This morning I spent long hours working through the significance of those events by the pool. True to form, I began to conceptualize a biblical understanding of what I’d seen. This is my favorite coping mechanism, the one that produces the best results, and I’m certain that ruminating about the spinefish toxin is certainly not going to be the last of my cultural exegesis.
Lin and I cornered Chris to tell him what we had experienced. He didn’t want to hear about it at first, and then he didn’t want to understand. Frustrated, I finally blurted out, “It’s like sin.”
That got more of Lin’s attention than Chris’s.
“What?” she asked, her oppositional atheism kicking in.
“Those needles from the spinefish are like sin.” Lin started to interrupt, but I held up a hand and begged for a moment to continue. “This is the way I understand things.”
“All right, preacher-man,” Chris nodded, “Let’s hear it.”
“Sin infects you. So does the spinefish. The effects aren’t immediate, but they keep growing. You get worse over time. You lose control over your behavior. You aren’t yourself anymore. And then, one way or another, you die.”
Lin shot me a withering look. “Chris, it’s a toxin. The chemical works through the body slowly, before sending the infected person into an adrenaline-fueled rage. They don’t seem to have a cure. What we saw was pretty intense.”
“That’s what I just said,” I protested.
“No,” said Lin, “it wasn’t.”
“They killed a kid?” Chris asked.
I was unclear where Chris was headed with this. “He wasn’t himself anymore,” I answered. “He was crazy, trying to hurt everyone.”
“Bible boy, do me a favor.” I looked at Chris, my lips wired into a grimace. “I’ve got lots more sinning to do, and getting dead would slow me down, so don’t kill me next time I’m not myself, all right?”
“David,” Lin began, ignoring Chris altogether. “What they did to that boy was inhumane. We need to address it.”
“Wait a minute, Lin, I thought you were supposed to be a scientist. You’re supposed to be objective, detached, studying other cultures without judgment.”
“You can judge for all of us, Jesus Junior,” said my ugly opposite.
Lin continued to ignore Chris. “I’m sorry, David. I can be objective about flora and fauna but not about people. They killed a child.”
“I get that, Lin. It’s not like I enjoyed watching. But I’m not ready to call foul ball on the entire underwater world based on something we just saw that we hardly understand. Think about it. The man who killed himself was already visibly affected by the toxin. Once the toxin got hold of the little boy, he became uncontrollable. He was a danger to everyone around him. When the man knew he was about to become dangerous, he sacrificed himself. He was willing to risk his life to stop the little boy, and he was willing to give his life to protect the rest of us. He refused to become a threat, and became an offering instead.”
“So, what? He was Mr. Hyde?” Chris asked.
“Yes,” I began. “The boy’s actions cost that man his life as well.”
“The one who drank the magic powder before committing ritual suicide?” Chris was prodding now. “What kind of Sunday school did you go to?”
That was the tone of the evening, Lin and I debating the relative merits and ethics of tribal justice, with Chris lobbing in the mean-spirited grenades of neo-paganism from the sidelines.
It was a long night.