Part 2

February 26, 2009

Part II
I am swimming underwater. I could feel the water’s current pulling me to the muddy ground below when I realized it was not the current but a hand. The hand struggled to grab my foot and I kicked it away. I swam into the murky depths until I was far beyond its reach.  Suddenly a strong feeling gripped me that the hand was very familiar. Could it have been my sister’s hand? How cruel of me to kick it away… perhaps she is drowning! I turned around and let the current carry me back to it. I dove searching the muddy floor, but only dirt flew into my eyes. I rushed back up for air exasperated and gasping, knowing that I had to go back. I could not let my sister drown. I went back down again, swimming this way and that until finally, I saw it. A hand now clenched. I rushed toward it expecting to see my sister’s dark hair floating just behind it but I saw nothing. Just a clenched hand. I was frightened and yet it had the most familiar color, contour, I didn’t know why but I was drawn to it.  I needed to go back up for air but, mesmerized I swam closer to inspect it. Indeed the hand was familiar… it was my own. In this moment of recognition the hand opened up, finger by finger as though the life in them  released into the surrounding water. The hand was now lifeless, a small folded up piece of paper, the ink running into the murky water, leaving a streaming trail of purple like a dragon’s tail. I grasped for it but it slipped through my fingers. I was dizzy from the lack of oxygen and rushing up for air, everything was turning black around me.

“Wake up,” yelled my sister. “Its your birthday, you can’t sleep away the whole day!” she cried and jumped on the bed pulling the blankets off of me. I could smell her wet hair just washed and coated in almond oil.  “Get off of me, you’re covering me in oil!” I teased back and wrapped her in the blanket bouncing her on the bed. She laughed falling to the floor, returning more ferociously than the last time.  She crouched like a tiger ready to pounce, her eyes narrowing into thin slits,  she had my grandmother’s gleaming yellow eyes.  They opened wide devlishly, she pounced again, I could see now that she had oil all over her hands, she rubbed them all over my hair and my face, laughing the entire time.
“You must be beautiful for your party or your bride may make plans to run away!” she mocked.

“Well maybe that wouldn’t be so bad, then I could go to school instead of becoming a farmer.”

“Run away!” she said “And leave me all alone here,” she pouted her pink lips parting over her glistening white teeth. I grabbed her oily hands from my hair and took them in mine.

“Never” I said solemnly and then broke into a smile, ” Who would wake me up in the morning and coat me in almond oil?”  She seemed satisfied and jumped off my bed quickly, running out of the room teasing, ” My brother will meet his bride today and she’ll take one look and run away!”

It was my 17th birthday, the age in my village when a boy becomes a man and meets the woman he is promised to marry.  I had never met my bride, nor had she seen me.  Everything was arranged according to an ancient system, deliberated for years by my parents, the matchmaker, and the prospective bride’s family.  I had very little to do with the entire process.  People married just a little up or little down but never dramatically up or down, keeping in place the same class structure for hundreds of generations.  Everyone knew their place and according to the village elders this kept social harmony.  There was never confusion about what one was “supposed” to do.  It was all clearly mapped out.  I resented it, it felt wrong somehow that someone else had decided who I was to become, who I am.  I felt almost certain that I was not a farmer, as my father and his father before him.

This realization came when my mother was sick five years ago.  She was afflicted by a deadly illness, which had become more prevalent in our village in the past few years, taking many of our villagers to the other side.
When my mother fell ill she could not get up from her bed within a matter of days and the village elders came to our home, as was the custom when someone fell ill, and unsuccessfully performed various types of healing rituals.  My father, at his wit’s end, asked the elders whether there was anything more they could do for his wife.  He had heard about professional healers, doctors, from other regions who could cure many illnesses.  The elders shook there heads furiously at him, as such a request was rarely granted in the past, but when a relative of one of the village elders was afflicted with the same ailment, they reluctantly called for a doctor from several regions away.  My father asked the elders whether this doctor could stop by our home.

