Passion Project Short Story
I was just a boy when I met Him. Some say I’m still just a boy, but I won’t be for long! I’ll be turning twelve this month, so I’m practically a man now. Most of the adults chuckle when I tell them, but I don’t mind. Laughter is good. If I can help bring goodness to other people’s lives, that’s good too. That’s something we all strive for here in my hometown of Beyt: to spread goodness.
Oh yeah, I was telling you about Him. Sorry, I get distracted. In fact, I’m so easily distracted that my friends call me—no, wait, not again. The Traveling Man. He goes by many names, but that’s the one I like calling Him. His work has Him travel frequently, but He’s always here with us for birthdays, weddings, graduations, and celebrations or important events of any kind. If there isn’t a festival, He’s here at least once a week. He comes for Shava.
So many things to tell you! Shava is a weekly time when all of Beyt gathers together. We sing praises, we worship, we share stories, food, and fellowship, and it’s a time to rest from our work or school throughout the week. For me, it’s a day to spend time with my friends, outside of school and with those who study in other areas. And of course, as mentioned earlier, He comes to Beyt: The Traveling Man. Another wonderful thing about Shava? It’s today!
“Chayel!” I turned to see one of my friends calling my name as my family and I were walking to Haleliah Square to worship The Creator, Elohim. My friend’s name was Toviah, she was in my study group at school.
“Hi Toviah!” I waved and smiled. Then turning to my parents, I asked, “May I go to Haleliah Square with Toviah?”
As my parents nodded and smiled, ushering me towards her with their hands, my older brother eyed me with a sly smile.
“It’s not like that, Oriel!” I said, feeling a little embarrassed.
“Hey, I said nothing!” Oriel responded, holding up his hands in an attempt to act innocent.
“He’s just jealous.” My mother smirked. “Go along, we’ll meet you there.”
“Thanks!” I turned and ran from them to Toviah. I didn’t even have a chance to greet her before she grabbed my arm.
“Come on! He’s in the crowd, again!” She said excitedly, pulling me along.
“Cool!” I exclaimed. I was already excited for Shava, and for seeing the Traveling Man, but I wasn’t expecting this! Normally, the Traveling Man was waiting for us at Haleliah Square, but every so often, He would join the crowd and walk with us. He normally tried to disguise Himself, but it almost never worked. We knew Him too well. I think He liked that.
Toviah led the way, weaving between people in the crowd. We tried to smile and wave to everyone we passed, but they understood we were in a hurry. They would smile and wave back, some of them softly chuckling to themselves. Not only did they see we were in a hurry, but they also knew why: they knew He was in the crowd too. As mentioned before, it wasn’t something that stayed hidden for long.
It wasn’t too much longer and there He was: He was about six feet tall, which was average height of the adult males in Beyt. He had green eyes and curly brown hair, not quite down to his shoulders. His beard was full, but not very long, so you could see His smile. That smile, paralleled by the glow in His eyes, it’s like you could tell He cared about you the moment you made eye contact.
“Toviah! Chayel!” He called out, waving us over to join Him and the others with Him. Our faces beamed as we ran over to them. There were other children already with Him: Shilomel, one of my friends, he was the top of our study group; Saviah, she was a girl I knew from a different school, a couple years older than me; Evedel, a boy about eight years old with a lot of energy; and little Tahoriah (Tahi, for short), only five years old, was riding on His shoulders.
Joining the group, Evedel with all his energy was the first to greet us.
“Hi guys! Uncle Smiley has a game for us!” He said, bouncing up and down.
“Uncle Smiley?” I asked, smiling.
“That’s a new one.” Toviah laughed, looking at the Traveling Man.
“Evedel, it seems like you’ve got a different Name for Me every time I come.” The Traveling Man laughed, rustling Evedel’s hair. Then He bent down to His level and smiled as He said, “Keep it up, your energy and creativity are going to do wonders someday.” With that, Evedel’s face beamed, as he continued to run and jump around, perhaps with even more enthusiasm now.
“So, what’s the game?” I asked.
The Traveling Man’s smile seemed to falter, “It’s not really a game…” But Shilomel interrupted before He could get any further.
“Teacher,” this was the Name Shilomel referred to the Traveling Man as, “told us that He was going to make a special announcement today. We’re trying to guess what it is. It has something to do with Erets.”
Erets. I didn’t want to admit it, but the Erets Reports were my least favorite part of Shava. Worship and praises were fun, and if they were solemn, it was out of respect for Elohim. Food and fellowship was a time meant for socializing, reconnecting, and once again, that was always enjoyable. Some of the stories were enjoyable, but the ones about Erets, even if they had positive outcomes, were not always fun, rarely enjoyable, and I often didn’t like them. I felt bad feeling this way about Erets. I knew it was a special project that needed help, and we were all supposed to take part in observing it. Once we were older, our roles regarding Erets would change. I still wasn’t sure how, though. My guess is that I’ll learn more after I turn twelve later this month.
“Oh!” I forced a smile. “Erets, yeah, that’s cool.” I wasn’t a good actor. I think Toviah and the Traveling Man were the only ones who noticed my lack of excitement though. Evedel was still bouncing around, Shilomel was too invested in figuring out the announcement, Tahi was too young, and Saviah probably would’ve noticed if she wasn’t as focused on running her hands through the leaves of the trees alongside our path.
“Precisely, I’ve run a few of my guesses by Teacher, but none of them have been correct so far.” Shilomel said.
“Well Shilomel,” the Traveling Man said, putting His hand on his shoulder. “You’ll see soon enough.” He said this because we’d arrived at Haleliah Square. Haleliah Square was large: very large. The patterned tile on the road created incredible and colorful murals, all depictions of Elohim’s creation of Beyt. My favorite picture was the one with the animals. All of them were impressive, but it seemed to me that Elohim took great pleasure in creating living creatures.
