June 27

The Soboks

June 27, 2008

Personal Growth

The ship had been at sea for almost three uneventful weeks when the storm arrived from the east with unexpected speed and fury. Within a few hours the waves were taller than the mainmast, tossing the ship about like a toy. The crew struggled bravely to save their vessel, while the passengers, incapacitated by terror, huddled in bunks and corners, praying for their survival.

But it was all in vain. Only one man lived through that tempest — a lowly sailor, Daniel, who fell from high in the rigging as he tried to pull in the sails early in the storm. Crashing to the deck and sustaining serious injuries, he lay there in unspeakable pain as the ship bounced and bucked in the waves. When he sensed that the ship was doomed, he fashioned a harness for himself from heavy rope and lashed it to four empty barrels. As the ship slipped away to the bottom of the sea, Daniel clung to those barrels for his life. When the waves knocked him off, he used the ropes to pull himself back on, a process he repeated over and over again.

It seemed that the storm would never end. Daniel’s pain would have been great had he been lying quietly in a hospital bed, but while he was tumbling about in the waves, his agony was more than he would have thought endurable. He wasn’t sure which came first, the end of the storm or the end of his consciousness, but when he next opened his eyes, he was on a beach. He was disoriented and completely exhausted, and each breath brought on a stabbing fire from the broken ribs in his chest. No food or water had passed his lips for at least two days, and he couldn’t move to do anything about it, because he also had two badly broken legs, a dislocated right shoulder, and a broken left collarbone. Daniel lay on the beach as helpless as a turtle on its back. He passed out several times, only to awake to the pain and hopelessness of his situation. Gradually, he began to wish for death.

After days of this — who knows how many — Daniel awoke to what he thought must be an hallucination. Standing over him — or, more precisely, next to him — were creatures that he could only describe as lizards. But Daniel realized that his description would be a disservice to the beings he was observing, because they were unlike anything he had ever seen. They stood about ten inches high at the shoulder and perhaps four feet long from nose to tail. Their bodies resembled a blend of several species of reptiles that Daniel had seen in books in the town library at home, although their skin had a velvety texture more like the skin of mammals, quite unlike the slick or sandpapery exterior characteristic of lizards. Their skin was a light green color, with streaks and spots of darker green and brown that varied with each individual. And they constantly danced about with a vibrant energy on short, thin legs which ended in slender, padded toes. Daniel rarely saw any of them come to a complete stop.

At first Daniel thought he was making this observation up in his head, but then he became certain that he was observing what he could only describe as an expression of intelligence in the faces of these lizards. Many animals have a certain look of intelligence pasted on their faces, like dogs or owls, for example, but the expression never really changes. These lizards, however, changed their expressions kaleidoscopically as Daniel watched them. They were so fascinating that he found it difficult to be nervous around them, even though he found them quite strange.

After watching the creatures for what seemed like quite some time in his dream-like state, Daniel’s curiosity became inflamed, and — partially motivated by a desire to prove that he wasn’t dreaming — he reached out with his left hand to touch one of them. The reaction to his gesture was most startling. Although his hand was only eight inches from the creature when he began to move, he didn’t come close to touching the creature, who reacted by jumping high into the air and backward. With enviable grace and speed, it executed two complete somersaults and landed neatly on its toes about eight feet away, where it then faced Daniel with an intensely watchful attitude.

Within a fraction of a second from the instant that the creature had leapt into the air, every one of the other creatures — and there was quite a crowd, perhaps twenty or more — performed the same maneuver, all moving up and away from Daniel. So exactly and beautifully did all the creatures move together that a detached observer could only have concluded that the entire scene had been carefully choreographed. After they hit the ground, the group watched him intently for a few seconds, and then they dove into the cover of the dense jungle foliage which began thirty feet from the place where Daniel lay. As the creatures ran, the air filled with a high-pitched buzzing, like the sound of a cloud of bees.

Daniel realized he was no physician, but he reasoned that he couldn’t be hallucinating if the figures in his dream were responding so directly to his behavior. Besides, these creatures were far beyond anything his mind could imagine. He concluded that this could not be a dream or product of his craziness. This was real, and he was in a very strange place.

