Jun 9, 2014


Write a passage in which a character receives a request to do something from another character, which poses an ethical or moral dilemma.
(note: my piece is based on the story of Abraham's almost-sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22. I don't include the part where the angel intervenes, because I'm not much of a happy-endings person.)

isaac: יִצְחָק: 'he laughs'

Every morning, my father takes me by the hand, and we go to greet the horses and the cows. I am his little helper, bringing out the hay, sweeping the barns. In the evenings, he lets me sit on his lap as he teaches me a new song. My father likes to talk about the stars. “And you’re the brightest one of all,” he would say, and I believe him when I look into his eyes and I see the stars reflected.

My father laughs with a warm, hearty chortle, and it makes my mother smile. My father’s laughter is a river, an endless supply of jewels. Joy is a gift and a command, he says; it is the all-healing elixir. I brought laughter to the family even before I was conceived, and so my father inscribed it in my identity that I would laugh all the days of my life, and that the world would share in this gift with me.

But one day, my father returns from the fields with a different air. He stands in the doorway, the face of a ghost. A lost stranger. The chickens cluck at his feet but he seems not to notice. I look up and I fall silent in confusion. A pause. He shuts the door slowly, mechanically, and makes his way to the rocking chair without seeming to see. I climb onto his lap and put my hands on his stone-cold cheeks: Abba? What’s wrong? A lifeless shell. I begin to cry. After a while he begins to wrap his arms around me, tighter and tighter until I squirm for air, but still his eyes are blank, his ears unhearing.    

The next morning he tells me we must go. “Wash yourself,” he says, “and say your prayers; we must make a sacrifice to the Lord.” I make myself clean, and I call upon the God of my father, the All-Benevolent, the All-Righteous, for mercy. I bring out the donkey, and my father prepares the firewood. My mother runs out to embrace me. She cups my face and kisses my forehead, and tells me I am deeply loved.

All along the way my father grips my hand tight, but doesn’t say a word. We cross to Moriah, the land of God’s ordinance, and still he walks on, emotionless. God has ordained good things for those He loves. But my father seems a ghost now, possessed by emptiness, as he trudges on. Where is the blessed joy? The river of laughter?

I cannot take his strange silence any longer: “Abba, you say we are going to make a sacrifice, but where is the lamb?” My father stops, takes both my hands, kisses my forehead. “God will provide, my love.” He looks at me for a long time, as if searching for something deeper within. When he breaks his gaze he becomes a stranger again.

One nightfall, he sits down and takes me into his arms. He runs his hands through my hair and takes a good look at me, his eyes starless but desperate, and then he starts to cry. I have never seen my father cry. Small sobs at first, but they grow to become heaving gasps, his shoulders trembling; and he holds me tight again. I decide not to ask.

As the sun reaches its peak my father’s steps begin to slow down, and I know we have arrived. He comes to a stop, and stands motionless for a long time, his eyes fixed on the grass, his grip still tight. And then he slowly awakes from his stupor, turns to look at me quietly: “come, let’s set the firewood down.” My head swims with questions: where is the lamb the Father has prepared? What has been going through your mind, papa, and why have you stopped smiling? He takes the wood off my back, and as he sets it on the ground he starts to mumble incessantly, chanting up a storm under his breath: you have made me a father of many nations you have established your everlasting covenant you shall be their god your goodness is enduring you are almighty god i shall walk before you blameless my father has tears running down his face but he seems not to notice. In this teary trance he picks me up, lays me down on the firewood. What? Abba? I kick, I shout in his face. Abba, it’s me you’re carrying! Abba, why?

He crouches down to kiss my face, choking on his tears. “No, no, love, it’s okay, don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid, love.” We both struggle with ourselves, force the sobs to die. “My love, there is a greater Father above, an Abba of never-ending joy. There’s no need to feel afraid. I love you, my greatest gift, I love you, all the stars of heaven are in your God-given soul. It’s time, my love, you will meet my good Abba and yours.”

This good God, this life-giving Father, has taken the smile off my abba’s face and wants me to die. Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Where is this goodness? Where is His love? How can a Father of love command death? He gives love only to kill it, He give joy only to steal it; yet my daddy calls Him good.

I let him put the ropes on me. I realise I don’t know him anymore: which man would kill his own son? The stranger raises his axe. I look at him, look at heaven, two fathers and none.  


Payal Lal said...

WOW this is so amazing Karen. I love how you end it. Hope you're having a great time at the writer's festival :)

Hannah Karen Ho said...

Aw Payal! Thank you so much :) I'm having a great time! Hope you're enjoying Tokyo too! :)