There were two specific memories of my early childhood that ruled my mind. The first was the story of my birth that Father would tell me every Friday evening. The second was a lesson about God that my Father would send me into the world with each day.
As for my birth, Father told the story in a variety of fashions, but it always brought him laughter. I cannot retell the story for you, for it takes on new shapes and shades with each attempt at recollection. The facts of the story are that Mother gave birth to me when she was 45 years of age. I was the seventh (and last) child born to my Father through her. My birth brought them laughter, though Mother would not admit to it.
As for my lesson, there was no such laughter. Father would arrive at the foot of my bed and shake my leg. I would sit up, facing him. I would watch as he rotated the large pictures before my eyes. Neither of us would speak. We would go through the set of ten pictures seven times. The first nine pictures were of kings in all their glory, elegantly robed and crowned, surrounded by their men, ruling their kingdoms from castles. The last was a picture of Jesus, stripped and bloodied with a thorn of crowns, abandoned by his men, ruling his kingdom from a cross.
At the age of 21, I discovered the reason for the laughter and the lessons. On this Friday, the earth would shake from my family’s inescapable curse. Five of my siblings had died by this time in my life, and the constant melancholy filled my home with the odor of death. Only my older brother, Peter, and I remained. His name came from my Father’s, and mine came from Mother’s. The names of the others rested on tombstones.
Father woke me with the pictures. I sat in silence. Then, for the first time ever, he ended the lesson with spoken words. “Arise. We must go away this weekend.”
For the first time ever, I ended this lesson with a smile, and excitedly stated, “Great. I’ll tell Peter and Mother.”
“They will not be coming.”
We made our trek through the mountains of Denmark until, on the third day, Father found the spot he was seeking. Because he carried no map, I wondered if he had been here before or if he was following a vision. I placed the firewood I had been carrying onto the ground and turned to Father, who stood still, facing the mountain, holding his axe. It was at this moment that I understood. I would be the sixth to die, and my Mother’s name would rest upon a tombstone.
I piled the wood as an alter and lied upon it, looking to the heavens through the always overcast skies. As Father approached, I unfolded my arms, stretching them outward. This was my cross. Father kneeled over me. As tears rolled from my eyes onto the wood and Father’s tears fell from his face onto my chest, he raised the axe.
“Father, look. A ram,” I said softly.
With these words, I closed my eyes and gave my spirit to God.
Three years passed before I saw Father again. With great joy, we reconciled. Mother had since passed, and Peter was a minister to a numerous flock. Peter was sure to carry on Father’s name. Father was 82, and Father was dying. We talked about mother. We talked about my birth and their laughter. We talked about the lessons. We did not talk about the mountain. I knew I would soon be killed by the hands of our family’s curse. It was the year 1838.
In the year 1855, I returned to the mountain with Peter, ten large pictures, firewood, an axe, and two stories. I told him of the lessons and the story of my birth that brought our parents laughter. He told me of the insane jealousy it caused him to be left out of these rituals. I laid my back upon the wood and stretched my hands out upon the altar. Peter kneeled over me, holding the axe above his head. My tears fell upon the wood and his tears fell upon my chest.
I saw no ram.
I closed my eyes.
We simultaneously screamed, “Father!”
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The above story is an interlaced, juxtaposed telling of Denmark’s Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and the biblical Isaac through an existential lens, crafted by complementing a reading of the book of Genesis with Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and his biography. It is written through the utilization of dramatic, Socratic, and conventional irony - thus the use of the biblical reference of laughter, ‘lied’ and ‘laid’, and the two lessons (as examples).
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