Though None Go With Me

Every so often, in going through piles of papers or forgotten computer files, I discover something that I had completely forgotten I wrote.  Sometimes this can be a rather disturbing experience–especially when I recognize my handwriting but haven’t the slightest memory of writing the story.  Other times, it’s just slightly unsettling and a nice surprise.

Well, I just discovered this short story that I wrote for an English class at the beginning of my college experience.  As the end of college approaches–26 more days until graduation (but who’s counting?)–it seems appropriate to remember what I have accomplished these past five years, so allow me to share it with you.  As a little background, here is what I wrote the thesis and purpose of the story was:

THESIS:  The process of globalization wreaked disaster on vast communities of people and forced cultures to collide and meld together, dealing with racial prejudice such as that experienced when the Irish immigrants arrived in Boston.  The way a person speaks or looks does not matter; it is what is inside.

PURPOSE: Informative in purpose, revealing that feelings towards immigration are strongly tied to globalization (the influx of immigrants to begin with) and the degree to which immigrants become Americanized, and persuasive in purpose, influencing the audience to sympathize with immigrants.

 

Without further ado, here is “Though None Go With Me.”

_________________________________

            “Gentlemen,” Mark Carlisle, his new acquaintance, said, “allow me to introduce Mr. Zachery Taylor, newly arrived here at Harvard.  Mr. Taylor,” he gestured widely around the room, “my friends and peers.”

Zach bowed as the men reclining around the room nodded at him.  One of them, who was more at ease than the others, inspected Zach closely, then asked, “What is your area of study, Mr. Taylor?”

Zach opened his mouth to reply, but Mark answered first, “Medicine, of course.  Would I introduce anyone else to our medical society?”

The man leaned forwards.  “Indeed.  Well, then, your opinion is welcome in our current debate.”  He gestured grandly.  “We are discussing the blemish of the dirty Irish immigrants in this city.  Certainly you will agree with me that their presence is a tremendous risk to our city’s health, for they practice no hygiene and their settlements are rife with deadly diseases.  What do you say?  Should we take steps to, eh, eliminate the problem?”

Zach felt uncomfortable.  I should answer honestly.  Please, Lord, give me courage.  “I-I don’t believe we should.  God created all men equal, and they—I think they have a right to live here.”

The man sat back with a grimace.  “Created equal does not mean they remain equal.  You disappoint me, Mr. Taylor.  You appeared so promising.  Soon you will learn that religion has no place in the academic world.  You are young, though—sixteen?  With time and the right nurturing, you may outgrow your foolish fantasies.”  Having spoken his piece, the conversation continued, with Zach only an observer.  Replies flew around in his head until it was too late to say anything.  He felt discouraged.  I always wait too long, until the moment to say something passes.

When they left, Mark told him, “The one who spoke to you first was Doctor Wright, a medicine professor.  I knew he’d be interested in you.”

Zach smiled faintly.  “Thank you for introducing me.”  They passed a window, and the open air called to him after the last few days of getting settled at Harvard.  “I’m going to walk outside now.”

“Be careful.  Irish pick-pockets are everywhere these days—and don’t stray into their tenement neighborhoods.”

Zach bid him farewell and escaped to Boston’s bustling streets, his mind drifting to his homesickness.  He lost track of his surroundings until a bang from a dropped crate startled him.  Looking around, he discovered he was in a poorer area.  The houses were old and ready to fall in.  Scrawny flea-infested dogs infested lurked about on the filthy streets, looking for food.  A group of disreputable-looking Irish immigrants watched him closely, and his discomfort grew.  In his store-bought suit, he clearly did not belong there.

Someone touched his shoulder.

Mark’s warning rung in his ears as he spun around.  It was a small Irishman, about twenty-two years old, holding a basket of potatoes with a basket of cabbage at his feet.  Zach eyed him distrustfully.  The crimes of the new Irish communities seemed about to target him.

The young man gave him a friendly smile.  “You lost here?” he asked.

Zach looked at him warily and nodded.