For another several minutes Daniel lay there on the sand, listening to the buzzing sound, which had diminished but not disappeared entirely. Then he recalled that the buzzing had been there all along, from the time he had awakened on the beach, but he hadn’t noticed it initially because of the many distractions: his pain, his fear of being marooned, the noise of the waves on the beach, his hunger, and the strangeness of the creatures, among other things. Gradually, as Daniel became accustomed to each of the distractions, he became comfortable with the buzzing sound as a kind of constant background noise.

Daniel thought, I must have scared them, to make them jump and run away like that. Although he felt utterly out of place on this island, which was the creatures’ home, he realized that perhaps they were more frightened of him than he was of them. Until I moved my hand, he thought, they probably thought I was dead. He continued to lie there on the beach, waiting for the creatures to return. He was actually becoming lonely without them.

After the longest time — remembering that time moves very slowly when one is alone, in pain, and lying in the sun without food or water — Daniel heard faint footfalls in the sand, and soon a small lizard face appeared next to his. This time Daniel was careful not to make any movement that could be interpreted as threatening. In moments, one face became two, then three, and soon he was again surrounded by many of the creatures, who seemed to have forgotten entirely their earlier frightened exodus. Daniel slowly turned his head so he could watch them more easily. In many ways, they acted like human beings. They gestured like people. Sometimes they stopped and stroked their chins — as though they were contemplating some deep question — just like people did. Of course, Daniel realized that lizards couldn’t think, but they certainly acted like they were.

As Daniel watched his strange companions over the rest of the day, he realized in a peculiar way that he no longer felt alone on the island — in a way he could not have experienced had he been in the company of a dog or a cat. He couldn’t explain why, but he felt as though he had established a kind of relationship with these lizards. It was almost embarrassing to use the word relationship in connection with these odd creatures — even in his own head — but that was how he felt. Despite their appearance and the fact that no words had passed between them, he had warm feelings toward them, much like he had experienced toward many people. These lizards were becoming his friends.

Daniel began to find it overwhelming to observe all of the creatures at once and began to focus his attention instead on just one of them, a lizard of average size and coloration who seemed to be just as fascinated with him as he was with it. The more Daniel watched, the more intently the creature watched him in return. Of course, Daniel told himself that this mutual observation had to be a delusion on his part — it would imply an intelligence that a lizard simply could not have — but he nonetheless enjoyed the idea of a special relationship with this one creature, whom Daniel named Bob.

After several minutes of watching each other, Bob walked closer to Daniel, its face intense and purposeful. It gazed into Daniel’s eyes so deeply that he felt a tickling sensation in his brain. Before Daniel became terribly uncomfortable, however, Bob slowly moved its examination down his body, arrived at his feet, then returned to his eyes, completing its round-trip inspection of Daniel over a period of nearly ten minutes. And then the creature backed away, sat at the base of a large rock in the shade, and appeared for several minutes to be thinking. Bob then returned to Daniel and began to repeat the same examination it had performed initially, while Daniel struggled to understand the meaning of it all. This was not the behavior of a mindless animal, Daniel thought.

Twice in his life Daniel had been to a doctor, but on neither of those occasions had he been scrutinized this thoroughly. He wanted to ask the little creature what it was doing, but he felt foolish at the very thought. No sane man would have a conversation with an animal, much less a lizard! On the other hand, what did he have to lose? He had just escaped death by the narrowest of margins. He was lying on the shore of an unknown island, far from any charted land mass and quite beyond any imaginable rescue. And he was severely injured, which made it almost certain that he would soon die of hunger and thirst. What could it hurt if he indulged himself in harmless — though foolish — conversation with an animal?

Daniel took a deep breath, winced at the pain in his ribs, and said out loud to the animal who was examining him, “What are you doing?”