Saviah was delighted that the section of the mural we entered on was the one that showed Elohim creating the plants. For loving plants, you’d think she wouldn’t like the fact that the mural of tile was hard underfoot, rather than nice and soft like actual grass. Oh well. To each their own.
The Traveling Man took little Tahi off of His shoulders and said something to her that I couldn’t hear over the noise. Tahi nodded her head and took Saviah’s hand. The Traveling Man hugged them both, then made His rounds to the rest of us. When He got to me, He said He’d see me later, big man. Big man! Big man! I wasn’t even twelve yet! The Traveling Man had a way of empowering you. It was great! He smiled, and chuckled a bit seeing my face light up as He hugged Toviah and then made His way through the crowd, greeting everyone as He passed them.
It didn’t seem like much time had passed from Him leaving us and Him arriving on stage. He really had a way of getting through crowds. When He made it on stage, the crowd cheered for Him, followed by a mangle of sounds, as everyone called out their Name for Him. Some used the same Name, but there were enough that none stood out above the rest.
The worship service continued, with praises, hymns, psalms being sung by all. As some people shared stories, they often led into more songs, more singing. Some of the stories were from events that had happened on Erets in the past, as our scholars studied them more, showing even more ways how these stories uplifted Elohim and showed His loving character.
Amidst it all, I took a moment to look around at my group of friends. Saviah had lifted Tahi onto her shoulders so she could see better. Saviah had a big smile on her face, singing along, but she was also enjoying listening to Tahi. Little Tahi, bless her heart. Her mouth was moving so dramatically, more than it needed to for singing these songs, and I’d heard her sing, she was loud, and not always on tune, but her heart: her heart was in it. Maybe there was something about being younger. Maybe I shouldn’t rush to grow up as I’ve been wanting. Evedel was still jumping around, but now it was in time to the music. Not quite coordinated enough to be dancing, but with some practice, he could be a wonderful praise dancer. Shilomel wasn’t moving, he rarely did. He sang along, but you could tell the highlight for him was the stories. Toviah was standing next to me, which I was grateful for: she was a wonderful singer. She was brave enough that she has actually sung on stage before. I admired that…not like Oriel thought I admired her! Just, you know, admired in a, well, admiration kind of way, nothing else.
This…how could I describe it? There were really only two words I could think of: one was love. Love amongst ourselves, our families, our community, to and from Elohim: there was love here. And because of that love, that made this place home, the second word that came to mind. Home was with my family. Home was here with my friends. Home was here, worshipping Elohim together as a community. Home. That is, until it all got ruined.
Tears. That’s what they were, making marks on my pillow. I’d only ever known them from times of great joy and much laughter. What was this I was feeling? Sorrow. The word seemed to hang in the air around me, pushing me down. How could He…? Why would He…? My thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Chayel, it’s Me.” I’d know that voice anywhere. It was Him. The Traveling Man. “May I come in?” I paused for a moment. Normally I wouldn’t have hesitated. I would’ve been at the door opening it before He could finish saying He was here. Eventually I nodded. I wasn’t sure if my voice would’ve worked without crying. I don’t know if the door was open slightly to see my head nod, but He came in anyways. I knew that He would know I let Him in. He sat down on the edge of my bed and put His hand on my shoulder. “Your friends are waiting outside. I’m taking you all on a hike and a picnic so I can explain a few things. I would love it if you could join us.”
I hesitated again. Why was I hesitating? I loved this Man! I would go with Him wherever He went if I could! I nodded again. He smiled. “Let’s get going.”
Before long the gang was back together again. Normally Evedel would lead the way, but today he lingered towards the back of the group. We didn’t say anything as we climbed the hill. We only said what we needed to for setting up the picnic at the top. No one felt like talking, and after thanking Elohim for the food, we ate in silence. Except Saviah. I noticed she was mainly helping Tahi eat. The Traveling Man noticed this too and saved a plate for her.
“I know you all have questions for Me.” The Traveling Man said. “Go ahead.”
Silence lingered for a little while. I noticed Evedel was sitting, staring at the ground, not moving. Shilomel stared off into the distance, looking as if he was trying to calculate one question that would give him the answer to the thousands in our minds. Tahi had fallen asleep on the grass, Saviah started to tear up, blinking them back, but said nothing. I opened my mouth to speak but closed it when no words came.
“Why?” I turned to see Toviah, tears in her eyes, one sliding down her cheek.
“Shilomel,” The Traveling Man said, blinking back tears of His own, swallowed the lump in His throat, then continued, “What do your parents call Me?”
“The Incarnate One.” Shilomel responded quietly, still looking across the horizon.
The Traveling Man nodded and pointed across the sky. “Oikon, Casia, Heim.” He said, moving His finger to a different location in the sky with each name. “Beyt.” He waved His hand from us, to the town below. “What do all these places mean?”
“Home.” Shilomel sniffed. I blinked. I think I was starting to get it.
“Erets means dirt.” The Traveling Man looked at me with a slight smile. “Dirt, ground, earth. It refers to the planet itself, not what it should be.”
The Traveling Man nodded His head, smiling, but still solemn based on the subject matter. “That’s why I have to go there. Go to them, like I come here for you, taking your form.”
It all made sense now. The Traveling Man had to go to Erets. He had to make it their home. This was why He traveled. This is why He needs to keep traveling and needs to visit Erets and stay there among them. Where the Traveling Man was, that was home.
Ryan Comeau was a contestant in EnspireMe: Passion Project 2019 with this short story.