“I be Ailín Gallchobhair,” he said, extending his hand.

Zach shook it.  “Allen Gallagher?”

“Close enough.  Who do you be?”

“Zachery Taylor.”

“Now, friend, where do you be from?”  Ailín inquired.  “I can see you aren’t from around here.  Maybe I can help you find your way?”

Despite Mark’s cautionary stories, Zach was an innately trusting person, and Ailín seemed harmless enough.  He told him the truth.

“Harvard, now, that is something,” Ailín observed.  “Aye, I can lead you back there.  Let’s be going now.”  He picked up his cabbage basket and started walking.  “Some heres don’t take kindly to strangers.  We’ve been through a lot, ya know.  They don’t be trustin’ much of anyone.”

“Why did you leave your homes your lives here are like this?” Zach asked.

“Aye, it’s bad here,” Ailín agreed.  “Now, back in Ireland, it’s all green and fresh, not like this Boston be.  But the ground be under a curse, don’t ya know.  Two summers ago, when we harvested the pratás—that be potatoes—their leaves turned black and rotted.  The smell were foul, enough to make ya gag.  The pratás we dug rotted before our eyes in three, four days.  We starved.  When the landlords wanted payment, we were having nothing to give them.  They be threatening to throw us in prison.  We starved for two years, then we had to go.”

“Wasn’t there anything that you could eat?”  Zach asked.

Ailín looked at him in shock.  “The potato be what peasants eat most, don’t ya know?  What else would ya eat?  There were no other food grown much, and we ate berries, nettles, even grass.  We couldn’t even catch fish.  The railroads gave work to a few, but food cost a lot.  We starved.  People died.”

I hadn’t thought of that.  If something similar happened to wheat, I don’t know what we would eat.  They walked in silence until Zach asked, “Is life in America better?”

Ailín’s expression turned wistful.  “No, it be almost as bad.  We don’t have money to buy food or a house.  No one be trusting or liking us.  My wee deirfuír—sister, she’s sick with cholera, my brathair has dysentery, and me ma has typhus.  Me father and the baby starved on the ship, so I be the only one to earn a penny where I can,” he explained.  A chill wind blew down the street, cutting through the dirty shreds of Ailín’s clothes.  Zach noticed him shiver, and his heart sunk further as he recognized his own coat’s warmth.  Guilt clamped down on him.  That’s not good, he told himself.  Remember what Pastor says?  “Guilt is Satan’s version of repentance.  The difference is its fruit: guilt brings death; repentance brings life.  When the enemy tempts you with guilt, don’t surrender!  Do something to remedy the situation.”  What can I do?

They walked the rest of the way in silence, Zach wracking his brain for a solution.  Ailín turned to leave him when the university came in sight, but Zach stopped him.  “Ailín, thank you for helping me,” he said.  “I promise, I’ll do whatever I can to help you and your family.”

Ailín returned his gaze steadily.  Then, he simply said, “We be seeing if you’re true, Mister Taylor,” and disappeared down the street.

That night, Zach sat with Mark and his comrades in an upholstered chair before a warm fire while a kettle of tea filled the room with a homey, appetizing smell, but his mind was in the dirty, cold streets of the Irish shantytown.  I wish I could help Ailín’s family, but I don’t know how.  Lord, if only I had been in school longer, I would know what to do!  But wait—there’s trained doctors right here.  Surely one of them will help ill people, despite their ethnicity.  I’ll ask, and I won’t stop until I find someone to go help those people.   Dr. Wright noticed that their young, new acquaintance’s mind was elsewhere and loudly said, “Mr. Taylor, do share your thoughts.”

His unexpected question startled Zach.  Instantly, his stomach churned and his tongue felt swollen and dry.  All thoughts fled his but one: I have to say it.  With a quick prayer for help, he opened his mouth.  “I…I was thinking…”  Hearing his voice cleared his mind.  “I met an Irish immigrant today.  He told me about—that there is—there are many people ill.  His family has cholera, dysentery, and typhus.  They have nothing, scarcely enough food for one meal a day.  Will one of you help them?  I would, but I don’t know enough.”