Before Daniel had finished his sentence, Bob flew backward and landed flat on its back. This was nothing like the graceful maneuver Daniel had seen earlier when they had fled from him as he had moved his hand. This time Bob was utterly stunned and fell back in an awkward and confused way. In the same instant, Daniel sensed a stream of thoughts, pictures, and feelings racing through his mind — every one of which was foreign to him. These were not his thoughts, images, and feelings. They were thoughts passing through his head from somewhere else, and the idea of being invaded like that frightened him. It was a torrent so jumbled and confusing that he could barely distinguish any single part of it, but as it subsided, he began to distinguish more clearly some of the pictures and better understand some of the thoughts. He was briefly tempted to pretend that the experience had not happened, but he couldn’t do that. He knew that a play of staggering complexity and speed had just been produced on the stage of his mind, and he was determined to understand how and why it had happened. Suddenly his physical pain and impending death became far less significant to him.

Before Daniel could ask another question, however, he was distracted by the behavior of the creature. Bob flipped over onto its legs and ran to a group of its companions, where Bob stood on its hind legs, balancing on its tail, flailed its forelegs in the air, shook its head, and extravagantly displayed all manner of facial expressions. With a human being, this would have been accompanied by a great river of words, but these creatures made no sound. Daniel assumed that despite the absence of words, their communication was no less dramatic. Simultaneous with this manic miming, though, Daniel did notice that the buzzing sound had increased again, this time more loudly than ever.

After a few minutes Bob and several of his buddies approached Daniel. They came close enough that he could feel them breathe, and, for the first time, Bob reached out and touched him. The creature’s hand trembled, and Daniel wondered if that had the same meaning as for a human. He assumed that they were still afraid of him, even though he was in such a vulnerable position, lying on the sand near death. Perhaps they didn’t know that he was badly injured and couldn’t easily hurt them. And he wondered if they had seen men before — man being the one species with a consistent tendency to capture or kill every living thing they encountered in their travels.

After Bob touched Daniel, many of his companions did the same, and they were surprisingly gentle. They touched his eyelids and seemed delighted when he blinked. They followed every movement of his eyes. They were fascinated by his lips and even parted them slightly, gasping when they saw his teeth. They had no such things in their own mouths. They continued their examination down his body, as Bob had done earlier, but more slowly, and this time with a great deal of touching. When they reached his chest, one of them put a finger — or whatever you called it in a lizard — exactly on the skin overlying one of his broken ribs and pushed a little harder than they had been doing.

Daniel immediately cried out and said directly to the offending creature, “Stop that! It hurts!”

In an instant, all motion in Daniel’s field of vision was frozen, as though he were surrounded by statues. Every head snapped to attention and all eyes opened wide, focused on him. They appeared to be terrified. For the first time, the buzzing was entirely absent, but only for a moment, after which it became the loudest ever. The creatures jumped back and gathered into a tight group, standing on their hind legs with their heads touching and arms swinging wildly above them, creating the appearance of a large floundering octopus with forty or more tentacles. Daniel didn’t know whether to be amused or frightened. Finally, they broke apart, and once again he was approached by Bob. He had been around them long enough that he could recognize some of them individually by the subtle markings on their bodies. It was becoming apparent that Bob was some kind of leader among them and that it was no accident that Daniel had formed a relationship with this particular creature from the beginning.

Bob approached much more slowly than he had minutes ago, and this time there was something different about his gaze. Bob wasn’t just looking at Daniel. It was looking at Daniel, like one human being would look at another. This was not the mindless gaze of an animal. Bob was probing and questioning, and it was rather unsettling. Daniel almost expected the animal to speak to him, but of course he knew better than that.

Bob walked right up to Daniel’s face and stopped. And then, to Daniel’s perfect amazement, he heard — no, heard wasn’t quite the right word, because there was no sound uttered, but that was still the best word he could think of in the moment — the creature speak to him, as though it were whispering in his ear, or, more accurately, directly inside his head. Daniel heard, “So it’s true. You can speak?”

Daniel couldn’t believe what was happening. He was hearing a voice in his head. And he was being asked a ridiculous question. Of course he could speak. He’d been speaking all his life. But that wasn’t the real question here. The important question was how in the world this animal had managed to break all the rules and had learned to speak. Daniel was so flabbergasted that he couldn’t reply. The creature waited for several seconds and apparently took Daniel’s silence as a negative response. It turned around as if to return to the cluster of creatures it had just left when Daniel blurted out, “Of course I can speak. But how did you learn to talk?!”