No one really expected a doctor to come to the aid of the wife of a farmer.  Doctors were called for royalty like the village elders and sometimes in the cases of merchants, but rarely in the case of a farmer. The villagers were frightened of the illness plaguing our home and refused to go near our house.  They, like the elders, believed that we were being punished for some evil committed and that the spirits haunting us would attack the village.  The doctor, unlike the villagers, came in without fear, he ignored the many superstitious rituals of our village when approaching a death-bed.  He was not a very tall man but his presence filled the whole room, there was no way to keep from staring at him, I was in complete awe.  He questioned my father about my mother’s condition and as he talked his hands moved with his words, they were small and delicate yet firm and wiry . He looked towards my mother’s bed, appearing to prepare himself, and in the same way that someone would walk steadily and with attention when balancing on the edge of a cliff, he tread to her bed and knelt beside her, putting his head to her heartbeat…his eyebrows raised and furrowed as she struggled to breathe.  He turned to the heavy satchel he carried over his shoulder into the house and began unraveling it with his beautiful hands. This satchel was marvelous, it was made of golden animal hide and inside were dozens of compartments, revealed one by one as he lay the satchel flat on the floor.  In some compartments were dried herbs of all assortments, animal bones, and peculiar metal instruments.  He asked for a mortar and pestal and hot water from my father, and our family watched as he measured out ingredients meticulously, grinding them together adding hot water making a bitter sweetly scented tea.  He assisted my mother to sit up, she could barely lift her head much less sit up but he patiently assisted her until she was upright.  He massaged her neck gently and watched her take her first sips, instructing both my father and I to imitate this same ritual for the next few weeks.  He measured out enough medicine for two months indicating how to grind them down and mix them with hot water.  I was afraid for my mother, seeing how feeble she had become over the past weeks ,and I asked the doctor meekly if she would live, whether he had been able to life the evil spirits which haunted her.  He simple pointed to the medicine and smiled, “Don’t forget what I told you.”
Everyday in the weeks that followed my father and I took turns measuring out correct doses and mixing them into hot water, holding my mother’s neck just as the doctor had done while she drank.  From the moment that I touched the herbs and began measuring them I felt calm and peaceful.  I had never known such peace and in all the pain and heartache of watching my mother dying I found joy in preparing her medicine.  One evening, I watched my father’s trembling hands measuring out the doses.  He was fatigued not only physically from working in the fields all day but also emotionally drained from weeks of feeling so helpless. I put my hand over his and told him that it would be a great pleasure for me to take care of my mother.  He eyed me, to him I was still a child, but when he could see my eagerness and the careful way in which I held the spoon.  He released his hand and sighed with relief.  “Thank you,” he said.  He had never thanked me in my entire life. I took my role very seriously and diligently measured, mixed, and administered the doses using the massaging technique.  Remembering carefully the way that the doctor had started from the top of her throat to the bottom in small circular motions.  As I measured and mixed I became fascinated with the herbs themselves, noticing their different colors and textures.  One day my curiosity got the better of me and I coaxed out and separated the different ingredients in each dose, inspecting each one, taking a small sample, and making drawings of each and notes on the texture, smell, and taste of each before returning them.
After two weeks my mother was able to get out of bed on her own and after one month she was on her feet again, and though she never fully regained her strength completely, she was one of the lucky few who had survived the ailment in our village.   After my mother recovered and had completely finished the medicine I took my drawings, notes, and samples to the village elders and asked them if they would help me identify them and find out where we might find them for others who were ill with the same disease in our village. They were enraged!  A farmer’s son! How dare he question the way that we have done things for thousands of years!  The arrogance! I was quickly sent home after they confiscated my drawings, notes, and even my samples.  I was so shocked and dismayed, I had been naive enough to have expected them to be happy to have a chance to heal the sick in our village.  I had even dreamt of being praised for my careful and detailed efforts.  But most of all I wanted my drawings back so that I could find a way to hunt for the herbs on my own.

I stewed for weeks in anger, dreaming each night fitfully in my sleep of sneaking into the village council quarters and finding the drawing in a drawer and stealing them back.  I began to realize after a week straight of dreaming this same dream that when I woke up each morning I was able to remember bits and parts of the drawings and my notes and I began to write them down.  The dreams continued and after a few months I was able to reconstruct much of what I had originally prepared.  While  officially there was no knowledge of medicinal herbs in my village, the common practice was to quietly consult with a midwife in the village who had a modest amount of advanced knowledge of medicinal herbs and their properties.  This woman was shunned by the village elders and she lived in a small house on the village outskirts and kept mostly to herself.  My father had gone to her in desperation when my mother was ill and she had been unable to find a cure but I remembered the wide variety of herbs that hung, drying in a small shack behind her little house.  I took my reconstructed drawings to her. She was amazed and impressed by my great efforts and persistence, and while she could not identify all of the ingredients, she located some of them right away.  Over time she grew quite fond of me and thought of me as a son, having herself no children of her own, and she taught me all she could about medicinal herbs and their applications.
Together, after finishing all of my regular chores and sufficiently pleasing my father I went to her house secretly and learned what she knew.  Together eventually we collected the remaining ingredients. To collect many of the ingredients we were forced to go many kilometers beyond the village, climbing rocky mountains to pluck the precious herbs.  My father knew nothing about these journeys and believed I was hunting for small game and after returning empty handed each time, he would laugh that I truly was a farmer’s son and not a hunter.  I would smile faintly when he would remind me of my ultimate fate, hoping in some small way that perhaps one day he could know what it was I was really up to.  But I knew for the time being that I could not.  Not only would he not approve of my endeavors but it was forbidden by the village elders to go beyond the village limits and the punishments for those failed to obey were severe.