Snickers of contempt swept the room.  Dr. Wright disdainfully looked at him with his arms crossed over the gold buttons on his embroidered vest.  “You spoke right that you do not know enough,” he observed to the group.  “Were you more educated, you would know that we of the academy have nothing to do with shantytown Irish shenanigans.  Why should I waste my talent on those drunken fools when plenty of decent folk need my abilities?”

Zach looked around the room and saw the others nodding in agreement.  It infuriated him that men supposedly devoted to helping others refused an opportunity to do just that.  His chin lifted as he replied passionately, “Aren’t you a physician?  Didn’t you take the Hippocratic Oath, vowing to preserve life?  These are people in need of help you can give, people dying for lack of help.  You are able to save a life, yet you refuse for vanity and false pride, calling it decent.  So you don’t believe in the Lord, who calls all men equal.  You are an American, whose Declaration of Independence proclaims, ‘All men are created equal and endowed…with certain inalienable rights, among which [are] life.’  In your arrogance, you rob these humans of one that foundational right.  Surely, you physicians know that underneath their skin and hair, English and Irish immigrants are the same.  Please, won’t you help them?”  The last words were whispered.

Through his whole speech, Dr. Wright and his companions’ expressions remained impassive.  In the ensuing silence, Zach forgot to breathe.  With everything in him, he willed the doctor to agree.

When Dr. Wright spoke, his voice was terse and measured.  “You’ve made your sentiments quite clear, young man.  I know my colleagues, and I answer for all of us once and for all.  We will not disgrace the estimable name of Harvard by squandering our learning on those potato-mongers.  We will hear no more of this from you.  That is an order.  Let me warn you, young Taylor: if you should are rash enough to forsake the council of your elders and, as far as education goes, your betters, we shall expel you from our society forever.  As we constitute the whole medical society here, your life will be that of a loner and outcast.”

Wright’s threat echoed in his mind as he tossed and turned in bed that night.  Voices warred within him.  He had to decide.

They’re God’s creations, just like me.  I must help them, for “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.”  But then I’ll be alone, far from home. 

            “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Thank You for the reminder, my God.  You are with me even here, where no one else believes.  But I don’t want to be outcast by them.  Besides, what can I do?  I don’t know how to heal anyone, and I don’t have the tools if I did.  There, Lord.  I cannot help.  You have to send someone else, because I can’t do it. 

            “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  But what can I do?! 

            I can bring food.  That’s it!  It won’t fix everything, but it will certainly help.  Aunt Clara gave me money for a new coat, but my old one’ll do fine.  I’ll use the money to buy Ailín food.  How’ll I find them?  What’ll people there do to me while I look for him?  Lord, I’m scared!

In the still room, a silent voice breathed love into his weary body and words of Scripture into his mind.  “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.  What can mortal man do to me?”   “‘So do not fear, for I am with you.  Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’”

The room began to lighten in the grey of early dawn when Zach made his decision.  I’m returning.  Though none go with me, I will go.  Settling into his twisted sheets, he finally dropped into a peaceful sleep.

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2 thoughts on “Though None Go With Me

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  1. Reminds me of part of an essay I wrote about the movie Far and Away for my American History class.
    “Learning about the history of other groups of people helps develop acceptance of them and makes us more tolerant. When we see the impoverished state of Joseph’s town, hear the last conversation between him and his father, and watch the landlord’s officer set Joseph’s home ablaze on the day of his father’s funeral, we can empathize with him. We see why he wants to immigrate to America and claim his own land in a foreign country. It dissolves the “us” and “them” mindset. You can tell that even though he’s an Irishman, he’s also a normal person trying to make a decent living just like everybody else.”
    If only all Christians exercised compassion to the marginalized. Even at a Christian college, I am amazed by some of the remarks made by certain professors and guest speakers about immigrants. I hate to be judgey (I made up a new word), but I get the impression that some people have more allegiance to their American “ideals” than to the Kingdom of God…

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