three—breathe, thought Floyd. Suddenly, water cascaded down on top of him. Floyd waded until he was treading water. He somehow knew what it was: the rains—the flood— had come.
The water continued to rise, bringing Floyd with it. A log missed his head and splashed in the water beside him. Then another log dropped and barely missed him. He wriggled out of his pants, tore them into strips, and quickly lashed the logs together, using a bit of bucket rope to secure them.
Before long, Floyd rose with the rising ocean. Lightning flashed, revealing a boat in the distance. He quailed at the sight, for it had no friendly look—but God called out to Floyd and, speaking with the voice of Floyd’s mother, removed the fear from his mind: "Come back!"
Three days later, pirates hoisted Floyd on board and made him their slave. He was given a mouthful of rum and gruel and ordered to row. One of the pirates had a whip and threatened to use it if Floyd didn’t give his all, and as the rum only parched his throat the more, the forced labor drove him almost to madness. Only the constant rhythm of it kept him conscious and aware, sensitive to the pain of his body but also able to tolerate it, at least for a few hours. As the day wore on, the weather grew steadily worse and did not diminish over the night. By morning, waves the height of the mast came crashing down, and the ship failed. As Floyd went overboard, farsighted Noah spotted him—and quickly rescued him from the sea.
Climbing on board, the refugee noticed scores of paired animals in separate stalls. As the animals moved about their enclosures, Noah prayed at the stern. Floyd broke down in tears, to see such a sight, and to be free of the yoke. Here was a different sort of master: Noah comforted him with gentle words and gave him something for his hands to do.
One day, while sitting in silence, Floyd imagined a bird disappearing into the clouds. He did not speak of it, but kept the vision to himself. Days passed, but the memory of what he saw in his mind’s eye stayed with him. Finally, he asked Noah when he would release the dove. When the sage changed the subject, his voice sounded like water pouring from jug to basin. Floyd considered it a good omen, as he believed God made the music.
They traveled long in darkness. If Floyd dwelled too long in silence on any bad memory, his friend gently reassured him, lifting him out of the shadows. They rested, labored, and laughed together.
It was hard work: fresh hay and much food were needed for the horses and beasts of burden. Floyd cleaned stalls, scrubbed the deck, removed waste, bound wounds, and visited animals. Gone was his helplessness; he now felt confident and took pride in his duties.
The boat sailed on with no land in sight. One day, Floyd paused to consider a buffalo, mink, something pterodactyl-looking that was actually the shadow of a stick tree, and a golden eagle and her nest housed among every other kind of creature under the sun. It occurred to him that all were different, yet all lived so close together: the balance was tenuous, the challenge was all in the balance of things. Suddenly, he recalled the well of his captivity from which he was released, but his thoughts soon returned to the ark and his responsibilities.
Another time after sitting in silent worship with Noah, the old man said, "Isn’t it strange!"—and then before Johnson could answer, he laughed. The sound rippled through the very wood of the Creation boat.
A fortnight later or so (Floyd guessed by the notches he’d made on the craft), the old man’s face was that of a believer who’d overcome his doubts: beauty and strength showed in his eyes. That was the day he released the dove for the first time. As he released it, a shadow fell across his brow. From then on, Noah spent more time brooding and searching inside himself for some answer. "Is it too late?" he muttered once. And another time, "Is it false pride? Or have I been unfaithful?"
He gazed on the sea, huddled against the wall, and slept at the prow.
Johnson prayed for him and for the dove’s return. He brought Noah meals and doubled his own workload while the old man rested and prayed.
This went on for many moons until one day the dove returned. The bird was extremely gaunt, and the light in its eyes was of the sea.
Nevertheless, Noah smiled. The storm still troubled the waters, but the boat did not bend or break. Onward they sailed, and Johnson went back to work. It went easier with him now. He felt as if a load had been removed, that he was swimming about rather than walking, and his steps were light.
The animals comforted one another and waited on Noah. When he drew near, they grew still on their roosts and lay down in their cages. They slept and there was peace.
The rest of this story will no doubt remind one of the Bible story. The dove found nothing on her second journey, but on her third and final expedition she returned with a green willow in her mouth. There was evidence of land, and they were saved at last by the grace of God and the obedience of Noah! Soon after, the animals and people disembarked. Noah and his wife lived long lives and produced a multitude of children. As a result, humankind began afresh.
As for Floyd, not much is known other than of his traveling ministry, but perhaps that is enough. And it is he who said, "Do I tell you this story because another flood is coming? Who says so! Was it you in the purple hat and red galoshes? Ah! Look sharp then! Grow peace in your garden and build your ark! Any day now, God may choose to reveal who shall live and who shall die—but who will find the olive branch? Who will be Noah?"