An Introduction to the Island
The two clean-cut young men who stood expectantly on Catherine Barrington’s doorstep looked so wholesome and inviting that she would never have guessed the destruction that lay in wait for her as a result of her introduction to them. It should be pointed out in their defence that they also would end up providing her with a way to overcome the loneliness which had engulfed her ever since she had been a young child. Upon this occasion, Catherine invited the guests in. They said they wanted to talk to her about something very important. Catherine shared the house with her mother. The relationship between these two women was very close and based on mutual admiration and respect. They cared so much about each other that they were willing to sacrifice their own happiness for that of the other. It turned out that Catherine’s mother knew these young men, because they had approached her one day while she was grocery shopping and she had encouraged them to come over today to talk about this important issue.
Catherine quickly discovered that the important issue in question involved life on an island of which Catherine had never heard. The more they heard about it, however, the more that her mother and she desired to hear even more. There was certainly a lot to learn. There were numerous rules and regulations that governed life on the island for those willing to live on it. Once on the island, should these rules be seriously broken, removal from the island was handled with promptness. Catherine did not mind this, in theory, because she was conservative by nature and saw no problem with some people enjoying more power than others. Her mother also accepted the general idea of the island as suggested by those whose mission it was to acquaint as many people as possible with the glorious benefits of life in that transcendent location. On this first visit to the Barrington home, the two young men, whose names were Matthew Hollis and Tristan Beck, informed Catherine and her mother, Clara, that one of the most important regulations was that there be no alcohol or cigarette smoking on the island. The island itself was a prototype for the kind of rapture that awaits those whose lives on the island prepare them for eventual bliss. Neither Catherine nor Clara minded the idea of no drinking or smoking, since the only drinking that occurred in the Barrington household was an occasional glass of white wine or champagne at Christmas time, and as far as smoking went, it simply never happened. Apparently, life on the island was dedicated to making everyone who dwelled on it as happy as possible because that is our purpose on earth, to glorify it and its Creator by stretching one’s potential to its fullest capacity.
Abraham Maslow, the creator of the idea of different levels of needs, would have immediately understood this focus on being the best person we can possibly be. According to Maslow, the highest needs we as humans have is that of self-actualization. This means that we are living life according to our fullest potential and taking advantage of our natural skills and abilities. Smoking and drinking do not allow for self-actualization because they interfere with our capacity to make decisions as clearly as we need to in order to maximize our success in life, the two young men explained.
Catherine was certainly not living to her fullest potential. All of her life she had suffered from health problems, none of them extremely serious, but all of them inconvenient. She could not eat apples because they hurt her stomach. She could not drink milk because she developed bronchitis whenever she drank it, even if she had suffered from the illness only a month or two before. Clara, while healthier overall, had recently broken her hip on winter’s ice while she fetched food for the family dog and so suffered a good deal of pain from that. Clara lived her life with Christian fortitude, Catherine less so. For Catherine had a propensity toward feeling sorry for herself. The aforementioned health problems had sheltered Catherine from outside influences, some of which she would have enjoyed experiencing, and would have aided her social and moral development. For example, she often prayed that she would find a friend to share her time with. Catherine was a woman who felt things deeply. She was hypersensitive to a fault. She was also extremely naive. She did not understand the world around her, which perhaps is why she was so receptive to the world introduced to her by Matthew Hollis and Tristan Beck. They took the time to tell her about a world that they seemed to know everything about, while she was struggling with one that it seemed like she would never be able to understand. From as early as she could remember, an overwhelming sense of loneliness had enveloped her. However, it must also be stated that Catherine, in spite of her good intentions, did not always treat others the way her heart would have wished. On the occasion of her sixth birthday, an acquaintance from school had gifted her with a model boat, thinking for some reason that she would like it.