Often during these journeys the midwife would duck down with a frightened look on her face if we heard twigs snap or rocks rolling down the mountains.  She would grab my hand tightly and push my head down on these occasions.  I assumed she was afraid of getting caught by the elders and their roving patrols.  However, after one particularly startling twig snap when she almost snapped my neck, I demanded to know why she was so frightened.  This was when I found out for the first time that other tribes from distant lands had begun to make attacks on farms on the outskirts of the region.  Each year, she told me, the attacks were getting much worse, sometimes these bandits would slaughter entire families including women and children.  Each year the attacks were getting much closer to our village and rumors had started around the village that a larger attack was being planned.  To keep the villagers from panicking the elders had worked to suppress such rumors and had tightened patrols around the village limits not only to keep bandits out but to keep villagers in, from wandering too far and discovering the truth.
“Where do they come from?” I asked excitedly, I could not believe that the elders had been able to hide such a thing for so long.  The midwife hushed me with a hand to my mouth urging me to quiet down.
“No one knows, not even the village elders.  They are not tribes with whom we have peace pacts and they seem to have no respect for the established borders.”
“And the village elders…do they have a plan to fight back?” I asked the midwife.
“They would prefer to pretend nothing is happening.  These bandits have weapons much more sophisticated than ours.”
“So what will happen?” I said, ” We can’t just wait like sitting ducks!” She shrugged her shoulders and urged me to keep walking.  This was the moment that I began to understand that the power of the village elders was much more limited than I had ever imagined before.  They had always seemed all-powerful, infallible, like living gods.  Now I could understand that they actually worked very hard to maintain that image and that their authority was in fact under constant threat. There was a force out there somewhere that threatened to crush them and our village, a force that completely mystified the elders, a force that they and all of us were helpless to fight.
Just as we had discovered the last ingredient, someone in the village had come to the midwife complaining that a relative had fallen ill.  When the midwife heard the symptoms she immediately recognized them. We eagerly mixed together our first batch of the medicine and gave it to the relative of the ailing villager.  I recommended the same neck massaging approach and specified the doses I remembered.  The midwife and I waited eagerly to see whether our mixture would work.  After a week however the villager died.  We were both so disappointed.  Had we identified one of the ingredients incorrectly?  The midwife could see how distraught I was and suggested that most likely the villager was just too far along in his illness for the medicine to work and that it may work for someone else.  But I knew that something in the mixture was missing but I just couldn’t figure out what.
It plagued me for months, I could not stop thinking about it.  Another villager fell ill and again we supplied our mixture and again this villager died.  I was certain now that my mixture was wrong.  I must have forgotten some detail contained in my notes.  I started to dream again of sneaking back into the village council quarters to retain my notes and drawings, but this time no significant details emerged.  I finally decided, completely consumed with the idea of holding those original drawings in my hands to steal them back though I knew if I was caught it may mean my death.  I also had no idea whether my notes would still be there or where exactly they were.  It had been some time since they were first taken from me but I felt that I had to try.  Then the night before I was about to execute my plan, something remarkable happened.  The daughter of one of the village elders became ill with same disease.  I knew that this was my chance.  I went to the house where they lived and told them I knew a cure but I would need my original notes.  At first, the village elder was unwilling but after watching his daughter’s condition worsen quickly within just a matter of days, he gave in and agreed to return them to me upon two conditions.  One, that I never reveal the notes to anyone and two, before his daughter would begin my mixture he and the other village elders would engage in a public ritual which the villagers would then surmise was the source of his daughter’s cure.  I agreed reluctantly, I didn’t think it was fair for the village elders and their gods to take credit but I didn’t see any other way. I took the notes in my hands and rushed to the midwife’s house to compare them with the notes I had reconstructed.

