A man adrift on a catamaran in the Gulf of Mexico is rescued and brought to a care facility in the Yucatan run by an unconventional Jesuit. The man seems to remember nothing of his past except his name. To speed his recovery, the priest engages him in searching conversations and introduces him to a captivating woman who runs a school for children. As their three lives intertwine and their secrets come to light, they become entangled in a complex web of emotions. Told in poetic prose, The Castaway continues the story begun in Sunset in Sarasota. A romantic tale whose parable-like quality recalls the fiction of Paulo Coelho and Hermann Hesse, it explores the nature of memory, beauty, love and friendship, and offers a profound affirmation of the healing power of words.
It was a fine day.
The tropical sun highlighted the different green tones of the lush foliage in the garden that surrounded a simple one-story, U-shaped building. The main body was fairly long, the two wings at either end stretched out for about 50 feet. It was a whitish building dotted with windows of modest dimensions, all closely spaced. The roof was made of galvanized metal. A prefabricated cement wall edged the perimeter of the garden, and on the inside, cutting through the dense, abundant flora, were narrow walkways and open areas marked off with chairs and benches.
He was sitting on one of the benches, looking like a stranger trying to figure out what he was doing there, and wondering what the building and its garden were used for.
He observed his surroundings in intense silence.
His gaze penetrated the scene, but soon enough his eyes lost all luster, fatigued by the excessive shades of green contrasting with the white of the building and the stretches of grayish cement visible through the thick greenery.
He sat, listless and self-contained, staring vacantly ahead.
He was beset by a certain inexplicable anxiety that seemed to keep admonishing him. "Don’t think, let yourself live." It was like a memory from another life – remnants of experiences much different from his present state and surroundings.
He rose slowly and headed toward the building. There was a door at the center which and revealed a tall, lean man with white hair who a comfortable open-collared white shirt and dark pants. He looked to be close to 70 and had handsome features, an amiable face that inspired trust. He approached the dazed-looking fellow with a smile, took him by the arm, and guided him inside the building.
The interior was quite simple.
It looked like the waiting room in an old clinic or a school: clean, bare, with chairs lined up along the wall and a small table with a telephone in a corner. The floor was covered with light-color tiles; the walls were a faded but soothing shade of green. The ceiling was white and steepled, following the triangular shape of the rafters.
After the almost physical force of the sun outside, the pleasant, dim interior offered a sense of protection.
The man with the white hair took a chair and placed it facing another. He invited his companion to sit and took his hands into his own. He looked at him intensely, and began speaking in a mild voice
"Are you bored here? You appear distracted, not paying attention to yourself and what’s around you. It’s as if you were not aware of other people’s existence.
You speak to no one.
But you can talk to me – you speak my language. Judging from the few words you’ve spoke since you arrived, I’d say you come from a place not very far from the part of the world where I grew up. I was born in New Jersey, close to New York.”
He paused, hoping the other would reply or at least nod.
But there was no sign. Only silence.
The older man went on, "I’ve had a somewhat nomadic life myself, sometimes even adventurous.
I spent my youth in New Jersey. After college I got a job in the headquarters of a large distribution company and was fairly successfully climbing the corporate ladder. But one day I felt an irresistible urge, a calling that beckoned me to help others and to explain to them that the essence of life is love. I was not driven by a purely religious motive. Actually, with my free spirit, I could not stomach those ‘petty’ rules that every religion seeks to impose.
One day I met an extraordinary man, a great thinker, with whom I began discussing the general problems of life. I ended up opening my soul to him. I revealed my doubts: the little mysteries and secrets that each one of us has. He was a Jesuit.
His arguments were certainly not those of an ordinary Catholic priest, and clearly very different from the flock of televangelists, whom I considered vaudeville actors, not worth my time or attention. My opinion of them hasn’t changed.”
He stopped for a second; then, holding the other man’s eyes, he continued. “To put it briefly, after many years of study I became a Jesuit myself, and I traveled the world with the aim of explaining that it is not the religious rules created by men that are important, but only the love that is part of all of us. For us Jesuits it comes from Jesus, while for others it comes from the sun or a universal force, and other spiritual belief and divinity. The only thing that counts is love and the continuous search for it, whether through philosophy, art, poetry, sacrifice, faith or grace.
Do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?’’
The man raised his eyes to the ceiling. He seemed to be waking as if from a deep sleep and murmured only, “I understand very well what you have said, but I do not know how to reply.”
The Jesuit took a deep breath. At last he had succeeded in making a tiny opening. He recalled the words of wisdom that had guided him through his studies: I must be patient and persistent. But as he rose from his chair, all he said was, “Let’s go eat. The others have already gone to the dining hall.”