That stopped the creature’s head in mid-turn and snapped it back around to face Daniel. “Me? You are the animal here,” Bob said. “and everyone knows that animals cannot speak.”

“What do you mean, animals?” Daniel said. “I’m not an animal.”

“Well, you’re certainly not a Sobok,” the creature said. “and that makes you an animal. What else could you be?”

“I’m a man.”

The creature — apparently a Sobok — shook its head in what Daniel assumed to be confusion or frustration and continued. “I don’t understand. I don’t know this word man. We have never seen an animal like you before. And we have never heard of an animal that speaks.”

Gradually, Daniel and Bob began to talk, or, more exactly, they communicated, since Daniel learned that they didn’t need to hear him speak aloud to understand him. They communicated by thinking. And it was a very specific form of communication. When one creature wished to say something to another, it directed its thoughts toward that specific creature and was immediately understood. No Sobok could reach out and intrude on the thoughts of another, which is why the creatures didn’t know that Daniel was capable of thinking or speaking until he actually directed his words toward one of them. And he didn’t know what they were thinking until one of them directed their thoughts toward him.

Daniel learned that the buzzing he had been hearing since his arrival was the sensation of Soboks communicating with each other. The more Soboks who were speaking, the greater the buzzing sensation, but until one of them was speaking directly to him, he could perceive only buzzing. He also learned that the Soboks could communicate with as many others simultaneously as they wished, although that was a skill that he was slow in acquiring.

The more Daniel communicated with the Soboks, the more he became accustomed to not speaking aloud, enjoying the sensation of sharing his thoughts, feelings, and ideas completely and quickly without the use of words. He found that words created much more confusion than the way these Soboks spoke to each other. They could also exchange complete pictures. If one of them visited a place on their island, for example, it could communicate the entire journey to another Sobok in a matter of minutes, complete with pictures of landscapes, feelings, the sensation of the sun on its back, and the discomfort of sore feet at the end of the day. It was an astonishing experience. They could also communicate much more to each other than they could to him, because he was new to this mode of expression.

As he became familiar with them, Daniel also learned to quit thinking of individuals with the word it, because he realized that as each of them spoke he or she communicated with a sense of gender. Without their actually telling him, he immediately sensed whether he was communicating with a male or a female. They also understood that he was a male.

Although Daniel spent a great deal of time with many of the Soboks, he spent the most time with Bob, and he learned that Bob’s real name was unpronounceable by the human tongue. He tried several times, but it only provoked laughter among the Soboks. Bob suggested that Daniel just stick with Bob, and that Bob wouldn’t be offended.

As Daniel lay on the sand, he described the wreck of his ship, and for the first time they understood that he lay there because he was injured. He felt their compassion for him as they asked what they could do for him. The Soboks wove a mat of palm leaves and gently dragged him across the sand to a shaded place at the edge of the jungle where he was more comfortable. He instructed them how to make splints for his broken legs, which they did with exceptional skill. He asked for food and water, and they immediately brought him both. The water brought him back from the brink of death, but the foods they brought — leaves, roots, bark, and soups made from leaves, roots, and bark — were virtually indigestible and gave him little or no nourishment. Over a period of days he continued to starve despite the vigorous efforts of the Soboks to find something he could eat. He suggested some kind of meat, but he learned that despite their earlier references to animals, there were none on the island. Animals existed only in the tribal myths, creatures their ancestors had encountered before coming to the island many generations ago.

Daniel told the Soboks stories of the place from which he had come and about the journey he had taken in the ship to get to the island. He shared with them the place of his birth, his childhood, and many of the experiences of his life. They found much of it confusing, because his world was like another planet to them, but they also understood a great deal and came to know him well. On some occasions when he shared a story about a painful experience, like the death of his mother, the group was visibly shaken, and many of them lay on the ground doing what he could only describe as weeping without tears.

As the Soboks spent more time with him, he discovered that some of them had a greater ability to communicate than others — just like people. Only a tiny handful of them were able to actually feel what he was experiencing physically, something they took for granted among themselves. When they asked him to share the sensation of his physical pain or hunger, and when he then agreed to their request, some of them literally felt the pain of his broken ribs and the discomfort of his hunger. They found this intolerable, and after they shared this with the other Soboks, the search for food became an obsession with the entire tribe. They combed the island with great zeal.

