Christian Short Stories

A Lonesome Rider
By Web Ruble

Web writes: "Some 50 years ago when I was in the army in Europe, a friend and myself took leave and headed for the Holy Land. On the last leg to Jerusalem, we saw two incredible sights in the middle of the sandy wilderness."

The plane took off smoothly enough.

Perhaps it was too smooth. I hadn’t anticipated it, but now it appeared this would be a routine, uneventful flight across the seemingly featureless sandy desert between Damascus and Jerusalem.

Over the mountains that divide Lebanon from Syria, I had taken out my camera to grab a couple shots of the mildly impressive sweeping mountains. A stewardess had arrived almost immediately to say, “No no. No pictures allowed . . . this is Syria.”

“You’re serious. Syria?” (I was trying to be funny.)

“Syria.” (She wasn’t.)

So I had tucked my camera back into my tucker bag. And had gone back to staring out the window.

It didn’t matter. I had plenty of pictures already. I really didn’t need any of Damascus or Syria. Especially from what I had seen so far. Except for the Lebanon-Syria border mountains, there was nothing but scabland. The disappointment was no biggie

The crude map I was carrying showed some interesting topography -- a range or two of mountains, the Golan Heights, Jordan River, and Sea of Galilee and the Jezreel Valley -- that we would be flying over. Yet I was seeing nothing but wasteland. Perhaps, because I was aboard an Air Liban (Arab) aircraft we were trying to avoid flying over Israeli territory. My guess was we were thus flying a little farther east, as if we first were going to Amman, Jordan. It was possible. I didn’t know.

The only thing I was relatively certain of was that within 2 to 2 1/2 hours I was to be in Jerusalem.

My plan was to join a traveling companion – Tony Pentecost Wren, a compadre American soldier stationed near me in Germany -- in Arab Jerusalem. He had gone straight to Jerusalem from Cairo, Egypt, whereas I had taken a side trip to Lebanon. We were to re-link in Arab Jerusalem for the trip into Israel and our homeward boat to Germany.

It was August 1958, some nine years before the 1967 war which ended with the Israelis occupying all of Jerusalem and surrounding West Bank territory. So Palestine and Jerusalem was split between Arab and Israeli. The old walled city of Jerusalem – harboring most of the Christian Biblical sites -- at that moment, was in the Arab sector. And that was why we were there, of course -- to tour the Christian spots.

Oh, one could cross the Israeli-Jordanian border in Jerusalem, but only once (in one direction). And being as our boat left from Haifa, Israel, we had to travel through all of the Arab places we wanted to visit first. Then we could cross into Israel and catch our boat.

Well, I refocused. Nevertheless, as we flew over the endless brown-gray Desdemona sands -- not a village, nor a wadi, a river, nor a sizeable mountain in sight – my mind drifted to the possible adventures that myself and Tony (if I could find him at the YMCA youth hostel where he said he would be) would have trying to negotiate the Mandelbaum Gate into Israel, catching an intercity taxi to Haifa, and boarding our boat for Greece and Germany.

I was thus so contemplating when I happened to look down on the scabland and saw something moving.


Look again. Yes, there ‘twas. A well-robed Arab astride a heavily laden donkey headed for . . . . nowhere. Nothing appeared in any direction as far as I could see. He was sashaying along in a southwesterly direction. I was aghast.

Moreover, it appeared to be bake-oven hot out there. I couldn’t tell for sure as I was in an air-conditioned plane. But my guess was it was about 120 degrees on that dunes track in merciless midday sun. There was nary a palm, a tree, nor any kind of shelter in sight. Yet he was drifting along like a shifting dune.

He got my attention. I had to ask myself: where on earth could he be going? Poor guy. And for that matter, poor donkey, laboring as he was.

It bothered me.

Later that evening Tony and I somehow miraculously linked in Jerusalem. We had a good dinner, some wine, and told one another adventure tales. Nevertheless, that lonesome donkey rider still bothered me.

Tony chimed in with his own spectacular wonder. It was similar to mine, but perhaps even more bizarre: After his plane left the Cairo airport it headed east for the Red Sea, dodging around Israel as it set a round-about course for Jerusalem.

Somewhere over the vast Sinai he looked down to see a lone figure -- in running shorts and running shoes and white t-shirt -- striding along a barely traceable path in the sand duned middle of nowhere. Tony said he appeared to be a distance runner training. However, he said there was no aid car accompanying him and he was alone -- miles from anything. It was well above 100 degrees out there, for sure, and not a blade of grass or palm for shade anywhere.

Tony said he was incredulous: What was the runner’s intended destination? What would happen if he got sick or sun struck? Or flattened in heat prostration? Or if he got dehydrated with an extreme case of the cotton-mouth, sandpaper thirsties?

When I retired for the night, I said a prayer for that lone rider and his donkey -- hoping the rider knew where he was going and how to get there. I asked God that the rider manage it without extreme suffering and death. I also said a prayer for the scorched harrier who appeared to be legging it for . . . Hades.

Two prayers for dudes in the deadly dunes.

I was almost certain God was pleased.

(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)

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