As I had thought I had forgotten one important detail.  One of the herbs I had written down had a smooth surface when in fact it had a rough fur coating on the top layer.  The midwife immediately knew which herb this was and she rushed out to collect it.  We made the new mixture and presented it to the village elders daughter and as I had promised, before she began her medication the village elders completed a public ritual.   After one week, just as my mother, the young girl could get out of bed and after two weeks she was completely well.  The elders took credit of course for her quick recovery and all stayed seemingly the same in our village, until another villager fell ill and came to receive the ritual cure from the elders.  The elders, knowing that he would not be cured by the ritual completed the ritual for him anyway.  He returned home and soon became so ill he was unable to get out of bed.  Some weeks went by and the elders stood by shaking their hands, knowing that they should share the medicine with the whole village but unsure as to how to introduce it while maintaining their legitimacy.  While they deliberated, the villager died.  I was furious and asked to come before the village elders, when my father caught wind of my demand and my activities, he was livid.
“How dare you shame our family!” he screamed pushing me back against the cool cement walls of our home.  “What do you think you are doing cavorting around with a midwife on your own and defying the traditions of our village? Who do you think you are?” he screamed.
“But father, the medicine it works!  Could you have allowed mamma to die, knowing there was such a cure available?”
“That man was a doctor from a village with customs different from our own, he did not have to abide by the rules here.  You on the other hand are my son and must abide by the rules or you will be forced out, if not by the elders then by my own hand!” He yelled making a fist and pushing it in my face.
” Father but does it make sense that our villagers should be denied medicine when we ourselves can make? Many of the ingredients grow right here ,right under our noses.  Why should we have to depend on outsiders who may not show up before it is too late?  The young girl, the elder’s daughter who was recently ill, it was my mixture that cured her not the ritual. Why do you think the other villager who was blessed died? Why should the elders be permitted to benefit and not the rest of us?”
My father was clearly alarmed, unsure as to what to say, feeling that he could not allow me to be right but at the same time astonished that his son had such abilities.  “This is far beyond us, my son, we are simple farmers, what you are doing, this has never been done in our family, in our village.”  He shook his head in disbelief, “You are forbidden to approach the elders” he said.  I was so disappointed.  I would have expected this from the elders, but my own father?  Could he not understand the significance of what I had discovered?  The power to bring people back from deaths door? Couldn’t he see that to deny people access was evil.  That the village elders were wrong?  To me my fathers passivity and obedience to the elders seemed evil and I began to hate him quietly.   I had to respect my father’s wishes, but on the inside I was plotting.  Plotting my escape, plotting small stabs to undermine the elders.  I did manage to get many of the villagers medicine, many of whom were too afraid to make the use of the herbs public and so for their own sakes kept the cure and its source quiet.
The elders  had enough to worry about in this period that my small revolution went relatively unnoticed.  A great drought had hit our land and it was so severe that all of the earth had turned to red dust and there was not enough wheat, corn, and potato to last us through the next winter.  On top of that the bandit tribes, whom were also hard hit by the drought season in their own lands made more bold and aggressive advances in our direction, slaughtering villagers closer and closer to the center, stealing their food supplies.  There were even rumors that they were killing the men but now making slaves out of the women and children.
My family was also hit hard by the drought.  My father would return home each evening from the fields with dust and fear in his eyes.  Rather than feeling pity for him, for our family, I could only feel hatred.  In my eyes, this whole situation was the  fault of the village elders and by extension my father’s fault.  Often I would plot my escape.  Sometimes I would actually start off on the road out of the village, but each time found that I was unsure about which way to go. In this moment of hesitation I would think of my mother and sister whom I loved dearly and could not imagine leaving to the drought and to the  bandits and each time I turned back to the path that led to home.  Each year I vowed to execute my plan and leave but each year I found myself turn back. I am still here and now of marrying age and promised to a farmer’s daughter.  Marrying this farmer’s daughter and taking over the family business sounded like death to me and yet leaving my sister and my mother in these times seemed criminal.
It was tradition in our village that when a boy turned 17 he would go and meet his bride and her family for the first time, a wedding was then planned over the next year along with all the negotiations between the two families as to the costs and dowries.  I had never officially met my bride but I had seen her about the village.  She was a pretty enough, a clever enough sort of girl, with small pleasant freckles on her nose and cheeks, a bit of a crooked but elvish smile.  It was on this day that I  got out of bed to meet her, finally believed that I had  accepted the well tread path which lay before me, little did I know what the day’s events would hold.

As I came downstairs I heard my father discussing  something heatedly with my mother at the dining table in a lowered voice.
“What are you two discussing?” I laughed poking my mother, assuming they were discussing the day’s plans, but when I looked at my mothers solemn eyes my laughter soon faded.
“What is it?” I asked.  Has something gone wrong with the wedding plans?”
My father looked at me closely and lowered his voice, “We don’t want your sister to worry, so let’s go outside, she is too young to understand what is happening.”  I knew that something was very wrong, something so serious that my appointment later today had become quite trivial.  My mother rushed around quickly out of the room I could hear her rummaging through various drawers and cupboards. My father took me by the arm as we walked out towards our pastures.