Even though he was more comfortable, Daniel was becoming very weak. He resigned himself to the idea of dying, and the Soboks realized this. One night, just before he fell asleep, a small group of Soboks brought him a bowl they had woven from pandanus leaves, and he found that it was partially filled with a sticky, slightly sweet liquid. Daniel drank it and gratefully sensed that finally they had found something that would give him nourishment.

The next morning Daniel felt noticeably stronger, accompanied by an elevation of his spirits and a lessening of his pain. Within a few days of this diet, he became strong enough to sit up with his back against a tree. He played games with the younger Soboks and talked for long hours with the older ones. He began to make plans for living instead of dying.

As he sat and lay on his mat, he communicated in words and pictures the materials he would need for building a small sailing boat to get him off the island and out to sea, where he hoped to find a larger ship that would take him home again. He never tired of the delight he experienced as he shared in a single picture the thoughts that would have required many pages and hours of written and verbal instruction at home. He described to the Soboks in minutes, for example, how to lay the keel of his little boat, construct the hull, and fashion and set the mast. It was like magic. And it wasn’t just the communication of ideas and tasks that he enjoyed. With each picture and thought shared, he felt closer to these creatures. He had never felt as intimate with a human being as he did with many of these Soboks. They had become his family.

Ten weeks after washing ashore, Daniel was finally able to stagger to his feet for the first time, using crutches which the Soboks had expertly fashioned from the picture Daniel had projected to them. Two weeks later he completed his sailing vessel and was prepared to leave. He had asked before if he could see the Sobok village, but he’d always been told that such a visit would be impossible. The village was a sacred place that only Soboks could see. On the day of his departure, however, Bob asked Daniel if there was anything else they could do for him, and Daniel repeated his request to see their village. With some hesitation, Bob agreed.

They walked together in a direction away from the sea for fifteen minutes. As Daniel passed through the jungle growth and into a clearing, he saw that the tiny village was really a series of small caves in the base of a mountain, only a few dozen yards from a waterfall, a pond, and a stream. And then he began to feel an increasing discomfort in his head and chest, which rapidly escalated into a terrible emotional pain that he realized was coming from several of the Soboks around him. For the first time, he recognized that he was sensing Sobok feelings that were not being intentionally directed toward him, and he almost felt guilty, as though he were looking through someone’s partially open window without their permission. He was overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow and grieving from some of the villagers — he didn’t know how many or who they were — that literally crushed him to the ground.

Gasping aloud and rising to his knees, Daniel said to Bob, “Who is feeling this horrible sadness?”

Bob looked away from Daniel at first but finally looked back at him and said with obvious sincerity and embarrassment, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am about this. It was a terrible mistake to bring you here. You have become much more sensitive to us than we had anticipated. We had supposed that you could only feel what was communicated to you directly, but your abilities to sense what we feel have grown much more rapidly than we had thought possible. It was my desire that you should leave the island without ever knowing a moment of this. We have only wished happiness for you.”

Tears welled up in Daniel’s eyes. He knew that there was much here that he did not yet understand, but of one thing there was no doubt: He knew that these creatures cared for him. He felt more nurtured and cared for in this tiny village on an island in the middle of nowhere, more loved in two months by these lizard-like creatures, than he ever had in a lifetime among human beings. He began to wonder — and not for the first time — if his decision to go home was a wise one.

“With all my heart I resist my decision to tell you the cause of this sadness you feel,” Bob said, “but I also know that I could not allow you to continue to wonder what was being kept from you. I could not tolerate your questions to turn into doubts about our feelings toward you. That would be insufferable. So I will tell you the truth.”

Bob sat down heavily, as though he were carrying a great weight. Daniel sat beside him, feeling rather like a child at the feet of his father, even though in this position the Sobok was a great deal shorter than he.

