Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Children, Arrows, and Launching

The Bible says that a man’s children are like arrows. That’s Psalm 127.4. And I agree with it. What I never really took the time to do, until now, is understand the meaning. And whether you’re one of those kooks who believe the Bible is divinely inspired (like I do), or an atheist (I don’t believe in atheism personally), the point is still quite apt. In other words, no matter how one looks at the Bible, it’s still useful for study and instruction. So I make no apologies.

Let’s look at this from the following perspective: if children are like arrows, what’s an arrow like? I mean, we live in a totally automatic, instant world. Everything is made on an assembly line and mostly by Chinese robots. But there was a time when the phrase “hand-crafted” was total nonsense because nothing that was crafted was not crafted by hands. Let’s look back to that time to understand better what it takes to make—to craft—an arrow.

First, a good bit of source material on this: Boy’s Life magazine. If you’re gonna make arrows that are worth a damn, the stock from which they come matters a great deal. Typically here in America arrows were made from ash. Shafts have to be light and straight and strong, and ash fits the bill nicely.

Once we’ve found the best branches to use for our arrows, we have to allow them to dry thoroughly. Boy’s Life recommends bundling them in groups of five and letting them sit for a few days. Then the bark can be stripped off.

Now we have to cut notches. The notch in the tail of the arrow shaft is very important because it will be the working surface of the arrow; the part where it is launched by the bowstring. Great care must be taken not to split the wood of the arrow shaft. At the opposite end, the shaft must be notched for cordage—which will allow the arrowhead to be secured to the arrow shaft.

The arrowhead is mounted to the arrow shaft by placing it in the notch along with boiling pitch (tree sap), and then wrapping it with about ten inches of cordage. Traditionally, this is sinew: tendons from deer. It has to be prepped for use by pounding it against rocks to divide the fibers, and then chewing it—the enzymes in saliva help to dissolve the collagen, which makes it hold like glue.

Fletching, or the feathers on the tail of the arrow, must match—they must come from the same side of the wing. The top feather must be aligned with the notch at the tail of the arrow shaft. Feathers are glued to the shaft and then wound with more cordage to secure them.

All this is to say that making an arrow is a bit fussy. It might take more than a day. It might mean that you have to step away from Facebook and football for a while. And it might be more efficient to make more than one, while you’re at it.

So what makes an arrow so special? Besides all this work, I mean? Consider: an arrow is a tool in the hands of a warrior or hunter. An arrow can go swiftly where he cannot. An arrow can kill game for provision or kill enemies for security. An arrow can fly and you cannot. An arrow can outpace a running man or a galloping horse. An arrow can be an incendiary device—the arrowhead can be wrapped in rags and dipped in fuel, set alight, and launched into an enemy position, flushing them out from hiding. It’s a highly adaptable and useful weapon. Most importantly, though, arrows work best in groups. A warrior doesn’t go into battle with a single arrow, after all; he carries a quiver full of them.

Perhaps most bittersweetly, however, an arrow is unique as a weapon system in that it is one of the few weapons designed to be launched and never recovered. Once the warrior or hunter deploys it, sends it along on its course, it goes out and does not come back. Coming back isn’t part of the mission or part of the commander’s intent, as we used to say in the Marines. Depending upon the wisdom and experience and skill of the warrior-hunter, an arrow flies straight and true and strikes the target at which the archer has aimed.

The arrow is part of a delicate and elegant system, one that asserts man’s God-given dominion. It is a valuable expression of the brilliance of mankind. Mostly, though, it’s capital T-true when speaking about fathers and sons. A father spends a great deal of time and effort carefully crafting his sons, preparing them for the day, eventually and inevitably, when the time will be right for him to launch them—proudly, skillfully, confidently—knowing they will strike what they are aimed at, go where he cannot, and provide, secure, influence, invade. We fathers raise up our boys so that one day we can let them go. It is the way of things. God grant us the strength to do it well.

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