“I’m not a boy,” she insisted, offended that she would be given a present which bore no resemblance to anything for which she would have wished. The other child, not impressed with Catherine’s honesty about whether or not she liked the gift, did not visit the Barrington household again. So Catherine became more and more lonely, because of such incidents, cut off from the rest of the world. It is hard to say which came first, her lack of understanding about how to interact in a positive way with others, or her lack of success with others. She had a vague feeling that there was a personality somewhere there, submerged under years of no chance to use it. But she was not sure. Maybe I should pray for one. Does anyone ever pray for a personality?, she wondered. She was willing to try anything to become happy.
One of the reasons why Catherine was lonely, something over which she had no control, was the fact that her mother’s employment was to take in senior citizens who were developmentally disabled and needed living assistance. As well, the Barrington household was home to a variety of foster brothers and sisters for Catherine. Her mother had two natural daughters, and had adopted Catherine when she was three days old. This added to Catherine’s sense of loneliness because there was no permanence to the relationships that she engaged in. Some of the siblings Catherine would have liked to have gotten to know better, but invariably they would find another home. Of course, Catherine was glad for them that they eventually became settled, but she yearned for more stability of her own. She would have liked an entire family populated by people exactly like her mother. However, because of the age difference between Catherine and the rest of her siblings, she spent much of her time alone in a fantasy world of her own making. She walked alone, she talked to herself alone, and in fact lived much of her life alone. But oh, how she loved to read. She felt that reading afforded her a chance to travel when her pocketbook alone would not have done so. The earliest books she could remember receiving were Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. She remembered on Saturdays when her mother had gone in the car on small road trips, picking up used books at yard sales. Catherine reacted with glee whenever her mother would return home with half a dozen Nancy Drew books, which Catherine would finish in a few days. The first Agatha Christie that Catherine remembered reading was Elephants Can Remember. Ever since, she had read Christie with awe, and had actually read every book multiple times. She often wondered what had impressed upon her mother the decision to select one of Christie’s books. Whatever the reason, Catherine was very grateful things had turned out the way they did, because Christie’s world view entranced her. There was a sense of hope to it, a wit, that Catherine definitely appreciated. Catherine suspected that she had wit, but she was not sure. She would later discover that she did possess it, but it was often expressed in the form of sarcasm.
Catherine came out of her reverie to hear her mother asking if the young men could explain what happened on the island. Clara had always been interested in learning more about how to live a happy life. She had always been spiritually curious, and had prayed several times daily all her life. Everyone who knew Clara loved her because she was that rare human being who cared more for others than she did herself. And she didn’t try to be this way. She was this way as a natural expression of her fundamentally decent humanity. Catherine had good intentions but was not on the same spiritual plane as her mother. Still, she cared deeply about the difference between right and wrong, and possessed a basically kind nature. She assumed that everyone was like she was, and that barring extreme circumstances, they would not take advantage in an unfair way of others for their own gain, or through ignorance.
It was at this point that Catherine’s daydreams about how nice the weather had been lately were interrupted by her mother’s asking about life on the island. She was interested in their answer. According to Matthew and Tristan, life on the island was a paradise compared to the rest of the world. It was imperative that both Catherine and Clara move to the island as soon as possible, so that they could enjoy the benefits of that sublime location. On the island, people treated each other with kindness, always offering them the benefit of the doubt, never judging. Or at least the sin was judged, but not the sinner. Tristan suddenly cleared his throat and became extremely serious. He explained, “God is perfect. We are not. So a bridge had to be built between us so that we could return to live with Him someday. The bridge was the Atonement. Jesus died on the cross for us, because natural law decrees that sins have to be suffered for so that purity is retained. There are natural consequences to our actions. Not only did He die for us collectively, but He died for each of us as individuals. The Atonement is the greatest gift to humankind that the world has ever seen, and without it we would surely be destroyed forever.”
This made Catherine feel wonderful. She wanted to be a part of this new world more than anything she had ever heard about. Could it all be true? She had lost a spelling bee to a fellow student one year in elementary school because she had not known how to spell ‘disciple,’ so little was her literary exposure to religion. At the time, she had been amused by this and said that of course she would have tripped up on a word of religious meaning! She asked now, “What if people can’t go to the island? What if they have never heard of it because people like you haven’t visited them?”
