Categories > TV > Firefly0 Reviews
Shepherd Book guides his first charge, and figures out the next step in his life.
Zackary here is a copy of a roleplaying character I have, transferred to the Firefly 'verse. Also went with the idea that there's a distinction between a monk and a shepherd, so Book-at-the-abbey was Brother Derrial the monk, while Book as a shepherd would be Shepard Book.
During my final year at the monastery, a young man came to study, with the intention of becoming a novice in our order. Zackary had grown up as an only child of two Ariel businessmen. He had found his way to Persephone mostly out of a desire to go far from his parents, but not into 'uncivilized' territory, which, to him, meant any of the planets not orbiting the White Sun.
He could charitably be called 'earnest', and if I was lest inclined to be charitable, could be called a lost soul trying to fill some defect in his upbringing with God. And not finding what he was looking for -- he treated even the barest guidelines from the monks if they were carved on stone tablets and he would make some drill sergeant weep with joy at the way he followed orders. Somehow, even in a routine devoted to quiet contemplation and prayer, he managed to find the time for extra prayer, and any time I helped out with the laundry, I became very glad the old Earth-that-Was practice of self-flagellation had died out, or I'd be stuck washing the bloodstains from his clothes.
We didn't speak much, since I wasn't in charge of his instruction. That is, until a night walk brought me to the chapel at some late hour -- don't ask what I was doing awake -- and found him knelt in prayer. "Go to bed, Zackary."
He jumped. I couldn't tell if he actually had been asleep, or if he had just somehow failed to hear me walking up to him. He stood up, brushing the dirt from his knees self-consciously. "Ah... Brother Derrial?"
I nodded. "That's me."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you out of bed."
"I was just out enjoying the night air," I told him. "I happened to see you thinking some deep and profound thoughts and wanted to make sure you weren't falling asleep."
He shook his head, a bit like a dog trying to shake off water. "No, sir. Brother Derrial. I was just..." he looked down at his hands. "I love being here, and all, and contemplating Our Lord, but I wonder if... it's not enough." He winced. "That's a horrible thing for me to say."
I sighed. "Not a horrible thing to say if it's the truth." I'd told so many lies in my life that I'm not going to be discomforted by a truth, and I'd heard far more terrible truths than what a Core-bred green novice could tell me. "What's missing?"
"Well... I wanted to find something meaningful. My parents spent their days pushing numbers around, and, at the end of the day, I don't know what they have to show for it besides another number in their accounts." A number that would have feed all three of them for a week, if I could guess. "This... it's about something larger than myself, something larger than all of us in the Alliance. But-" I waited for him to continue speaking. He paused, looking guilty as sin and more like some sitcom child-actor caught raiding the cookies than a grown man confessing. "It's not enough. If God can't give me meaning, then maybe there isn't a power in the 'verse that can."
I wondered how much he had searched. The abbot had sent someone to pick him up from the transport, and I didn't know whether he had done more than pack his bags in his comfortable home on Ariel, kiss his parents goodbye, and spend the trip reading in a passenger-liner's lounge. I knew the search for meaning -- I'd run all over the system in my youth looking for something that I could never put words to except that it wasn't where I was standing, until I realized that I was looking for something more to my life than constantly running. But how much could someone understand when he was barely twenty and had less experiences than I'd had at half his age?
But, I couldn't leave him like this. "Zackary, this is a good place to look inward." I'd done a lot of that, even if I hadn't much liked what I found. "The abbot keeps it that way for folks that need that, in addition to folks who need to learn something about God. But, Christ didn't spend his life looking inward. I'm assuming you've practically memorized the Bible given how often everyone says you're reading it?"
Zackary nodded, looking like he didn't know if I meant it as a compliment or not. I wasn't sure if I had, either.
"May be that you're not here for good. May be that you're out to be a shepherd and not a monk. The Good Lord needs both, you know."
"I've met shepherds," Zackary said hesitantly. "Besides the ones here, I mean. They... back on Ariel, most people didn't really show up to services, except on holidays. I don't know if any of them believed, besides the grannies that went every chance they could."
"It doesn't take much belief when life is going well," I told him. "You probably saw a bit more people at services during the war." It was a guess. I didn't spend the war on the Core Worlds, unless you count occasional stop-overs. But people get scared in different ways, and one of them is looking for someone to tell them it'll be all right. And a shepherd or a monk in a saffron robe, or the senator from the government... all of them are good at that. "Out there in the 'verse, folks need a lot more belief then they might when you were growing up. Christ knew that -- he went and talked to the people who didn't have much, and gave what he could."
Zackary mulled it over. "But, you hear things about the Rim. Like pirates and reavers and independent vets from the war, who would shoot at anyone with a Core accent."
Things like that, made me want to take the boy and put him on the next freighter out, and pray to God someone would take pity on a fool short on experience. But I had gained patience, thank God. "You don't need to go to the Rim to find people who need help, son. There's poverty in the Core. You could go a half hour outside these walls and see people living homeless or hand-to-mouth."
"But..." and I knew he would probably give me half a dozen excuses, most of which amounted to 'that's not what I was told'.
I held up my hand. "You can go out and look. Maybe you'll come back here a changed man. Or maybe you'll find that you had to look inward only enough to know you wouldn't find what you were looking for there, and you're meant to go out in the 'verse and lend a hand."
"I... I suppose it's worth trying," Zackary replied slowly. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it. Now, get some sleep."
After the novice walked off, I took a seat in the chapel of my own. I'm old enough to know when to ignore my own advice about sleep. Truth was, having to sit and explain it to someone barely out of boyhood made me wonder if my own feet were getting a bit itchy. The abbey -- it's the nicest place I've lived, and it gave me a chance to sit down, shake hands with the person I wanted to be and the person I was when no one else was around, and come to terms with a lot of things. Also learned to grow some fine vegetables, the difference between peppermint and catnip, and how to carry a tune in a bucket, and you never know when skills like that could come in handy.
But maybe meeting a young man in a chapel at oh-dark-thirty was my own sign that it was time to take what I'd learned and teach it, to speak of hope because I had known suffering unto despair. And, to misquote Saint Francis, it took teaching to be taught this.