“We Soboks have lived on this island a very long time,” Bob said. “In the beginning of our history, which began so long ago that we have no number for it, our people fought among each other. We wounded and enslaved and killed each other, all to acquire food and land and possessions and power. We learned to make weapons, so we could kill each other even more efficiently, and we became quite good at it. On occasion, we even ate each other. We were angry all the time and lived in almost constant fear. We broke up into tribes that warred for reasons we finally couldn’t even remember. It was a terrible life. We were miserable, but that didn’t stop us from continuing to live the way we did.”

“Something must have happened,” Daniel said, “because you don’t live like that now. I’ve never seen a more peaceful race than you.”

“A few brave Soboks finally refused to fight,” Bob continued. “They saw the foolishness of all the hatred and conflict, and they tried to live as we do now. Many of them were killed by the others, but eventually the way of the peaceful ones became the way of all Soboks. We finally learned to care about each other. It took a very long time — and a great many of us died in the process of learning that lesson — but we did learn. We learned that it was the only way to live. It was our greatest achievement by far. And you see how we live now. We can’t imagine living any other way, and we have seen that you are able to live this way too.”

“I’ve been happier here than anywhere I’ve ever been, including among my own people,” Daniel said. “I’ve considered staying here for the rest of my life. I’m happier here than I ever was with those of my own kind. Men do not live like this outside this island, and I’m sad about that. I’m glad that none of my people have landed here before, because if they had, they might have disturbed your peace a great deal.”

“Initially, we were afraid of you. We wondered why you just lay there on the beach. We even thought of probing your mind without permission.”

“What?”

Again Bob looked away for a moment before returning his gaze to Daniel’s. “We lied to you on that subject, because we didn’t want to frighten you while you were vulnerable and recovering from your wounds. We told you that we couldn’t listen to your thoughts unless you intentionally directed them at us. That’s not quite true. We can actually probe your thoughts, as we can the thoughts of each other, but we made the decision long ago never to do that. We regard that as the most intrusive and unkind thing we could do to anyone — equivalent to murder — and we decided not to do that to you, even though you were not one of us. We waited to see what you would do, and eventually you spoke and told us what we needed to know. Then we learned to understand you and care about you, and when we felt your hunger and pain, we wanted to do whatever was necessary to help you. But then we could find no food that would keep you from starving to death, and that was most difficult for us.”

“But you did find something,” Daniel said.

“It wasn’t easy. Everything we eat was unsuitable for you, even though the picture you showed us of your life included many plants that you ate as food. In your old home you also ate many animals, but we had none of those. And then one member of our tribe suggested something that we found so horrifying we could hardly look at him or talk to him for the rest of the day. He suggested that in your world we — we Soboks — were a form of animal, and that we would probably be a suitable form of food for you. But we couldn’t bring ourselves to sacrifice one of our loved ones for you.”

By this time, Daniel’s eyes were open wide and tears were streaming down his face. He could not believe what he was hearing. It was unimaginable to him that they had contemplated — even for a single moment — the possibility of killing one of their own to feed him and save his life. He was beginning to feel as disoriented by this revelation as he had been when he woke up on the beach, lost and broken.

“It was suggested,” the Sobok continued, “that if one of the older Soboks died, we could give you his or her body to eat, something that in years past would have been unthinkable. We all agreed to do that, but then no one died during the time that you were starving. We continued to explore the possibilities. And then one of the females made a suggestion that none of us males would have dared to offer. She had just laid a clutch of eggs and offered them as a source of food for you. We were horrified at the potential loss of life, but we were also humbled by the depth of her sacrifice. At her insistence, we reconsidered and agreed.”

“And you poured the eggs into the grass bowls and came to me at night so I wouldn’t see what I was drinking and guess what they were, didn’t you?”

“Yes, we did.”

“But the eggs of the one female must have run out after a few days.”

“They lasted nearly a week.”

“So other females sacrificed their eggs also.”

“Yes, they did.”

“And it was their sorrow that I felt when I entered the village.”

“Yes.”

This was more than Daniel could bear. He wept openly. His shoulders heaved as he struggled to understand what he had just heard. His mind was bewildered by a behavior beyond anything he had ever seen among human beings. Soboks gathered around him — scores of them — and gently put their hands on his head and shoulders. They tried to comfort him, but this was a burden they could not entirely remove from him. He finally turned to Bob and through the heat of his tears he cried, “You saved my life by giving up the lives of your unborn children? How could you do that to yourselves? If only I had known!”