Tristan replied, “People will not be judged if they haven’t had an opportunity to hear the truth about the island. They will only be judged if they were exposed to the truth, and then turned their backs on it.”
Catherine had noticed before that Tristan seemed to be the dominant one in terms of his relationship to Matthew. Matthew did not talk much, although she could tell from his facial expression that he believed just as strongly in the island as his colleague did.
Clara asked, “What if a person knows about the island but can’t move there?” She was thinking about her own health problems.
Matthew leaned forward. “Mrs. Barrington, no one is going to be treated unfairly in this life if we can help it. If you honestly and sincerely can’t make it to the island, but live in a way that would make you worthy of living on the island, then your heart is right with God and there won’t be any problem. Also, there are satellite buildings where the same principles are taught. It is better to live actually on the island, but you will be forgiven if you have to make other arrangements.”
Clara nodded, comforted. Her hip possibly meant that a trip to any island was out of the question. But she did hope that Catherine would be able to make it there. She worried about Catherine because she knew her daughter was inordinately sensitive in a way that was not healthy. She was different from the rest of the family. She felt things more deeply. But she did not always feel things correctly, meaning that she reacted out of proportion to the reality of a situation. She lived in a fantasy world, and Clara often worried about what was ahead for Catherine. Clara regretted now that she had not let Catherine and the other children into the kitchen when Clara was cooking. Now Catherine couldn’t cook (although the others had picked it up anyway) and really had no idea how to run a house. She lived a secluded life, which dated back to when she was sick all the time as a child. She had missed entire semesters of school due to chronic sinusitis and recurrent bronchitis. She had never had a problem catching up, but Clara knew that staying home so much had unfortunately compromised Catherine’s social life.
Tristan continued, “Life on the island is different from anything you have experienced.” His voice grew louder, due to his excitement. It was like he was a child sharing a Christmas gift with someone he loved. He didn’t want the benefit only for himself; he wanted to share it with the world. “We really live the Ten Commandments. No one on the island is perfect, and they do not pretend to be, but it does serve as a foundation or basis that people build their lives on. If someone steals, they have to work for the value of what they stole. If they lie, then they have to apologize to the person they lied to and they tell everyone about the lie so that they can undo as much of the damage as possible.”
Catherine was confused. “What damage do you mean?”
“Whenever someone tells a lie,” responded Tristan, “people’s understanding of human nature is altered. People gain maturity in life through the events that they experience. For example, suppose that someone told a lie about someone else’s character. A person gets a false idea about their character. Or suppose that person who has been the victim of slander is essentially a good person who tries hard to be decent. The person who hears the lie receives a false impression of the person being lied about. Although we should not judge, ever, it is human nature that if we hear something about someone else, we draw conclusions about people and about human nature in general. So if we tell a lie about someone, we are contributing to someone understanding lessons about life that are simply not true. So people reach decisions about life and the people they know in it based on false information. In old age, they remember lessons that are based on inaccuracies. Also, we gain an understanding of the world through our interactions with it. Our understanding of the world will be faulty if our experiences are tainted with lies.”
Matthew interjected, “On the island, it is not as if bad things never happen. But when they do happen, people react in the right way.”
Clara murmured, “It sounds absolutely wonderful.”
Catherine said nothing, but was equally impressed.
Tristan said, “Every week, everyone on the island gathers together to hear talks about how to live a better life and celebrate God.”
The building must be huge, Catherine thought. As if reading her mind, Tristan continued, “Weather on the island is always perfect, so there is no problem with arranging surround sound so that everyone can hear the talks.”
“Do different people give talks on different weeks, or is it always the same people? And is there more than one building?”
“It’s always different people. One day it might be a schoolteacher, another day it might be a janitor. Another day it could be a politician. People’s careers don’t matter on the island. Everyone is entitled to give their opinion in a talk, although for the most part, specific people are requested to give talks based on their level of spirituality. There are also satellite buildings on the island, different island communities, for those who cannot make it into the capital city on a regular basis, or ever.”
