A bar on the horizon of paradise, fresh limes squeezed into cold drinks, and an inspirational ocean breeze plays with my imagination. The heat is cloaked by thick palms, the brush of their tropic leaves on the grass roof of my oasis.
I lean against the worn wood of the bar, as I perch on the edge of my stool and take a long sip of beer. I’m a twenty-nine year old business man on a three day trip to Tahiti. So far I’ve sat more on this stool than I have in the artificial chairs of a conference room. I am in heaven.
That bar was right on the beach. Right on the sand. So the slapping of flip-flops and bare feet on the tiled floor was a rhythm that blended right into the music of the french woman on the radio. Her voice made every muscle in my body relax. I wondered then if I could live here.
There were other people at the bar with me. A couple on their honeymoon, two old men laughing as their faces turned red and sweaty, three beautiful girls enjoying the pleasures of being twenty-one, and a few more business men copacetic in their drinking endeavors. We silently shared the moment together. Words weren’t needed to understand how much we each needed that bar on paradise’s beach.
I didn’t expect any long conversations. I didn’t want any philosophy, wisdom, or contemplation— but the man with the bag had other ideas.
The first thing I heard was his flip flops slapping against the floor. I turned, only slightly intrigued by the prospect of another paradise dweller. He was a gray-haired man with a hawaiian shirt and bermuda shorts— exactly the sort of fellow you would expect to find here. But it was the black duffle bag that caught my attention. Nobody ever came to the bar with their bags. This one seemed heavy too.
The man dropped it down beside a stool with a satisfied sigh and then pulled himself up onto that stool. He looked a little worn down. The beads of sweat on his brow and the sweat stain on his back told me that he had had a long day.
He ordered a beer with two limes and then caught me staring. I raised my own drink to welcome him and turned to enjoy the view. Clearly I didn’t want to partake in any conversation. Clearly he did. Being only one stool down from me he turned toward me, beer now in hand.
"Isn’t this a heck of a place. God sure knew what he was doing when he divined it," he said in a deep voice that was soothed by the entrancement of our surroundings.
"Sure is great," I said shortly, hinting that I wished to end it there. He continued.
"Ever been to Tahiti before?"
"No, first time. Second day though," I said, evidently yielding to the flow of the conversation. Then I glanced at his bag.
"You leaving soon then?" My question also drew his attention to the bag. He kicked it with his foot, but the thing barely budged. Whatever was in it packed it full so that even the zipper was taught.
"Naw, this old thing? I’ve been carrying it around for years. Never leaves my side," he said with both a hint of dejection and a dose of loyalty. It was strange. I chose to end the conversation there, nodded my head, and turned back to my beer. He wasn’t quite finished though.
"Yup, I’ve got the world in a bag."
"Oh," he paused to take a long drink, "the world in a bag. You ever heard of it?"
"I, uh, no."
"Neither had I, until I met a man in a bar with this duffle bag," he mused and stared at that bag with fondness. I was suddenly very curious.
"Alright, I’ll bite. What’s in the bag?" I shifted on my stool so that I faced in him. He just grinned for a moment at me, knowing that he had got my attention.
"Only God knows really. What’s the world made of? That’s what’s in the bag."
"Is this some sort of religious thing?" I asked annoyed, "Are you trying to sell your ideas here? Because let me tell you, you have come to the wrong place." I took a swig of my drink and turned away. I was done with this man. I just wanted to watch the waves crash against the sand and listen to my french lady sing.
His laughter brought me away from my paradise again.
"Well honestly I’m just a man at a bar drinking his beer. And I was just a man at a bar before too. But, by God, this bag makes you think when you don’t want too! that’s the point you see. Bugs the crap out of you, but it sets your priorities straight!" he said. I raised my finger to indicate that the bartender should bring me another round. I was going to need it, if this man insisted on continuing.
"So what’s in it? God’s divine purpose for life?" I asked cynically. The sound of those girls laughing distracted me for a moment, but the man was already talking again.
"Say again?" I turned to him, realizing that I had missed a question.
He repeated it politely, “You don’t believe in God then?”