“We have learned that there are more important things than just life. In the early days of our history here — when we were simply preserving our lives — we fought many wars with each other, and we were miserable. No, we have learned that it is far more important that we care about each other, and sometimes that requires sacrifices. The rewards are worth it. What we did for you did not harm us as you believe. And you certainly did not cause us pain. You simply gave us an opportunity to learn to love someone other than ourselves. Life without loving isn’t really living at all. We knew that we would be happier as we shared ourselves with you in this way than we would have been if we had withheld our care and allowed you to die. And we were right. We really are happier as a result of knowing and loving you. We do not regret our decision.”

“Then why is there so much sadness in the village today?”

“Because we’re not perfect. As we learn to give up our selfishness and learn to love others, we still experience discomfort. But the reward is worth the sacrifice.”

Bob stood and gestured toward one of the caves. Daniel could not hear what was said, but a female came out of the cave. She walked toward them and stopped when she had reached a position between Bob and Daniel.

Bob turned to Daniel and said, “This is the female who first suggested giving up her eggs. She has offered to speak with you.”

Daniel sat on the ground and wept again. After a time he said, “I can’t talk to her. I can’t even face her after knowing what she’s given up for me.”

“Talk with her,” Bob encouraged, “and you will learn.”

Turning toward the female, Daniel felt very small. “I don’t know what to say to you.”

“You feel an obligation toward me, don’t you?” the female said. “You believe that I have done some great thing for you and that you can never repay me.”

Daniel could only nod, any possibility of words choking in his throat.

“You owe me nothing,” she said. “I offered you a gift with no expectation that you would ever give me anything in return. I offered you my eggs simply because I wanted to save your life. Now you have a decision to make: You can accept my gift with gladness, or you can waste it by feeling guilty and miserable. That’s your choice.”

“But I have made you sad,” Daniel said. “I felt it when I came into the village.”

“Oh, no. You didn’t make me sad. In the beginning, yes, I was sad. When I first gave up my eggs — my babies — I was filled with the same grief and mourning that you sensed in the village today. But it was my choice to give up the eggs, not yours. And my mourning was brief. I eventually remembered all that I have here in this place: my children, my friends, my mate, many other things that give me joy. I have a great deal, and I choose to enjoy that and remember that, rather than grieve over that which I lost. Again, my grief and my happiness are all a result of my choices, not a result of anything you did. Actually, because of what I gave you, I felt more loving toward you and happier later. My loss seemed small, and my sadness melted away. The grief you feel in the village today is from the females who most recently gave their eggs, not from me or the ones who gave in the beginning. One female had finished her mourning, but when she saw you, she was reminded of what she had done, and her mourning briefly returned. I personally learned much from my giving and feel no sadness at all.”

The entire time the female had been communicating with him, Daniel had been looking directly into her eyes. When she finished, he reached out his hand and gently touched her fingers. “Thank you,” he said, “for your gift, and for what you have taught me today. I can never repay you. I won’t try. But I can pass your gift on to those around me for the rest of my life. And I choose to do that rather than feel guilty for what I have received from you. I believe I understand your gift better now.”

Turning from the female to Bob, Daniel said, “I feel like a small child when I’m with you. I had never supposed that such feelings and wisdom existed in the world. And I certainly never thought I would have to go to the other side of the world to find it.”

For the remainder of that day Daniel said a great deal more to Bob and to others he had come to know among the Soboks. The next morning he got in the boat they had built for him and sailed out to sea for several days. Eventually he was picked up by a ship and made his way home. When asked about his survival, he told the truth about the storm and the shipwreck, but he made up a story about his survival on a distant island, a story that didn’t include the Soboks or the location of their home. He knew what would happen if men ever found that place.

Daniel became a loving husband and father and was known as a kind and good man in his village and throughout the surrounding countryside. When his children were old enough to understand, he told them the real story of the Soboks, and they passed the tale on to their children for many generations. Eventually, it became a fairy tale, with no one having the slightest notion that it had all really happened.

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