It’s irrelevant that the people I know on a first name basis will never cross my path, or that the places I find myself are so posh or impoverished that I’d never settle down there, or that the things I say, and see, and do…they just aren’t the sort of thing I’ll ever need to deal with. But it’s absolutely real until the moment I wake up. And for the next ten to fifteen minutes, it feels like I’ve just returned from another universe, towing my bags across the terminal after emerging from some metaphysical aircraft–not quite home, still in transit, working my way to familiar landscape.
The whole way back, I’m thinking about the place I just left. Memory of the subconscious is volatile. It evaporates if I don’t hold onto it. I have to say the things out loud, so I hear them in my conscious mind and remember until I can capture with pen and paper.
Some mornings I just sit there, with my coffee, staring at what I’ve written down, because I have no idea what to make of it.
This one, well… I’ll let it speak for itself.
February 4, 2013
The west coast of India. A funeral on the beach, dire and somber. Small body of a man, stripped of everything that made him fearsome in life, wrapped in bolts of plain gray cloth. No casket, no embalming.
Standing in layered robes of the same gray color, worn loose around the legs and arms. Long cowls shaded our faces from tropical sun. We knelt and picked up the body, which was pliant. Tightness of the wrappings gave it rigidity.
Marching slowly in two lines, the body held between us, we moved down the beach into the shallows. Calmer than any ocean I had ever seen. Only faint wind-blown ripples crossed the surface.
The body bobbed until the wrappings soaked through and pulled the buoyant corpse below the water. A chant like a low moan from the back of our throats. We extended our free hands to slap and pat the water’s surface, calling, luring them in.
Dark fins split the surface bare meters away. Ancient menace without hatred. They passed close, black as shadow, stocky in build. Cautious. We punched when they got close, agitating, provoking a bite. When it came, we thrust the corpse between rows of triangular teeth.
The body wrenched from our grasp; and we turned our backs on the thrashing water, striding solemnly back to shore. Our flowing robes insulated us from the frenzy of random, probing bites.
No one spoke, and I contemplated this ceremony rooted in the darker side of Hinduism. Not only was this a test of bravery to an initiate like myself, it forced me to understand the things which terrify are not evil.
Because there is no evil.
No one true God.
No one true Devil.
There is only life in its docile and aggressive forms. The mantis to the moth, the lion to the wildebeest, the wolf to the deer…the predator is held blameless for acting upon the prey. And man, an animal preferred above all others, is no different. For in confronting fear, we clear the distorting lenses from our eyes and we see, at last, the nature of the world. We take life, and then our life is taken. To indulge, to revel in this natural and renewing process, is no crime. We are killers, all.
At first, revulsion. But as I successfully unwound all the lessons of my childhood, moral horror fell away.
Once I recognized it, once I embraced it…there was calm. And I knew at that moment, I could accomplish anything.