"Mister, I believe in right here and now. The future’s just another drink." I said this just as another beer was set down in front of me, the lime stuck at the rim, juice sliding down to mix with the condensation. The man chuckled pleasantly and took another drink.
"You sound like me ten years ago, son. Before this dang bag was set at my feet."
"Okay, I’ve got time and now I am curious. What’s in the bag?"
"What do you think is in the bag? What is the most important thing in the world?"
"It’s not a bunch of bibles is it?" I answered annoyed.
"No, it’s the opposite of religion. Its the weight we carry everyday," he paused seeing that I was confused, "Okay, why do you think there is bad in the world?"
"I don’t know, God made a mistake?"
"How do we know there is bad in the first place? Because there is a good. How do we know what is perfection, when we haven’t found it yet? And if we haven’t found it yet, but have a concept of perfection, of good, then somewhere beyond life it must exist. Everything has a opposite. God must exist because we have a concept of a perfect good being. So mistakes cannot be a part of his makeup."
"Okaay,you are getting a little to Socratic on me. But if you are so sure their is a God, why did he invent bad things." I said, finally feeling the affects of the beer and giving in to this nonsensical discussion.
"Well 10 years ago, a man with a duffle bag explained that to me in very simple terms. He said he would rather have a world with bad in it, because that means that humans have a choice. If God didn’t allow bad things to happen, we would be a race of robotic beings. Choosing between good and bad teaches us what it means to be a perfect being."
"And why the hell would God want us to have a choice?"
"Because He loves us. Besides you take God away from existence and what do you have?… Just another drink. Another day. And then someday you die and go back to earth. It’s an empty, shallow attempt at living—"
"That’s slightly harsh. The concept of no God is scientific. Just look at the evidence. We evolved from apes over billions of years. You cannot fight the truth, mister." At this point our conversation had attracted an audience. The bartender was standing nearby listening as he polished a glass. the old men across the bar had grown silent, and all the business men were beginning to drink heavier.
"I am not fighting science. But some 100 years ago the concept of bleeding out an illness was a scientific endeavor. The idea of a flat universe was scientifically accepted. Those concepts have been disproven. I like to keep an open mind. And an open mind has lead me to believe that human’s evolving awareness of godly beings could not have occurred over billions of years. It is very much apart of our makeup from the beginning. We are curious as to why and how the world works."
"So the answer is a perfect being that we cannot see?"
"The answer is as much scientific as it is simple. What do you think is your purpose in life?"
"Uuh, i don’t know… Living well. Living to the fullest. Never missing an opportunity and getting out of it what I can," I said, wondering how I had gotten this far this quickly into a conversation about the purpose of being human. This man was either a genius at getting his way, or he talked like this all the time.
"So according to you—and most of the world— Life is about seeking pleasure. Not just erotica— I mean happiness in it’s fullest and purest form," the man explained, "Scientists might claim this as a biological function of every animal. Seeking out the best habitat, seeking out comfort and avoiding danger. But it is also apart of our philosophical side, the "love of wisdom" that is harder to explain. You see we are still in a scientific debate. We are just as much in the dark ages today as we were when horses were the main transportation. Why do we seek pleasure, good, and wisdom if our purpose in life is to live and die as evolution explains? I cannot live with just the concept that we are animals, when we are scientifically much more complicated than that." When he finished explaining, finishing off his beer with one more swig, there was a moment of silence.
I tapped the counter with my fingers as I thought about what he said. Finally I looked up at the bartender.
"Mister, I think we need a few more beers here." I said and the bartender walked away with an understanding smile on his face.
"So then…" I mused
"So then," he repeated.
"So then you made your point. I agree that we should keep an open mind. But what is the point of the bag and what’s in it?" i demanded. The two old men across the bar smacked the counter and shouted "hear hear". It was apparent everyone was now involved in our conversation.
"Well…" he began slowly, "It is true that humans all pack a bag of what they think the world is about— what that annoying purpose is of our lives. We are hungry to understand it’s meaning. Sometimes the bags are heavy, sometimes they are light depending on how the person has lived. We then travel around with the bags, mostly unaware of it. Sometimes we come to paradises such as this to escape the baggage— but, by God, it is still there," he paused to accept his latest drink form the bartender, "Honestly, son, I have no idea what is in the bag and neither did the gentlemen before me know. It’s the weight that counts. The constant reminder that we carry too much. You see God is good, God is perfect. I have explained this concept to you. He wants us to be exactly like him—to seek out goodness and not do bad. Because life is a joy, it is about the purest form of pleasure, but the only way of living such a life, is to give up your baggage to God."
