Chapter 25 The End in Sight
During the month of May the Island’s shore ice, which has been stationary all winter, softens as the temperatures rise. Then when some strong sea swells come, the ice breaks up in a matter of minutes.
One day after school I rode my ski-doo to the other side of the village and then took a shortcut back over the ice to the point of land where my house stood.
I parked my ski-do, went inside and looked out the window. I was amazed to see that in the several seconds I’d been back on land, the ice had broken up into small pieces! If I had come just a 20 seconds later, I would have been on the ice when it broke up and would have fallen through into the deep, freezing water! That would have been a life-threatening experience. Here was another God sighting, a 3.5 star one of supernatural protection!
After the shore ice breaks up, the Eskimos go hunting and I went out with them again. This time there was lot of open water, and as we were searching for walrus, a whale suddenly surfaced a few yards to our right. Its huge head broke the surface of the water and then curved back under. The rest of its body followed, and followed, and followed. Then finally its gigantic tail emerged and slapped the water, throwing up a great spray.
It is one thing to see such an event on film. It is completely another to watch it from a few yards away while in a fragile skin boat! What a huge, majestic, powerful animal. Another reminder of the smallness of human beings in the greatness of creation. More than once whales have attacked these little skin boats and snapped them like straws. I was thankful that we were able to return safely home.
The end of the school year was approaching, and I was glad. I was not going to sign on for another year because it was clear to me that teaching junior high was not something I wanted to do the rest of my life!
I’d saved most of my earnings, not having much to spend it on anyway, so I decided that I would go on an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship Tour to Europe. I made my application before leaving the Island in June.
I first flew to East St. Louis to visit my grandmother. After I’d arrived at the airport and collected my baggage, a guard stopped me and wanted to see my baggage claim tag. This was the only time this has ever happened to me, and it was also the only time I’d lost my tag!
“Ok…..,” said the guard, “Tell me what’s on the bottom of this bag!”
“That’s easy,” I replied. “A ivory walrus tusk with the names of 15 Eskimos families carved into it—and mine at the bottom.” The guard’s eyebrows went up, but when I produced the tusk, he shook his head and let me go. I was thankful that the Lord had the guard pick that particular bag, another God sighting.
It was good to travel back to Connecticut for a few weeks. I brought home presents for everyone, including a handmade parka for my mother with white arctic fox fur around the hood. I don’t think she ever wore it, but appreciated the thought.
At the end of June I went down to New York to join the Intervarsity Tour. We visited England, France, Germany and then went to Schloss Mittersill, a castle in Austria where we attended a conference. I enjoyed the great teaching and also got to know the International Intervarsity director and his family while I was there.
After further trips to Italy, Czechoslovakia and East Germany, the tour ended, but I stayed on as I had made arrangements to study at L’Abri, under the ministry of Dr. Francis Schaeffer.
He was a renaissance man, a prophet for the second half of the 20th century, an intellectual on the level of Luther, a man who helped many find their way through the mental and emotional mine fields of our time.
The community of L’Abri, located in the Swiss Alps, accepted students to stay for ten weeks of study. I arrived at the beginning of September.
Mrs. Schaeffer described our group as a “colorless lot.” Not one of us had come to Christ in extraordinary circumstances, nor was there anyone among us who was an intellectual, a celebrity or an oddity. We simply all had come with questions and needs, and this was a good place to have them met.
Mornings I spent listening to tapes of teaching by Dr. Schaeffer and other leaders of L’Abri. In the afternoons we did work for the community. There were also special lectures and discussions in late afternoon and evening.
Meal times were for discussion, and it was interesting to sit at the table with Dr. Schaeffer, listening to him patiently answer questions, most of which he had probably heard many times.
He spoke in five-minute-long sentences, his powerful mind grappling skillfully with all aspects of an issue. Most people didn’t expect an answer that complete and he did try to scale it down for us, but I could see that for him it was like trying to drive a 900 horsepower car at fifteen miles an hour.
After the meals, the house leader would ask for volunteers to do the dishes. Many of the students there had never done much in the line of practical work and were very slow. It could take some of them hours to do the dishes for a group of twenty.
I quickly learned that if I wanted to get this task over with, I needed to volunteer to be the washer. And others understood just as quickly that if I volunteered to wash, they would end up with more free time if they worked with me. So everyone would wait to see if I volunteered–then there was no shortage of others willing to put things away. This was one place that my speediness was positive as I washed through those dishes in about 20 minutes.
One day my house leader told me he wanted me to spade the garden, a smallish plot of ground–maybe twenty yards by ten yards. I got the spade and went to work. Two hours later I came to him and said, “I’m done.”
He looked at me in amazement, “What? How can that be? Last year it took the guy assigned to that job two weeks to get it done.” That helped me appreciate even more the farm training and work ethic my father had passed on to me.
picture: one of the chalets where I spent time