The two old men stared quietly
And smiled about the memory
Of years in Babylon. Meshach
Was almost blind, but in the back,
Behind those milky eyes, his mind
Was clear as mountain air — the kind
Of air that lets you see almost
Forever. Daniel used to boast
About his friend, "If I should die,
The king could easily rely
On Meshach for some brilliant words
To make his fingernails like birds'."
And they would laugh, the four of them,
And think about Jerusalem,
And parents who had taught them well,
And perished when the city fell.
That was a long, long time ago,
Abednego was dead, and so
Was Shadrach. Daniel still remained,
As strong as though he had been trained
To stand up like a cedar tree
Against the Persian world. Now he
And Meshach spent their days in town
And village telling the renown
Of God, and in the evening they
Would ponder over years, and pray;
And sometimes feel the loss of friends
So deeply they would weep. "It mends
More slowly than I thought it would. . ."
Meshach would say, "But God is good."
This night the mood was very calm,
And memory was like a balm
Of healing peace spread over all
The loss and pain. "Can you recall
The time when Zion was a joy
And crown, and you were just a boy?"
Meshach inquired. "I can. Can you?"
Old Daniel smiled, "You know, it's true,
Meshach, that you could memorize
The Torah best. Of all the tries
That I would make, you always knew
Another line by heart. Did you
Know I was last of all our class?
The Rabbi barely let me pass."
"Of course I knew; I watched you all
The time. You'd stare into the wall,
As if there were a window there,
And never cheated once! No snare,
As I recall, had ever caught
Your foot, when we were brought
To Babylon. And I was just
Remembering your dad. He must
Have been a noble man. Was there
A way he built your heart to care
More for the truth and honesty
And law of God, than luxury?
I mean, to live with you has been
An awesome thing. For Daniel, in
These sixty years I've never seen
You act or speak except with clean
And holy principles, and stake
Your life time after time to make
Some truth or purity outshine
The meager worth of rank and wine,
And even life itself. Can you
Recall? What did your father do?"
"There was a day," Daniel replied,
"That I will not forget. He died
At Babylon's first strike. And I
Had half an hour with him to try
And stop the bleeding with some strings.
At fifteen years there are some things
A boy would like to hold, but not
The body of his father shot.
Of all the things he might have said,
He quoted Psalm fifteen. He'd read
It to me countless times before.
It was the garment that he wore
Around his faith and hope. He said,
'Son, love not ease, nor much the bed,
Nor station, rank, or human praise,
Nor pleasures that the wine repays,
Nor wealth or power from below,
Nor life, above the God you know.
Thus says the Lord, my son: Who swears
For good, and does not change, but bears
The threat of man, will dwell with God,
And know the blessing of his rod.'
Meshach, I swore that moment I
Would never lie, nor ever try
To make my life more pleasant through
Deceit, nor ever twist what's true,
Or bend the rule of God that some
Fictitious benefit might come.
So you are right; my father left
Me fatherless, but not bereft
Of rectitude, or reverence.
It was a great inheritance."
"It was indeed, Daniel, and I
For one can surely testify
That you were not the only heir
Of this great legacy; for there
Have been ten thousand Jews
Who year by year have heard the news
That Babylon with all its might
Cannot bend Daniel from the right.
Your father's legacy has fired
The flame of honor, and inspired
The courage of a million deeds
Against the stream of pagan creeds
With all their lures and steamy breath
And puny threats of pain and death.
The whole world knows what you have done
Within the court of Babylon.
And I, my friend, for all these years
Have lit my fire and calmed my fears
By watching you. And now tonight
Without my eyes, I still see light
Stream down the memories, and feel
The fire ignite my faith and seal
The certainty that you were sent,
And every pagan threat was meant
To magnify the power and truth
Of God, though you were but a youth.
I see a Jewish boy with tears
Of loss still on his face, and fears
Of what might come — I see him stand
And face the guard, and lift his hand,
And say to Ashpenaz, ‘I will
Not drink your wine nor fill
My stomach with your royal food,
Nor let my tongue and heart be wooed
Away from Moses and my God
For fear of some Chaldean rod.'
Again I see a banquet hall
And King Belshazzar over all,
And drunk before a thousand lords,
Exalting gods made out of gourds,
And lifting up a toast to hell
With chalices from Israel.
I see the writing on the wall
And suddenly the merry ball
Is terror stricken: what could mean
Mene tekel upharsin?
And then I see a young man dare
To stand alone for God, and there
To lift his voice and say, ‘Was it
Not pride that made your father sit
Insane for seven times and eat
Grass like an ox, until that seat
Taught him that kingdoms built by men
God gives to whom he will and when?
And now, Belshazzar, read the script
Of God. Is not the finger dipped
In blood? Your days are numbered short,
You have been weighed with all your court:
Like dust upon the scales your deeds.
Tomorrow come the mighty Medes.'
And finally I see a man
Of prayer. He reads the royal ban
That says, "If anyone should pray
To heaven's God, that very day
He will be stopped by watchful men,
And thrown into the lion's den."
I see him read, then rise and take
His place in open view to make
"And Meshach, do you know
The prayer I made? I said, ‘Below
The heavens there is none I love
More than my dad, and none above
More than my God. And if it cost
Me everything, and if I lost
My life, I will not cease to flood
With praise the day my father's blood
Sealed me for truth and righteousness.
With all my heart, O God, I bless,
The day my father died and left
Me fatherless, but not bereft
Of rectitude, or reverence.
It was a great inheritance!'"
And so it was, and is today,
A legacy to light the way
Where little love is spent on truth
And many fathers fail the youth.
O, God, as we light candle two,
Ignite a fire for what is true.
May Daniel's flame burn bright today,
And fire us, young and old, to say,
That whether we survive or not
We will do right no matter what.