“What if they say something wrong?” Catherine had the type of personality where she always saw the worst possible scenario so that she could properly prepare for it.
“That doesn’t happen often because people on the island read books and articles every day so that they are familiar with what is going on in the world. They always have informed opinions. They do not need to be a psychologist, for example, to understand human psychology.”
Both Clara and Catherine liked and respected this egalitarian philosophy.
Matthew told them, “One week a month, people also deliver personal stories about how living on the island has helped them. This helps comfort people who might be going through a rough time.”
Catherine, the book lover, asked, “Is there a book that people start off with so they can learn more about the island?” She wanted to get started as soon as possible. She told herself that she would read six chapters a day until she completed it, so that she could quickly move on to the next one.
“Yes, there is,” Matthew said, nodding his head. “It’s a book about policies and procedures that says who is worthy to be on the island, and who is not. It’s basically a handbook.”
Almost unrealized by Catherine herself was a thought, lightning fast across her mind, of what had happened the last time she had been swimming. She did not understand why that thought had crossed her mind in such a sudden and irrelevant manner, but she pushed it out of her mind so that she could concentrate on what their visitors were saying. Still, a sense of foreboding threatened to make such concentration difficult.
She asked now, “What happens if someone is found to be not worthy?” She realized she sounded kind of pretentious when she asked this, but did not know how to ask the question any differently.
“What happens,” Tristan answered, “is that they are dismissed from the island. But they are always invited to return as long as they stop doing whatever got them evicted in the first place. Life on the island is always governed in a fair and rational manner,” he stated.
Catherine was sure that she would not have to worry about this since she did not do anything majorly wrong as far as she could see, although she clearly remembered the scripture that said that Jesus had said He was not good. If He was not good, Catherine reasoned, then certainly no one on earth could say they were. Although Catherine would never have described herself as a spiritual person growing up, she had prayed and read scriptures. If Catherine would have said anyone was good, it would have been her mother, because Catherine knew of no better role model.
Matthew said, “Someone can always appeal if they disagree with a decision that has been made, also.”
“Who makes the decision about all of this?”, Clara asked.
“The island’s leaders decide these matters.”
“Who are the leaders?”
“They are decided on by people who have already led the island. There are twelve men who at any one time are considered the leaders of the island. When one dies, they are replaced by someone who is agreed upon by the other eleven leaders. And heading the twelve is the Island Seer.”
“What if one of the leaders is evicted from the island? Do the other leaders agree on a replacement under those circumstances, too?”, Clara asked.
A profoundly shocked Tristan and Matthew said in unison, “That would never happen! Leaders are role models for the rest of the people on the island.”
Clara said, “But surely sometimes the island’s leaders do something wrong that requires punishment?”
“No, no,” Matthew spoke out strongly in defense of the leaders. “They behave circumspectly at all times because they are so aware of the consequences of behaving badly.”
Clara was still unsure. “But what if they are trying to do what is right, but are wrong?”
“Wrong?”, Matthew asked, confused momentarily. “What do you mean?”
She explained, “Well, what if they are living a good life and sincerely trying to be good, but what if they give advice to someone that isn’t right? Like what if they say that someone isn’t worthy to be on the island, but they are?”
Both Matthew and Tristan waved away such an absurd idea. “That would not happen. But, anyway, let’s talk more about life on the island. It’s to help us prepare for the day when we die.”
Catherine had always wondered. “What happens when we die?” She had always had a vague notion about being asleep forever, which depressed her. It seemed so boring, somehow.
“That’s one of the best things about the message that we are trying to deliver,” Tristan said excitedly. “After we die, we are in a state of suspension, awaiting Judgment Day. It takes nine months for a baby to be born on earth, and it takes nine months for a spirit to pass from this life fully to the next. During that nine months, we are given a mentor, someone close to us while we were on earth, someone we have built a relationship of trust with so that we understand and appreciate what they say. If people haven’t heard about the island, then they will be taught there.”