I could smell smoke and as I got closer to the edge of our property I could see that the village center was burning.  “What is happening?”  I asked in a hushed voice. Explosions of sound like thunder erupted every once and awhile from the village, booming and echoing in the valley.  I had heard that the bandit had weapons that made such a noise and could kill someone from great distances.
“The bandit tribes have come my son, much sooner that the elders believed was possible.  The famine must have driven them here.  They are burning the village and they will soon be here.”  I knew when my father said this that a massacre was taking place not far from where we stood.
“We must escape,” I said.  My father was already saddling up our horses and I saw that my parents had prepared a wagon with food, weapons, and blankets.  My mother was ushering my confused looking sister out of the house as she struggled to hold on to a small chest full of our valuables.  I looked at them and I looked at the fires.  “Why did you not wake me sooner! I screamed.  We should have left hours ago.”
My father shook his head, “The elders assured us that things could be negotiated, we were hoping that it would not come to this…but when we saw the smoke…” his voice quivered trailing off.
“They will be here any minute,  there is no time for all this,” I motioned towards the wagon full of our belongings.  “This will only slow us down.”
“But this is everything we have left now, we can’t leave it behind,” my mother cried in anguish.  My sister began sobbing now, the gravity of the situation was impossible to disguise. I took my mother by the hand and looked into her eyes, “Mother we have already lost everything except our lives, we must go.”  My father nodded his head, aiding my mother and sister on to one horse, throwing me the reign of another.  We were soon off, abandoning all of our valuables, our food, our clothing, our animals, our home, our land.

As we rode, my sister and mother wept.  I told my sister not to look back and to cover her face so as  to not to breathe the black choking smoke intensifying in the air.  I knew that the bandits were closing in on our home now as we rode.  I could see them as I fell almost into a trance like state on the back of my horse, watching the landscape speeding past us. I could see them entering our home, knocking over the home’s alter, the fruit from the platters on the table, lighting fire to my mother’s weaving loom, her beautiful cloths, the rug my grandmother had woven the summer that she died.  I could see their devilish faces appearing in the smoke, consumed by hunger, by greed, and disappointment that they could not find more valuables, more animals, more women and children to enslave.
We rode all day, into territories I had never seen before in my life, even on my long treks with the midwife in search of herbs.  We were far beyond the prized maps of the elders.  The only thing I recognized was the river which ran through it all, appearing between the brush, between the trees, present through it all.  I imagined this river as a good friend assuring me that this event would soon pass and that my family would once again find ourselves safe. We camped by the river that evening, we couldn’t tell how far we had come or where we were going but we could no longer hear the awful thundering of the bandit’s weapons and it was too dark to go on.  My mother and sister huddled together under a blanket near the fire, as my father stirred the embers with a long stick.  His eyes were downcast, dusty, and glistening like a frightened animal.  It was difficult to see him like this, a shadow of the great man I knew.  He was a farmer, my father, not a hunter, he was unaccustomed to being out in the wild unknown. I came and sat beside him, “We will soon find a village, father, we’ll start again, we’ll rebuild what we had.”  I tried to assure him.  He looked at me, “Impossible, impossible” he repeated and shook his head in disbelief. We were all cold and hungry but eventually exhaustion got the better of us and we all fell asleep.
I was the first to wake to the sounds of the rushing river, it was still dark just bordering on dawn, the light was almost blue on the red earth.  My father snored by the dying embers of the fire, his eyes heavy over his eye lids.  I was glad to see him resting for the long journey I knew we had ahead.  I decided not to wake him and to collect some fire wood before the embers went out completely. Perhaps I could catch some fish, I thought, and surprise them all with breakfast.  I had collected enough firewood to carry back, after walking a small distance from the camp, when I suddenly saw fish jumping in the river.  I dropped my wood and jumped into the cold rushing stream, careful to hold on to the bordering branches of a tree so as to not be carried away by the strong rushing currents.  There were dozens of small fish rushing past my legs and after I had gained my footing enough to stand on the edge I cupped my hands catching several fish right away.  Quite small but enough certainly for a decent breakfast.  I smiled at the thought of my family’s faces as they awakened to the smell of fish cooking over the fire.  My smile quickly fell away when I heard the shrill scream of my mother followed by thunderous shots fired close by.  My body automatically dropped down into the river, dropping the small fish, which initially flopped around in confusion but soon found themselves back into the rushing streams. I looked around frightened unsure as to what to do.  Part of me desperately wanted to run back to the campsite, to help my mother and another part of me told me to stay put.  I inched my way closer into a marshy edge of the river between long green and red reeds, peeking my eyes out, allowing the reeds to cover my body as I crawled closer and closer towards the campsite.  Finally I could see three cloaked men on horseback, one of them was pointing a long metal weapon down at two limp bleeding bodies below him.  I could see that the two bodies were my mother and father and I knew that they were dead.

