The Life and Deeds of the Seeker
Telemachus was living on his own, in Byzantine, when I first came to know him. He was very depressed at the time, and his only delight in life – apart from reading – was wandering the slopes of Mount Zion, with a big black dog at his heels. He was a short man with broad shoulders and a large round head. His thick yellowish-red hair was beginning to go gray. It must have been very difficult to put a comb through it, I should think since it was so disorderly.
"My head's a bit like heaven", he used to say, adding slowly, "for there is no parting there!" There had never been a hat or cap on that head of his, for the simple reason that hat-makers had never imagined there existed heads quite as big as Telemachus's. There was a nasty scar across his forehead. He got it when he was a young boy. While walking out of the drift one day he had grabbed the tail of one of the ponies, but instead of pulling him up the incline, the horse had kicked him. His forehead had been split open by the horse, and for a few days, Telemachus had been in danger of his life. They had put straw on the road in front of his house to keep down the sound of traffic. The doctor had put a silver plate in his head, and later on that was to give Telemachus the chance to boast, "There may not be any silver in my pocket (and I do not need it as I am no Judah Iscariot) but there's plenty of it in my head!" He suffered terrible pains for the rest of his life as a result of that accident.
Telemachus was Odyssey's son. One of his relatives was Mathew, one of the best deacons among the preachers in Byzantine. His mother, Penelope, was a remarkable woman. She was one of the most prominent and notable women of Byzantine, and quite outstanding when members took oral examinations in the Scriptures at Jerusalem Chapel. Telemachus had inherited this interest from his mother. His only friends, Mathew and Luke, were both married men, and Telemachus and his mother were quite comfortable in each other's company at the old family-home. Great was Penelope's solicitude for her son. She had a good deal of admiration for the good old times when Odyssey was still home.
Indeed, the other events didn't count at all in her sight. Once, about the time of the big Jewish meetings at Byzantine, Telemachus had a cold and was being kept at home by the fireside. "You could easily catch pneumonia if you went there," said Penelope. Then who should call after supper on the Monday but their neighbors, Arete and Alcinous, who were also the parents of Nausicaa. "Telemachus,' said Arete, "So-and-so (naming one of the old Jewish community members) is preaching at the nearby town of Ithaca – do you want to come?"
Whereupon, before Telemachus had a chance to say anything, Penelope said cheerfully, "Yes, my boy, you go with Arete, and have a bit of a stretch." Penelope firmly believed that neither pneumonia nor any other sickness had any strength within the walls of a synagogue.
Telemachus was quite a good scholar, who read a bit. The scope of his reading varied – commentaries on the Yearly Syllabus, political pamphlets, and books with some substance to them, of a philosophical and theological nature. He had come under the influence of the teachings of Bible, especially the Gospels of Mathew and Luke, and begun to take an interest in religions. He even claimed to have proof of an earlier existence, and some vague, faint memory of having walked upon earth previously in some form or other. Such revelations used to astonish some of the preachers who visited the Sunday School.
On the first Sabbath, I took the service at Jerusalem, I recall seeing Telemachus sitting to my right up in the gallery, and noticed him while the congregation was singing. I have to say it, he wasn't much of a musician. It was the words counted in his view, not the hymn-tune, and he was looking all about him while the congregation sang. But suddenly, on coming to a phrase in one of the hymns, Telemachus began singing with all his might, his eyes shut. When the preacher started on the sermon, Telemachus too was by now taking a lively interest in it all. He was leaning forward, with his two elbows on the gallery's rail. He was listening intently, his face the living expression of the interest he took in the truths proclaimed from the pulpit. And whenever he heard delicious things of the kind he loved to hear, he would study the faces of others – Luke or Mathew – to see what effect the message was having on them. Yes, Telemachus was a listener second to none, and during the week he would reflect, as it were, in readiness for the Fellowship meeting on Thursday evening.
He was very fond of Sunday School and Bible Class. The way he went about it was this: he would wait to see how the wind was blowing, and after listening to the opinion of the teacher, and to everyone else's, he would argue against them. And then, fervently and loudly, until such time as the Superintendent rang the bell to bring the Sunday School to a close. I enquired of him once, "You don't really believe what you were saying today, do you, Telemachus?" This was his reply: "The great thing is to have a discussion, and something to argue about," and there was a twinkle in his eye. To corner him in the debate was as difficult as catching an eel under a stone. He would stick to his point of view and never concede that the argument had been lost.
During week-day meetings in the first year of my ministry at Jerusalem, Telemachus used to sit in a seat at the back of the room, getting to his feet now and again to bear testimony, and always in his own unique style. He had a good memory and could remember the more incisive observations of all the preachers who had ever been in Jerusalem's pulpit over the years. Something along these lines, for example: "I well recall Mary from Bethlehem saying once at a big meeting," ‘Where do you keep Jesus Christ – in your head or in your heart? If He's in your head, it's look-out, my boy, because someone will come by one day with a better head than yours, and you'll lose your Saviour. But if He's in your heart, He'll be safe in there, and you'll have Him for all eternity." "Yes, friends, Jesus Christ is safe enough if He's in your hearts." And with such sayings as this, he kept our lively interest in the Fellowship.
Aeolus, one of the old deacons, was not content to see Telemachus getting to his feet so boldly, and one Thursday evening the old fellow expressed his disapproval while standing on the pavement outside the room. "If you won't go down on your knees occasionally in the Prayer Meeting, don't you go getting up on your hind legs in the Fellowship!" Telemachus took the rebuke mildly. But after he became a deacon he would always come forward and was often called upon ‘to work' – the local expression for taking part in prayer.
Just a few years after I first knew him, Telemachus married one of the girls from the village – to everyone's great surprise. Then, before very long, he and his wife went to look after Chapel House. And so a new chapter started in his life. I dare say that nobody was quite like the man at Chapel House. He had a high opinion of the preachers of his denomination, and he took delight in their company, both old and young, from one Sunday to the next. He would insist on arguing with them, each in turn, although the remarks were always friendly. "Great was the argument", in the parlor of Chapel House, but all in a brotherly spirit, of course.
At last, the time came for Telemachus to go the way of all flesh. He slowly faded away, and everyone was aware that he was being gathered. The end came one Sunday afternoon. He had been at the morning-service and taken his usual place in the afternoon as a teacher of the women's class. He opened the discussion, then sat down to allow the women to air their views about the matter under discussion. The blow fell upon him unawares during Sunday School. He was carried home and died there quietly and at peace. The district had lost one of its most remarkable characters and an amusing and kind-hearted friend. I trust that now and in the years to come, Byzantine will continue to produce men like Telemachus to enrich the life of the old valleys that have contributed so much to the religious and social life of our country.
Bible, New International Version. New York: Biblegateway.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Canterbury tales and other Selected Works. Translated into modern English by Nevill Coghill. New York: Penguin Publishers, 1989.
Homer, Richmond Lattimore (trans), The Odyssey of Homer. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1999.