Welcome back to the blog after a the short break! I’m kicking things back off with a short story I wrote a few years ago and have never shared–until now. After the story, keep reading for a bit of background on it (and for an update on my wedding at the beginning of November [spoilers: it was incredible!]).
Baris Aksoy sits alone thousands of feet above the world. Snow swirls in the night wind. In Turkey, death is too often the cost of Christianity. Baris knows all too well the consequences of open Christian faith, and as he sits now, unaccompanied on the side of Mount Ararat–called Ağrı Dağı in his native tongue–he stares idly at the shadowy world below. The world that’s now sorely void of meaning. Mount Ararat is the highest peak in Baris’ country, and he and a small group of others make the hike once a year in an attempt to get closer to God, both spiritually and physically. Despite the loss of his wife, Baris refused to turn his back on the journey this year–the year a storm would hit.
It was almost twenty-four hours ago that Baris last saw his team of hikers, and yet he sits calmly, expectant. He’d known somehow that this trek would be different, that he would come back changed. He hadn’t considered, until now, that he might not be coming back at all. But, unphased, he takes a deep breath of the cold air, pulls his cloak tighter, and gazes out from the mountainside.
Death doesn’t seem bad, not to Baris. He’s quietly longed for death for nigh on a year, and the need worsens every time he encounters his wife as she’s reaching down from Heaven. Now, forming in the erratic snowfall, he sees the form of his wife again. She comes to him often, showing herself in an array of things, from the water of her favorite pond to the dreams Baris has of her every nightfall. She reaches for him, calls his name, and again she does so. The wind and snow working together to extend a hand to Baris, who stands now and allows the elements to attack his flowing cloak and robes. He reaches out to his wife’s image, eagerness arising in his cold eyes, and as he makes contact, as his fingers brush hers, flames erupt all around him.
His wife disappears, the snow that formed her melting in a wave of heat. Baris’ cloak is thrown back, his scarves slipping from his bearded face. He stands from his rock, aiming to run, but finds no way. Fire is all around him. The sudden and intense heat pulls sweat from his pores. In a panic, he begins disrobing, but as he does so the temperature cools and his pores close. His sweat dries up, but the fire remains. It’s now that he realizes the event at hand, the encounter he’s having. He scans the flames, searching for the source. “Is it you, God?” Baris whispers in Turkish, and there comes a booming, powerful voice speaking in all languages at once and yet landing on Baris’ ears as clear as day.
“I AM,” says the voice. Baris begins to tremble, stepping to and fro and continuing to spin. “Remove your shoes, child. For this is hallowed ground.”
“My God, it’s you,” Baris hollers, immediately removing his boots and leaving them upright by the rock on which he sat.
“My child, Baris, it’s you,” the voice answers. “You are in pain, son.”
“I am, Father,” Baris cries. And as Baris’ voice touches the air again the fire swirls up into a cyclone above him so that not even the night sky above is visible. The fire lifts from the mountainside, morphing and shaping into the rough shape of a human before, in a flash of light, the shape becomes bright and laden with shining neon colors. Pinks, blues, yellows, oranges, and reds, warping and moving always around the human form, giant and towering over Baris like Goliath to David. The form, God the Father, crosses its legs and floats down above Baris, a warm breeze flowing from its every limb. Baris steps back, feeling warmth despite the flames’ absence, and stares at this being, God.
“Tell me of your sorrows, Baris,” God says, though no movement touches the face of his bright form.
“You know them, my God.” Baris falls to his knees under the weight of God’s voice.
“Tell them anyway,” God replies.
“My wife, my Sevda, you took her from me, my God.”
“You blame me for this, my child? You say I am at fault for Sevda’s passing?” Baris hesitates now, looking about him for the hikers who he’d lost. “Do not turn away now, Baris, unless it is truly what you wish.”
“My God,” Baris murmurs, looking back at the massive shape of colors in the sky. “I do not blame you for her death. But you took her. You took her from this Earth. You let them kill her.”
God is quiet now, letting only the sounds of nature speak for him until Baris is desperate to hear his voice again. “Baris,” God says, his voice low and solemn, his lips still unmoving. “You have read my Word?”
“Of course, God. Of course,” Baris says.
“Then you know that when Adam and Eve plucked the fruit and partook in its juices, they did so by their own choice. When they gained such knowledge as the forbidden tree held in its seeds, in its very roots, it was by none other than their own free will.” God waits for Baris to answer, but Baris does not answer. “You know this, Baris?”
“I do,” Baris answers.
“Then tell me, child, when those men drew their weapons upon your wife, when they chose what fruit they wished, was it for me to halt their blades? Was it for me to confiscate their choice between Sevda’s life and their own?”