I wanted to scream, to jump up and kill them but I couldn’t, I was too afraid, I was paralyzed.  The horsemen looked around, canvassing the area for any movements.  I lay completely still, unable to do anything else.  Where was my sister, I thought?  Had she escaped?  A lump got caught in my throat as I spotted her.  There she was, tied like an animal on the back of one of horses.  She had seen me and her eyes caught mine. Blood rushed to all of my limbs as I started to rush out of my hiding spot. I couldn’t let them take her.  She looked terrified but vigorously shook her head.  She knew that the moment I came out of my hiding place I would be shot.  One of the horsemen looked in my direction, alerted by my movements.  My sisters eyes widened as she struggled to get free, distracting their attention.  I knew she was making time for me to escape but I couldn’t leave her.  I stayed in my spot, she looked into my eyes, “Go”, “Go” she seemed to say, even in her fear and despair she was still attempting to protect me.  I could not let her down.  I promised her with my eyes that I would find her, that I would come and one day save her and we would be reunited again.  The footsteps were drawing closer and I pulled myself into the river, taking one last look at her before letting go of my grip on the river’s edge and allowing it to carry me away, consume me, and hide me from view.  I swam underwater as I heard shots above.  I swam deeper and deeper, letting the speeding current aid my escape, wondering whether I had lost my dear sister forever.  I came up eventually for air just in time to see in the light of the sunrise,  the horsemen riding off into the distance with my sister as their prisoner.

I pulled myself out of the water and ran to the bodies of my father and mother, collapsing down next to them my entire body trembling with tears, filled with grief.  The sun had risen now and I looked up into the orange sky and let out an animal like scream, no longer caring whether anyone heard me.  I sat for hours there looking into the river, watching the water flowing, I fell silent and my dream from the morning returned to me as a vision.  I could see the hand again in the river, unclenched, releasing a small piece of paper into the river.  I watched it open, I could almost see the words, but tears were running over my face, and the ink began running. I didn’t care what it said I closed my eyes.  When I opened them the hand and the paper were gone and again there was just the river continuing on towards the horizon without pause, flowing on without remorse. I hated the river and the bandits. I vowed to destroy them.  My anger fueled me.  I got up and made two funeral pyres with the wood I had originally collected to warm my mother and father, now I would use it to burn them and release their spirits into the river.  How cold and unforgiving this water looked now to me, I wanted to get as far away from it as possible.  It was almost sunset when I set out on foot, away from the river,  in the direction the bandits had gone, filled with rage, alone, more alone than I had ever been in my whole life.

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A Story in Three Parts

September 13, 2008

Part I

War, disease, and famine struck my home. So I left for far and distant lands in search of a place my grandmother told me about when I was a little boy.

We had gone down to the river to look for firewood one mid summer day. There had been raging fires that summer and much of the wood in the forests had been completely burned. We decided our best bet was to look towards the water.

“Little one,” she said stroking my hair as we walked, “One day you might find the world so changed that you hardly recognize it.”

“When will that be?” I asked curiously, looking up from attempting to pick up a dry log far too big for my tiny body. I did not really understanding what she meant.

“When? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’ll tell you where to go. You must go to the country where no one ever bleeds or starves, where there is light year round, and green rolling land as far as the eyes can see.”

“Where is that?” I asked with big eyes…I couldn’t believe that no one had ever mentioned such perfect place to me before. “How do you know about this place? Has anyone ever returned? Someone must have returned if you know but why would they return?” I bounced up and down full of questions.

She took my face firmly in her hands holding me still and rubbed my eyes, “This is no joking matter!Listen! I was shocked. So rarely did my grandmother, who was always so soft spoken, speak in this manner so I knew somehow that it was important and that I should pay attention.

“This is not a place where everyone can go, it isn’t just about knowing the way, you must be able to bear the journey.”

“I’m strong!” I yelled piercing the air with an imaginary spear. She caught my hand mid air and held it in hers, “ What you never see coming you could never kill with any weapon.”

My eyes fell to the ground ashamed. She lifted my face again to hers and smiled.

“Keep your eyes up here,” she said, “ on the horizon and you might have a chance,” she let go of my hand. I looked up and in my palm lay a little folded up piece of paper.

She pointed her finger at the river which flowed through the town. “You must follow that all the way until you reach the country where the water has dried up into the earth.”

“But grandma! Even I know that all rivers return to the sea. How could this river end in dry earth?”

