Story: Beyond the Horizon

October 30, 2022

2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10

I don’t know how they became friends, or even how they met one another. When kolea make their journey to Hawai’i Island, they tend to find some space for themselves fairly close to the coastline. They like to look for worms and bugs and such in the grassy lawns that human beings maintain. They’re ground birds, rarely found on roofs or trees.

In contrast, the ‘apapane likes to be in trees, and in trees that grow further up the mountain. As I say, I’m not sure how a kolea and an ‘apapane ever met, let alone how they became friends. But year after year this kolea would make his way back to the Kohala peninsula and, after a good rest and a meal, take a shorter flight up the slopes of Kohala looking for a flash of red in the forest. Then the two of them would talk story until they’d caught up with the last several months.

This year the kolea found the ‘apapane looking… dreamy. After sharing the stories about nests and eggs and chicks, the ‘apapane sat and looked out over the mountain slope down to the sea and beyond. “I envy you,” she said. “You know what’s beyond the horizon.”

The kolea had told that story many times, so he just nodded. “That’s true,” he said. “Out in that direction is a very big ocean, and then there’s Alaska.”

“Do you ever wonder what’s beyond the horizon in other directions?” asked the ‘apapane.

“Not much,” said the kolea. “Except for those two big flights each year, I don’t stray far from the places I’ll find grubs to eat.”

“Well,” said the ‘apapane, turning to the northwest, “what do you suppose is over there?”

The two of them looked at a pile of clouds with a bit of bluish black in the middle. “I don’t know,” he said.

“I wonder,” sighed the ‘apapane.

“Shall I find out?” said the kolea. “I can take a flight to see what’s in the clouds.”

The ‘apapane accepted the offer, and the kolea headed off to the northwest, and was quickly lost to sight. It took nearly four hours before he was back again. He grabbed a snack at the base of the ‘apapane’s tree before joining her on the branch again.

“So what’s over there?” asked the ‘apapane.

“Maui,” said the kolea.

“What’s Maui?” asked the ‘apapane.

“It’s another island, smaller than this one, with a wide valley and a great big mountain on it. That’s the bluish black outline you can see. It’s not nearly as far as Alaska.”

The two birds were quiet for a while, and then the ‘apapane said, “It must be nice to always know what’s over the horizon.”

“But I don’t always know what’s over the horizon,” said the kolea. “I also don’t know what the next day will bring. I hope it will have a tasty worm or two, just the way you hope it will have ohi’a blossoms.”

“We both move into something mysterious, then,” said the ‘apapane, “which we hope will be a little familiar.”

“We both fly into tomorrow,” said the kolea, “with hope.”

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

The story was told from memory of this manuscript in the video recording above. And, well, embellished.

Photo of an ‘apapane in flight by Eric Anderson.

Meta-Reflection

I was putting the final touches to the sermon on Sunday morning in my study at Church of the Holy Cross. My brain was slowly turning to think about the children’s message – though I consider ideas through the week, the final story takes its final shape on Sunday morning.

It may not be the least anxiety-provoking method in the world, but that’s how it goes.

The usual calm of the morning suddenly vanished. Above my head, I heard the voices of the mynas suddenly rising in volume and intensity. The metal roof began to pound and thump as they beat their wings at one another, resonating like a great drum at me as I sat wondering below.

I’ve heard myna arguments before, but never anything quite this shrill, quite this loud, and frankly, quite this amplified.

Whatever the conflict was about, it seemed to involve several birds, each of them screeching with might and main. The pounding doubled and redoubled. The voices multiplied. Nobody was willing to give in, it seemed. It went on and on.

Suddenly, the source of the sound began to move. Slowly at first, and then accelerating, the screeches and pounding moved from my left to my right, sliding down the slippery slope of the aluminum roof toward the edge. I looked left in time to see the birds drop from the gutter to the sidewalk, still screaming at one another, but with the wingbeats now slowing their unplanned descent to the ground.

For a few seconds more the argument continued unabated, then abruptly ceased. Silence fell. Then the birds, as one and without a sound, took to their wings and flew off.

I promptly threw out all the ideas I’d had for a children’s message to talk about the mynas whose argument ended like this:

“Well, that’s not where I thought this argument was gonna go.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you remember what this argument was about?”

“No.”

“Maybe we should take this up later?”

“Yeah.”

“Somewhere where it isn’t quite so slippery.”

“Yeah.”

They all knew what the future was supposed to be: a winner to the argument. Instead, the future turned out to be an embarrassed group of dusty mynas.

The future, I told the children, is not always what you expect.

In reflecting on the reflection, however, I realized that the future wasn’t what I expected, either. The image of a group of fighting mynas sliding down the roof had never occurred to me until I heard them doing it.

In the midst of our work and efforts, in the midst of our dedication to service and our commitment to creativity, in the midst of our solemn self-reliance that is so common and yet so foreign to nearly every faith tradition I’ve ever learned about, the subtle (or screeching) movements of the world around us may yet become the inspiration, or the direction, or the guide for our continued journeys. For if the mynas were surprised to find themselves dumped off the roof onto the parking lot, so was I. And if the mynas were surprised to find that a change in circumstance had wiped away their argument, so was I.

The future doesn’t always hold what we think it does. Our lives of faith don’t always look like what it think it will, either. The world may, from time to time, teach us where to go. The Divine may, from time to time, give us the ingredients for our imagination.

The photo of a common myna is by Ilan Costica – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80664291