This made sense to Catherine because when her grandfather had died, just before the moment when his spirit passed, his eyes had widened while he was lying in the hospital bed, and he had said excitedly but weakly, “Frank?” Frank had been his best friend on earth. So Catherine believed what Tristan was telling them, because it fit in with her own personal experience.
Tristan continued, “When we die, if we have already learned about the island, and either lived there or lived as though we were worthy to live there, then we will be a mentor to someone else.”
“What if someone believes in God, but they call Him by a different name and don’t live on the island?”, Clara wished to know.
“In that case,” Matthew responded, “they will be mentored by an islander. An islander refers to either someone who has lived on the island themselves or if circumstances had permitted them during life on earth, they would have been worthy to live on the island. They would not, of course, receive the same privileges as an islander.”
“What if they were a righteous Muslim?” Clara asked. She knew several.
“Then they will receive credit for being righteous, but they would not be a mentor because they would not have the whole truth.”
This seemed distinctly unfair to both Clara and Catherine. Catherine asked, “But what if they really believe that their version of the island is the right one? Don’t good intentions matter?”
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” Matthew replied, somewhat pompously.
Catherine and Clara were uncomfortable with how glibly this otherwise pleasant young man consigned someone to hell. If someone truly thought someone else was going to hell, Catherine wondered, shouldn’t it make them extremely uncomfortable? What was more important, she thought to herself, the doctrine, or the heart? And why couldn’t the heart be the doctrine? In other words, why couldn’t the island, such as it was, be built on the idea of the heart rather than a list of policies and procedures? A memory stirred, and she asked, “Do you have the book of policies and procedures with you?”
Matthew said yes, and pulled one out of his briefcase in mere seconds.
Catherine looked through it. Clara did not, as she did not have the love of reading possessed by her daughter. Catherine glanced briefly at various pages, trying to get a quick feel for what kind of things the book was saying. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective, she did not notice what was on page 29 of the manual.
While Catherine was absorbed in skimming the manual, Tristan said to Clara, “The important thing to remember is that if someone is Muslim, for example, they already have part of the truth. So it’s much better than not believing in God at all. They are already spiritual people, on their way to receiving all of the joy that an islander feels.”
Catherine kind of thought out loud when she said, “Christians call Him God. Muslims call Him Allah. I call my mother Mum. My niece calls her Gammy. Other people call her Clara. But she’s the same being, just known by different names depending on who is referring to her. Isn’t it the same with God?”
Matthew said, “It’s true that different people call Him different names. But the Bible says there is only one path to God.”
Catherine argued, although she didn’t really mean to argue, “But isn’t the path travelled by the heart, rather than geographically through a particular island?”
Tristan bristled. “That’s not true at all. The Bible says there is only one path, and that is through Jesus. If a person does not accept His Atonement, then they cannot go to heaven.”
Catherine could see no problem with this. Either the Atonement were true, or it were not. If it were, as she believed, then she supposed that if a person did not believe in it, then they probably would not be eternally happy through guilt at not having believed in it in the first place. But it was Matthew (and Tristan’s) blithe dismissal of such individuals to eternal suffering that troubled her. Catherine had always believed in the Atonement, inasmuch as she had thought about it. She had done so in a general way, but had never really internalized it before.
Clara asked, “Where exactly is this island?”
Tristan told her that they could not reveal that at the present time, but upon further discussion, once Catherine and she were at the appropriate level of spiritual learning, they could then discover the actual location of the island. This was not because anything was secret about it. The truth was available to anyone. But it was important that people had the right spiritual attitude about the island before being aware of its exact location, because otherwise the idea of the island would be debased. Matthew said, “The book that you are looking at, Catherine, has to be memorized in its entirety and lived to the fullest possible use by a potential islander before they can go there or be considered worthy of going there.”
Catherine, who had a splendid memory, still found this piece of news astonishing. “You have to memorize the whole book?” Clara, too, was nonplussed by this revelation.
“It’s not as bad as it seems,” both Matthew and Tristan assured them. “The manual is 46 pages in length, but some of the pages do not have much written on them and it is all common sense.”