“I don’t understand, Father. They did not have to trade in lives.”
“Think now, my child, of a farmer and his grain. For what he sows in good soil he reaps good wheat, and in bad soil, bad wheat. Under blessed weather, the farmer’s grain will increase even more. Look out upon this world, Baris.” God turns, extending his hand out from the mountainside. Baris follows God’s instructions. “The grain is not bad, the soil is not bad, but the weather is stark. Among those men that took up arms against Sevda, weaponless but not defenseless, was a boy who once stood at the front of a church beneath the market.”
“What is your meaning, Father?” Baris asks anxiously.
“Sevda did die that day, Baris, by the free will of others, but also did she give life, for with her last breath she gave comfort to the boy whose knife had last struck her at the prodding of his fellow man. And from that last breath, the words with which your wife ended her time on Earth, she saved a young boy’s life.”
“Please, God, my Father,” Baris weeps, tears streaming down his dirty face and leaving streaks on his bronze skin. “Please tell me what you mean!”
“Sevda fulfilled her purpose that day, Baris, and from her death, life was wrought. The boy with whom she spoke will go on to spread my Word farther than you could ever imagine, my child. And the hand that once killed, will soon heal.”
Baris pounds his fists into the snow until his knuckles are blue. “You tell me that a young, manipulated Christian boy murdered my wife?”
“Just as my son David took a bathing woman from her husband. He too did I forgive as I have forgiven this boy and the men with which he committed the sin against Sevda, and against me. They are not of your concern, Baris, but only you and your walk and those who you will encounter. That is, if…”
“If what, Lord?”
“If you choose to stay,” God says, his voice again low and burdened. “For where your wife Sevda was not given choice in her death, I will give you choice in yours. Her purpose was completed, and yours is yet to be. However, my child, if this grief is of too big a task for you, I will take you now to join Sevda in my gardens.” God extends his massive hand to Baris, who watches with glassy, wavering eyes. “In warning, I must tell you that should you choose to leave this mountainside and ascend into the heavens, many people who would otherwise come to see me more clearly will perish. But, Baris, my son, should you stay…then those lives will be saved through you, as the boy was through your wife, the woman he killed. You’re cold and near the end where you sit now, but the choice is yours.”
Baris remains as still as the wind allows him, staring at God’s hand. He hits the ground and calls his wife’s name, and he weeps. The wind and snow beat against him, and yet he remains still. Until, at long last, he looks at God, who was patient, and gives his answer…
Nearly thirty-six hours after they had lost him the other hikers found Baris wandering down the mountain, dazed and cold to the touch. They took him in and warmed him, and together they waited out the storm. It was at the worst of it that a path opened for them, as clearly outlined as a summer’s day, and they ventured untouched by the blizzard back to the city below. And at the mouth of their path, there was camped two travelers from an adjacent city who asked the hikers why they would climb Ağrı Dağı with such a storm on the horizon, and the hikers stumbled over their words and murmured all reasons under the sun. But Baris Aksoy, taking a deep breath and placing a silent prayer onto the wind, told the campers the truth of his voyage.
Backstory for Ağrı Dağı:
I wrote Ağrı Dağı (named after a mountain often called Mount Ararat) a couple months after my step-dad lost his life to brain cancer in 2014. There’s no perfect way to deal with grief, but something like the passing of a loved one, divorce in the family, or even the daily struggles of adult life we all face can cause our faith to waver — our religious faith and our faith in ourselves. I turn to writing most of the time, if only to hash out what I’m feeling and put it in a form I can observe or control in some way. After my dad passed away and my family was left to deal with changing times and difficult memories, Ağrı Dağı was born out of my coping method. A lot of times we question God when life gets tough, whether you believe in God or not, and most of the time we’re left without answers. I needed answers. So, I put myself in the shoes of Baris Aksoy to ponder why God allows bad things to happen. Hopefully, this story speaks to you in its own way, too.
Life may have its lows, but this month I was at my highest when I got to marry the woman I love. The wedding was beautiful, and Victoria simply blew my mind. I knew I was lucky before, but when I saw her walking down that aisle and the tears started bursting out my eyes, I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. I’ll make a longer post about the wedding, the Disney World honeymoon, and share some pictures when our photographer, Bridget (who was incredible, by the way), sends us the collection. For now, I’ll share this picture of my lovely wife that Bridget posted on her Instagram, @lundynbridgephotography:
Don’t forget to like, follow, and share this story, and I’ll write again in a week or two!
Weekly Writing Prompt:
She’d seen a lot in her day, but this, this, made her want to give that tourist a piece of her mind…