Journeys of the Dove
[for Jeremy's bar mitzvah, Oct. 2, 2010]
based on Genesis 8:6-12
* 1 *
I did not want to go out that first time
after the Boat went aground on the mountaintop.
I did not want to leave
the place that had been my home and protection
during the Great Storm
and during the weeks and months afterward
when the tossing seas pitched us hither and thither
amidst muck, uprooted trees,
and carcasses of unfortunate beasts.
The Earth as I remembered it
had been wiped out.
I did not want to leave my companions.
I had come aboard with the other creature of my kind;
but, surprisingly, six months of confinement
shared in darkness and tumult
had made all creatures into one family.
Hippos and geese, snakes and orangutangs,
cattle and crawling things -
each understood the other and
got along as never before.
We vowed that, should we survive this Flood,
we would never again seek the blood of another.
We hoped that the People, too,
would learn to forsake the evil imaginings of their hearts.
My closest friend had been the Raven
who had stood, a week before,
on the same edge of the wooden hatch where I now stood.
He had launched out over boundless gray waters.
Soon, I could not make out his sleek body
against the gray sky and gray sea.
He failed to return, that day and the days after,
and I was sad
as I pictured him flying frantically to-and-fro
desperate for land.
Now it was my turn
for Noah knew I was a good flyer with keen eyesight.
With a final look back
at the expectant multitude in the Boat,
I flew off from the cypress plank.
Into the air I rose, uncertain at first,
for the use of my wings was unfamiliar to me
after having to negotiate the cramped space of the Boat.
I looked for a landmark but could see none,
nor could I make out the horizon
where gray sea met gray sky.
I flew onward though I felt it was hopeless.
Looking down, I noticed
patches of water of different shades of gray and
stretches of sea with more debris or less,
but most important - no land.
A full day went by in this bleak fashion.
Knowing my limits, I turned around
and headed back toward what I felt sure
was the lone mountaintop in the whole world.
I re-entered the Boat with utmost relief.
It was small, stuffy, crowded - but secure.
* 2 *
I would not have ventured forth a week later
had Noah not insisted.
The situation was desperate.
Supplies of barley were low,
the hay was musty.
We had to get out.
The Boat could not be our sanctuary forever.
When I stood on the cypress plank as I had before,
perched between solid wooden ark
and inhospitable sea,
I keenly felt our peril and my responsibility.
I sensed the multitude behind me,
more expectant than the last time.
I looked out again at the inhospitable sea
but this time thought I felt a tremor in the air
and smelled a remnant of fragrance.
O, the memory of a time
when sea and earth
had each their proper domains!
I leaned forward and took off.
I flew with determination
and with love for those on the Boat,
who indeed were all the living creatures
on the Earth.
I flew over water that was gray and not so gray
and brown and green and turquoise and blue.
The debris was more diverse now,
more sticks, seaweed and mud.
The surface undulated or was calm.
I peered toward the horizon to get my bearings.
I peered and saw
an interruption of the endless line,
an edge slanting up from the water.
After an hour, I noticed
smaller lines upon it.
I flew on,
my heart pounding in anticipation.
I could make out a scraggy hillside
with trees on it.
After an hour more
I reached the hillside. I settled
in the nearest olive tree.
Dry land! Dry land!
Incomparable gratitude swept through me.
I savored a moment of rest amid the foliage
then tore off a small branch
which I held tightly in my beak
as I joyfully flew back.
At sunset I got back to the Boat
waving the branch with hard buddings of olives on it:
a banner announcing the triumph of new life
over the forces that had suffocated the land.
* 3 *
A week later I stood again
on the cypress plank.
The familiar plank was of the same wood
as the rest of the great ship,
covered with pitch
for protection against the elements.
Yet it marked the outermost point,
the stepping off place
from known to unknown, from comfort to struggle.
I was excited to be going forth.
The sea was vast
but no longer inhospitable,
in fact many dry places
could be seen from the Boat itself.
I would not have to fly to-and-fro in search of land
as my friend the Raven had.
I could fly where I chose,
many places beckoned.
I was sad, too.
The others would leave soon after me.
I would not be present
when they lit their thanksgiving fires,
claimed homesteads, found mates,
and slowly restored the decimated population.
I would do the same things in a different place.
I had no need to look back
at the multitude of creatures who were watching me:
they were in my heart.
I flapped my wings to be free of the Boat.
I headed toward a part of the sky
where many colors were shining.
A rainbow loomed before me.