Set in 6th century Wales, the elderly St. Brendan is in conversation with Gildas, a Welsh monk and scribe. Finn, Brendan’s friend and follower narrates the story:
“Perhaps we’ve given all but what [God] truly wants,” Brendan said.
“And what is that, Father, if I may be so bold?” Gildas said. You could see he was starting to rue the day Brigit sent us to him and itched to pick up his quill again.
“I only wish I knew for sure,” Brendan said.
Filling the walls of his cell with a mark for each soul he’d won? Sailing the grim deserts of the sea? Starving himself into his grave nearly? Scattering monkeries and nun houses over the green earth like corn at spring planting? Was all that what Heaven wanted of him truly? Was any of that what Heaven wanted of him truly? The question he was asking himself was plain as the furrow between his brows.
“He wants us each one to have a loving heart,” Brendan said. The words came slowly. “When all’s said and done, perhaps that’s the length and breadth of it.”
“You’ll forgive me. I’ve much to do here,” Gildas said. “Wickedness is multiplied and the times of tribulation draw near just as Scripture foretells it. I’ve no time to lose before the end is upon us.” He jabbed his quill in the ink dish like he saw the end gathering in the sky at that very moment like a storm.
“How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,” Brendan said. It was his jesting way of saying all Gildas’s tidings was bad.
Gildas stopped his quill in mid air. “You’d best not look to me for feet,” he said.
Pushing down hard with his fists on the table-top he heaved himself up to where he was standing. For the first time we saw he wanted one leg. It was gone from the knee joint down. He was hopping sideways to reach for his stick in the corner when he lost his balance. He would have fallen in a heap if Brendan hadn’t leapt forward and caught him.
“I’m crippled as the dark world,” Gildas said.
“If it comes to that, which one of us isn’t, my dear?” Brendan said.
Gildas with but one leg. Brendan sure he’d misspent his whole life entirely. Me that had left my wife to follow him and buried our only boy. The truth of what Brendan said stopped all our mouths. We was cripples all of us. For a moment or two there was no sound but the bees.
“To lend each other a hand when we’re falling,” Brendan said. “Perhaps that’s the only work that matters in the end.”