“Who said anything about the end or returning?” she laughed. “Where you will go is to the beginning and if you can get there you can never return and neither can this river.” I looked at her skeptically. Her eyes were fixed now off into the distance to this land beyond this river, and for a split second I though that she had in fact seen it even though she had just explained that no one returned.

“So the river only dries when I get there, but before I get there it is flowing to the sea? How terrible it would be if I made the river go dry!” She just smiled at me again, signaling for me to sit beside her on a log by the river edge.

“Don’t worry so much about the river, it can take care of itself, the main thing is that you can follow it long enough so that you can take care of yourself.” I sat there with the scrap of paper in my hand staring into the cloudless blue sky. A heron came into view and my eyes followed it as it splashed down into the river bed, its long red legs like reeds and its blue body seemingly floating above them.

“You don’t need to worry about all this now, but just remember…for later…you might need it…and I am getting so old I might not live to tell you this when the time comes. So you must remember.” She pointed to the scrap of paper. I began to open it eagerly for the treat I believed lay within.

“No, No!” She said loud enough to startle me into stopping.

“You don’t have to remember now do you?” she laughed, “I just told you. Have you already forgotten?” she teased.

“Oh this is for me to remember? Did you write down the way? I will keep it under my pillow every night until I need it.” I said happily clutching it to my skinny breast.

“The message there is not for you. It is for a messenger.”

“A message for a messenger, who will the messenger bring it to?” I asked.

“To you of course!” she laughed again as if this was the most hilarious thing in the world.

“But why give it to the messenger when you could just give it directly to me?”

“ Memory is a tricky thing it doesn’t always remember the important parts, but the messenger will always remember because he doesn’t have to, he simply lives to carry the message.”

“ You can trust me grandma I will remember!” I clung to her eager to prove myself. She scooped me up in her arms and I felt so completely enveloped in her wrinkly skin soft and wrapped around me like a big brown blanket. I felt so safe and content in that moment. When I looked into her eyes I was captivated by the black ring around her yellow eyes, like standing from the inside of a barn in shadow looking out into a golden fields. I could almost jump into them and smell the sweet corn.

“I know little one you will try to remember, but if you have the need to go looking for the land of which I speak then you will have forgotten this moment. You must put that piece of paper into the river.”

“But grandma it will just sink and the ink will just run.”

“Then you must tell it not to and you must believe that it won’t.”

“But it will.”

“Well if you start with that intention then it will. Imagine in your mind that it does not. Can you do that?”

“Umm maybe,” I said scrunching my eyes shut.

“Do you see it in the river?”

“Yes” I said.

“Is the ink running?”

“No.”

“Ok, open your eyes. Can you still see it the way that you saw it in your mind a moment ago?”

“Yes” I said.

“Ok hold that image and then let it go, let it float away in your mind. Now put it in the river. Don’t think about it, just let it go.”

“I can’t, I don’t want to lose it” I said. I was suddenly afraid. Afraid that if I let go of this little piece of paper I might lose all of this, this moment, my grandmother, the wonderful feeling of the sun on my back and her warm hand on my shoulder.

“You won’t lose it,” she said, “you can’t lose it.”

I let out the breath that I was holding and relaxed my grip. It fell from my hand and it was gone, pulled into the current. My grandmother patted my shoulder, took my hand, and led me back to our home. It was time to bring the wood back to my mother to cook the evening meal.

I couldn’t imagine at the moment that I could forget what she had told me, but it was true, I eventually did. My grandmother past away that summer. I was seven years old. It was not until 10 years later that I began searching for what I had lost and another 10 years more before my messenger found me and I began my journey to the country at the end of the river.

A thousand stories

September 8, 2008

Searching for what is already here

Why do I even try?

when trying will only get me nearer

to somewhere, something, someone

like those people living between the lines

who want this and that

they get some, they lose some

happy to have something to hold

before they grow old

not realizing that there was something they sold

for that moment of holding, a lifetime of grasping

at straws when land was right under them.

Couldn’t stand to see how much of the world I wasn’t seeing

Couldn’t bear to be anything less than what I was feeling

Couldn’t pretend that there was an “I” who was living my life for me

when it was really my life living me

Some may laugh

others may applaud

and somewhere in between there is a harmony

between the praise and the mockery

a picture closer to reality

I could tell you a thousand stories about

what it was to get here

full of heroes and queens, witches and wizards

I could tell you it was fate

but that wouldn’t be the half of it

I could tell you it was chance

but that wouldn’t last longer than writing in sand

what I should tell you is to dance

with me

because then you might see

that its the stepping between

the lines, drawn out by mankind

between, between, between

until your steps are so fine

I can barely trace them

disappearing in time

appearing into mine.