"So now you are referring to Christ?"
"Oh, you caught that did you?"
"Yes, aside from the socratic talk, you made it quite clear."
"Well Socrates was a very clever man. And Christ was a very loving man. The concept of him taking our baggage is inspirational and—"
"But the idea of Jesus as a God? I believe that he was a man, but…" I trailed off skeptically.
"Christ never did a bad thing in his life. He was the closest concept of perfection we have. That and his philosophy convinces me enough." His explanation of christ was so simple, so child-like I didn’t respond for fear of ruining it’s simplicity. But I had to ask…
"How do you know Christ never did a bad thing in his life? The only record we have of him is the bible, which is biased toward his godliness."
"Not true. Did you know the Quran mentions Jesus? Not as God, but as a man known for his philosophy. He is a prophet of Allah."
"Okay, so how did you come to the conclusion that Jesus is God?" I was genuinely curious now.
"Good question! Let me tell you about peace," he almost shouted in his excitement, "Apart of the human makeup is to feel emotions. Do you agree with this?"
"Yes.." I said hesitantly, not sure where he was going with this concept.
"What makes us feel emotions?"
"Fluctuation of hormones, maybe?"
"True enough, but the brain is stimulated by feelings. We touch a candle, it is hot. We get upset, maybe even frightened, by the sensation. Our brain turns these feelings into emotions. When we are attracted to another human, our brain calculates our emotions and turns them into a concept: love. So when I think of Christ I feel myself at peace. He physically and mentally makes me peaceful. Scientifically, you may explain it as a fluctuation of hormones dependent on a good memory—the good memory being that I believe he is God. But there is a side to emotions that is slightly unexplainable: our need to put our emotions in words, in concepts such as love and peace. Where do these concepts come from, but outside of us. I know I may not be explaining this very well to you. But again I believe that a thing such as peace has a much deeper meaning than science can provide. Therefore, Jesus is apart of this concept that we do not yet understand, which puts him in the same category as God and perfection." He paused then to take another sip.
"Wow.." I said lamely, "that is a lot to take in over a few beers." He laughed openly at my light attempt of understanding him.
"Honestly, that is the answer I give to people such as you. If you had asked me that question in any other circumstance, I would have just said because he IS God. There is just believing and not believing. It takes a lot for a man to believe in something unseen," the man said and a few of the men in the bar nodded their heads in agreement.
"By the way, who are you? I mean what do you do for a living for you to know all this stuff?" I asked. the man smiled at my question as if he were remembering an inside joke.
"Oh, I’m just a salesman. It’s the living part that taught me all this." With that, he swallowed down the last bit of beer in the bottle. Standing up he threw some money on the counter and nodded in my direction.
"You take care. Enjoy paradise before you pick up your baggage again. I hate to leave our conversation, but I’ve got a meeting in 10 minutes." He began to walk away, leaving the bag on the ground by his stool.
"Wait a minute. Don’t forget your bag." I called after him. He turned around and eyed it carefully.
"Naw, I think I get the point after ten years. It’s your turn to carry it for a while, if you will take it." Without waiting for a reply he turned to go again.
"But hell, don’t you finally want to know what’s in it?" I asked. The man shook his head and waved his hand over his shoulder.
"I don’t need to." He called back and then was gone, only the sound of his flip-flops reseeding into the sound of the waves.
The bar returned to normal again. The other paradise dwellers shifted their gaze back to the waves and the beach. I listened to that french girl singing her sweet song, and the slapping of the palm leaves against the roof.
I glanced at the bag on the floor. I grabbed my beer and stood up. I heaved the thing up into the man’s stool and sat down beside it. Taking a long drink, I eyed the thing critically.
I reached for the zipper and then stopped. I took a drink of my beer instead.
(this story was inspired by my love of philosophy, christ, and tropical beaches)