A decade ago now, when my friends Mary, Elizabeth, and Brian (all of whom were going to lots of AA and Al-Anon meetings at the time; Brian died sober almost eight years ago) and I were on our way to Fiji for a vacation, Elizabeth insisted that I listen to the first few CDs of a book series she'd gotten pretty excited about.
I was underwhelmed by the hype, but seeing as we had a fourteen-hour plane ride from Los Angeles to Nadi (pronounced: "Nandi"), I put up a good front and thanked her in advance for her generosity and thoughtfulness. She'd told me I only had to listen to the first couple of disks (the first book was seven disks, total, if I remember correctly), so since I'd given her my word, I was going to listen to the first couple of disks, and then be done with it.
As an aside, I might mention that we'd decided to go to Fiji because Brian had found round-trip airfares for a fraction of their usual price: the four of us flew for less than a single round-trip fare usually cost. Coupled with an incredible deal at an all-inclusive resort (SCUBA diving, too!), the trip was just too good to pass up.
Once we arrived at Nadi we realized why we'd gotten such incredibly reduced airfares and accommodations: Fiji was in the midst of a military coup. There were Soldiers all over the airport in full battle-rattle to include loaded automatic weapons. As this was pre-9/11, that was a sight that gave more than a little cause for pause.
At the resort, seeing as Australia and New Zealand (from which the bulk of tourists to Fiji come) had place Fiji under embargo, after the second of our ten days, we were virtually the only guests present. The food was the best I'd ever tasted, the beaches were pristine, the diving spectacular, and the staff were incredibly attentive yet unobtrusive.
Everything was good beyond our imagining.
Except for the poisonous snakes.
Well, yellow-lipped sea kraits [Laticauda colubrina (Laticaudinae)], to be exact.
Highly venomous, they produce up to 15 mg of venom, only 10% of which is enough to kill an average-sized human being. On the island of Toberua (pronounced: "Tomberua"), these critters congregate on land in large numbers after dark. Some of them get rather large (1.5 m in length), and they seem even larger when they're slithering around inside the bure (pronounced: "Booray") where we were sleeping each night....
Fortunately for all concerned, they're actually pretty docile, and can be picked up by the tail and tossed back into the sea whence they came. This came in very handy one night when Mary screamed at the sight of a krait attempting to slither into her bure from the front porch.
Brian, ever the gallant one, ran up and grabbed the serpent by its tail just after its head had disappeared into the wall. Yelling through gritted teeth, "Oh no you DON'T!" he pulled the creature out of the wall and threw it, writhing, through the air at least a good thirty feet.
(I don't think Mary has forgiven us yet for failing to mention the presence of those reptiles as we were planning the adventure.)
Anyway, I actually got hooked on the book that Elizabeth had brought for me, and asked if I could 'read' Book Two, which I did on the plane going home. It was eight CDs, and worth every minute.
As heretical as it seems to some in my profession, I actually find Harry Potter to be an allegory of good and evil which is complex and beautiful -- not unlike how life can be. Over the past eight years I've listened to each successive book as it's come out, though I had to wait until I got home from Iraq to 'read' the final installment.
One of the great spells the characters cast causes the recipient to stop dead in his or her tracks, for a time. This has the side effect of preventing the person from speaking, too.
In the aftermath of the disaster in Haiti which defies adequate description, I heard that one media loudmouth had declared over the radio that people shouldn't donate to relief efforts because those donations might make a political figure here in the States look good (what kind of reasoning is that, anyway??), and that another had blamed the people of Haiti for the earthquake which has wrought so much death and destruction, I found myself really wishing for a magic wand and the ability to shout, "STUPEFY!"
Blessings and peace to one and all,
Fr. Tim, SJ