Sailing into the Sun and Rowing your Boat

August 25, 2008

I was listening to this song today (see below Sail into the Sun) which reminded me of the journey of many of us. Often Pema makes the analogy of the “journey” of the Guardians as boats in the bay, some circling, some stalling, daunted by the thought of “sailing into the sun,” some chugging along slowly into the open sea heading towards the sun.

My journey felt like this at times… going out into the blackness, blind, nothing behind me (no past) and nothing ahead of me (no future). No tether to tie me back to what I was to “safety” and no future destination guaranteed.

At times this journey felt frightening. I felt as though I was cutting myself off from all of the things I believed I “was”. I was sailing into the sun…every atom of the “self” disintegrating back into the source of existence becoming pure light…. it felt mind blowing, powerful, and it felt like creation as much as destruction. Oscillating between ecstasy and desperation slowly realizing that the ecstasy and the desperation were only side effects of being shaken out of my illusions. Illusions that reality was a limited thing which I could “control.” When I let go of holding on to this what a relief it was just to let go. To be cradled by the universe in complete awe and complete support. A feeling that nothing could go wrong. I felt something more real than anything I had ever felt in my whole life…something much bigger than me than all of us. Something that was always there plain as day. I couldn’t put my finger on it because I was in it…too close to it to be able to get the perspective to see it.

Like the Persian tale of the bug who lived in the most magnificent and intricate Persian rug. I only saw each strand, each thread of the rug before me as an “obstacle” a problem which I had to overcome. Traveling my whole life in the rug and never seeing the beauty, the pattern of the whole which supported my very existence.

For the first time I could really “see” the whole and appreciate it. Appreciate as Pema says “the presence of appearance as a presentation by Being.” I could appreciate the presentation and ask myself what the presentation was presenting instead of focusing on how to control how to blame, shame, play the game of my own shortcomings and the shortcomings of others. Instead to ask myself What is there to be learned?

I could step out of small me seeing and into a larger seeing where there is no “bad” and “good” luck, consequences, people, and events. It all just was and who was I to judge? Instead of judging I moved to “seeing”.

Then I took a step beyond from me “seeing” to the realization that even if I wanted to stop seeing I couldn’t because it wasn’t me. It was never me and like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz I woke up and realized I had never left Kansas to go to other side of the rainbow. The lion, the scarecrow, the good witch, the bad witch they were all right here in front of me. The fantastical story that I would write one day was right here and I was living it, breathing it and even more it was living me and breathing me. I was seeing it and it was seeing me but beyond that there was no “me” and no “it” only the seeing. I have to mention Avastu Maruti for helping me “see” that there was nothing more than this “seeing.”

From this point on the “sea” where I guided my boat was no longer black and foreboding and I was no longer sailing into the sun. Instead I “channeled” into a gentle stream. I began “rowing my boat gently down the stream” and realized that I might as well do it “merrily, merrily” because life is “but a dream” as the song goes 😉 One long beautiful dream and like a dream characters pop up things happen but ultimately none of it really “matters” and at the same time each tiny thing becomes so sacred in the understanding that there is nothing “bigger than” nothing “more than” than this moment. We are living the dream… every moment we can’t help it….this was the thing that was as plain as the nose on my face and that I couldn’t see before.

Every moment, every person, no matter how annoying they seem no matter how threatening, presents you with a gift, a sacred opportunity to experience this moment, this interaction, this experience. This experiencing is all there “is”. There is no reality beyond this.

In the gentle stream there is no “cutting away” from the concept of self, from attachments, no mediation on the idea of compassion…it all just runs through…washing over. My boat has been abandoned I am just in it in the deep. It is a peaceful place, a deeper peace and deeper stillness than I have ever found sitting on “solid” earth…floating over the moving water my atoms mingling within it and it within me, ebbing between form and formlessness… being born everyday.

This is a summary of my experiences thus far I dedicate this blog to the continuous exploration of these experiences.

Here is the song that started this train of thought…

Funky LowLives song Sail into the Sun Album Somewhere Else Is Here

Check it out http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=68736980

Now you found out
By yourself
By yourself

I’m always gonna talk around
The things you wanna talk about

Now you found love
By yourself
By yourself

My confidence is fully grown
To make the journey on my own

Chorus
Sailin out on golden seas
Getting tired of trying to be free
And we sail into the sun
I could find a million ways
To escape into the haze
Let me sail into the sun

Now what you’ve done
To yourself
To yourself

It makes me want to get away
And move into a different day

Now you have all
That you need
That you need

What is it that I want to see
Why do I want to fly away

Chorus

Let me sail into the sun