Who is Old, Who is Young?

By Jim Belderis

Patros and Odis were fishermen from Delos, the island of Apollo's birth. As was the custom, they were sent in tribute to be boatmen on the Lake of Avernus. It was an honor — and their heads were crowned with laurel. And yet, in only seven weeks they would be replaced — for it was not a pleasant task: they ferried passengers to the Cavern of Dying Souls, the pathway to the Underworld.

Odis was an able seaman, young and strong and full of health. "The old and sick will drain me of my strength," he told himself, and avoided them as much as possible. As quickly as he could, he ferried them across without a word of solace. In another month he would return to Delos, and all this misery could be forgotten.

Patros, on the other hand, was far beyond his prime. The strength and the endurance of his youth were in decline, and he made the passage very slowly. But instead of being oppressed by his surroundings, something in his cheerful nature kept his mind at ease. In fact, he spoke freely with his passengers, as if there was no cause at all for sorrow — with a kindly smile, a gentle touch, and a sparkle in his eyes. He was so disarming that the old and sick forgot their sadness and enjoyed themselves. "You have traveled here before," he would tell them. "This vessel stays, but you go on to the farther shore."

At the landing of the Cavern, there was only room for one boat at a time. And so it chanced one day that Odis had to wait, for Patros was already there. One by one, Patros helped his passengers to the landing, and gave each a fond farewell. But as far as Odis was concerned this was a needless waste of time — and he finally lost his patience: "What in Pluto's name is taking you so long, old man? Hurry up!"

Yet Patros was undaunted. "Old man!" he chuckled. "Pluto is old, not I."

But Odis was in no mood for levity and became incensed with anger and resentment. "Go to Pluto yourself!" he roared. "And take this honor with you!" — and he threw his crown of laurel at the landing. Suddenly a storm of indignation filled the sky, a turbulence so violent that both boats were tossed ashore. So unrelenting was the tempest in its fury — as if the elements were bent on destruction —that everyone was forced to seek the only shelter: the Cavern of Dying Souls.

And thus Odis found himself among the old and sick. Care, Disease, Decrepitude, and Pain — all the demons that could drain him of his strength — cast their shadows upon him, and he stumbled down the pathway to the Underworld.

Down he went deeper and deeper, along the River of Woe, winding ever downward past the River of Lamentation . . . and then the current stopped: the gates of Pluto closed in upon his mind and he was filled with fear. "All is lost," he told himself, and he resigned himself to death.

Just then, he heard the voice of Patros calling out his name: "Odis! Will you not come back with me? You are here before your time."

"No!" cried Odis. "The demons in the passage are too horrible to look upon."

But Patros was unswerving: "Come now, my son. It's not your time to be on the farther shore."

"No, no, no!" Odis sobbed. "I have nothing to look forward to in life but sickness and old age."

Yet Patros would not be dissuaded. From beneath his cloak he lifted up the laurel crown that Odis had cast away: "Is there nothing that you left behind that really needs you still?"

As Odis looked upon the laurel, something deep within him stirred: this was the crown of his family and friends, for they had placed it on his brow. Even in the darkness of the Underworld, he felt it glowing with their care. And as he took it in his hands and bowed his head —he was crowned with light. "I want to go back," he said, "to those who need me still."

So arm in arm, sustained by hope and guided by their fellowship, they ascended to the earth. They walked along the River of Woe —with sympathy and understanding. The demons of infirmity were passed with inner strength, without the slightest fear. And they moved among the old and sick as friends and fellow travelers.

When Odis finally saw the light of day, Patros turned to him and smiled. "Now, my son, you see how misconceptions close the mind? The River of Life is always moving; but we try to stop the current with illusions that we will end when the body dies. Each of us can wear Apollo's crown upon our brow, if only we can find his light within our heart — and this will show us who we really are. Thus can we be guided through our darkest thoughts of death: renewing each other in the fellowship of hope. The light within each of us will be forever young. Only the darkness is old."

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1993; copyright © 1993 Theosophical University Press)


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The sun is peeping in on me as I write. It sends in its light which I then transform into thoughts and words. This, in the great cosmic context, is something very remarkable: that there can arise specific "transformations" of good and of evil as sunlight and shade fill our lives. It makes me think that the Divinity of Thought that exists far beyond and above and within can transform its creative intelligence so that we can not only come in touch with it, but can express it in our own individual way.
So much is happening all the time that is beautiful and fine that if we, just as we are, can seek, perhaps find, change, think, and let our inner natures govern, we can create peace and harmony. The world may thus experience a renewal which will bring humanity face to face with unknown potentials and forces, and be led, as it were, into the sunshine. — Rutger Bergstrom