My Bread Crumb Trail
by Pastor George Van Alstine
“Hansel and Gretel” is a German fairy tale that arose during a time when life was very harsh, even hopeless, for the average peasant family. It’s hard to imagine that parents would abandon their children in a wilderness area, leaving them to die from exposure to the elements or attack by wild animals. Maybe it seemed more tolerable than watching them die from starvation in their own home.
Apparently, the parents discussed this before the children, so they were aware of the fate they were facing. The children secretly gathered white pebbles, and they dropped these along the path as they were led deep into the forest. Later, they followed the pebbles and returned home.
The exasperated parents took them out a second time, much farther away into the wilderness. This time they managed to find a piece of bread and left crumbs along the trail as they were led deep into the unknown. Good plan, but unfortunately, birds like bread crumbs. You probably remember the rest of the story—gingerbread cottage in the woods, cannibalistic wicked witch, Hansel put in a cage to fatten him up, Gretel working as a slave girl, witch readies for her feast, Gretel tricks witch and pushes her into the oven where she burns alive—you know, the standard plot for a kindergarten beginning reader.
I’m kind of stuck on the bread crumb trail. As a person of considerable maturity (that is, an Old Dude), I’ve been thinking a lot about the bread crumbs I’m leaving along the trail. I’m not kidding myself into thinking they will lead me back out of the forest that will mark the end of my life on earth, but I believe there are some people, family, friends, the next generation, who may be helped by following my trail. I know birds will eat most memories of me, but I’m confident that some crumbs will survive.
This confidence comes from reading history books, by watching TV documentaries on people from the past, and from doing on-line searches of seemingly obscure individuals. I’m amazed at the bread crumbs that seem to be indestructible. The most striking example I’ve run into recently involves King Tut, who lived about 3,300 years ago in Egypt. His tomb was discovered in 1922, with his mummy surprisingly intact. From it archeologists were able to learn that he was about 19 years old when he died, and that he had cleft palate and a severe club foot, conditions that probably came through inbreeding.
Just this year, DNA studies revealed that his father and mother were brother and sister, which explains some of his genetic weaknesses. There is evidence that he had malaria several times in his brief life, and this disease may have been the cause of his death. He ascended to the throne when he was nine years old. At that time he also became married to his half-sister, and the couple had two stillborn daughters.
King Tut’s father, Akhenaten, is famous for leading in the religious revolution in Egypt that led briefly to a kind of monotheism, focusing on the sun-god. Strongly influenced by his advisers, the boy king Tut restored the traditional polytheism to prominence. He himself was elevated to deity during his lifetime, and temples were built to promote worship of him. There is speculation, probably untrue, that his uncle, Prince Thutmose, was actually the Moses of the Bible.
King Tut left enough bread crumbs so that we can come to certain conclusions that he was weak and sickly most of his life, that he had limited social contacts beyond his own family, and that he was a pawn of older, more powerful leaders. I see him as a very unhappy person, and I have no desire to follow his crumby trail.
I don’t anticipate that I will be remembered for 3,300 years. I’ll be satisfied if a couple of people beyond my family hold on to a few humorous “George stories.” But I hope some of the bread crumbs I drop along the way escape the birds’ notice, and that there are enough of them to form a sort of trail. Most important, I hope my bread crumb trail leads those who notice it in the right direction, not to be a feast for a cackling witch, but to be guest of honor at the feast the Heavenly Father is preparing for those who love him