“And he showed me a pure river of the Water of Life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, there was the Tree of Life, which bore twelve kinds of fruit and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him.
And they shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads.
And there shall be no night there, and they will need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light. And they shall reign for ever and ever.
And he said unto me, “These sayings are faithful and true,” and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show unto His servants the things which must shortly be done.
“Behold, I am coming soon.” Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
-The Book of Common Prayer, Nicene Creed
It wasn’t his coming back that surprised everyone, since people had been more or less expecting it for the last two-thousand-some-odd years; it was the fact that he was only interested in coming back as a carpenter. He was just there one day, in a way that he hadn’t been before, and everyone knew without being told who he was. He looked just like he was supposed to, from the long brown hair to the dark skin to the robes and the sandals and the beard. Just the same, like it hadn’t occurred to him to trade in for a newer model when the old one still worked just fine.
Which made sense, really; he’d never been one for throwing anything away.
But he was back, then, and back in a very real way, and it only made sense that people expected something from him. It felt almost rude to ask. “I don’t want to talk about that,” he’d say, gently but firmly, without looking up. “I’m just here to focus on my woodworking.”
Well, that wasn’t going to stop people, of course. It wasn’t much of a shock that he didn’t want to meet with presidents or cultural leaders or public intellectuals, since that had always been part of his stock in trade, but he had the same answer for everyone else who came to him looking for healing or guidance or even just a moment of meaningful eye contact. He wasn’t rude about it, exactly, or disinterested. He was just very focused, and very happy about it.
“We talked about that before,” he’d say, no matter what the question was, and shake his head, and go back to planing something. “Nothing’s changed. I don’t have anything new to say about that. They made a book of it, I think.” He’d smile, and it was a kind smile, but you knew the conversation was over when you saw it. You could stick around and watch him as long as you wanted, as long as you were quiet. He wasn’t kicking anybody out, understand. But you can only watch a man sand a nightstand for so long before you start to think of other things you could be doing with your vacation days. The nightstand wasn’t a metaphor. You weren’t going to learn anything, no matter how long you stuck around. He was just building a pretty good nightstand.
So a lot of people came to see him, and a lot of people went home. What was he like, everyone asked. What did he say.
He seemed nice enough, they’d reply, a little puzzled. Kind of busy. Not distracted–not like he was too good for you–he just seemed like a guy who was really into carpentry. Nothing fancy, exactly. Solid pieces of craftsmanship, but nothing particularly noticeable about them.
Huh, the questioner would say, and then they’d get back to making dinner, or whatever they happened to be doing at the time.
If you wanted to talk to him about joiners and wheelwrights or how to build a level bookcase or the relative merits of beech and hickory and basic lathework, though, you could sit and talk as long as you wanted. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America had a record number of signups that year. You could always spot the woodworkers and cabinet makers and shipbuilders and even handy IKEA employees in any crowd, because they all had the same look in their eyes and smiled at everything.
“He knows his wood,” they’d say, if pressed. “The man knows his formwork.” And that was it. Things went on like that for a while.
He’d been working on this chair for a few months–everyone always knew what he was working on, and how far along he was, because that was really the only news coming out of his workshop, and people still felt obligated to keep tabs on him–and that’s when things ended.
“Well,” he said, looking down at what he’d made, “it is finished,” and then he was gone.
Opinions were split on whether that last part had been a little too on-the-nose, or just the right touch. But he was gone, and the chair was there, and no one was really quite sure what to do next. He’d made it fairly clear this time around that he wasn’t trying to pass along any secret messages; he really just wanted to finish that chair.
“He didn’t even take it with him,” said some people who were frankly tired of how much collective time and energy he’d been taking up. “How much could it have really mattered to him? Waste of time.”
But nobody moved the chair, just the same. He might always come back a third time, people pointed out. If he ever found something of ours that interested him that much again. So we left the chair there, just in case.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.