Thursday, April 29, 2010

Answered Prayers

They came with outstretched fingers, tapping blessings onto the shoulders of the supplicants. They swept around chambers, silence echoing from vaulted ceilings. They moved in a row, a tall thin mass, like a rank of poplar trees dividing a field. Their purpose was defined, their role made meaningful by the hunched shoulders of the morally dispossessed before them.

Their mitred heads gave the impression of a chess set made up entirely of bishops, their slide across the diagonals designed to counteract the halting one-pace steps of the masses. The rasp of their robes against unimaginably jointed meccano legs was in harmony with the dry breathy gasp of the faintest of breezes which crept behind the heavy ancient tapestries like wayward children fearing a beating.

They responded to rules and bells, to chants and incantations. In this room words and gazes were currency, and they were immeasurably wealthy, the impoverished their charges. Without the walls, their power was in the ability to draw the guilty, fearful and desperate through the grey stone doorway and into the place where mercy was placed like a bet on their shoulders.

And yet, despite the menace lurking at the stare-at-your-feet level, where the grey slate was chilled enough to keep haunches of meat cool and fresh, up towards the rafters, the fingers of God pushed rainbow reminders of light through the stained glass, and prayers lifted to mingle with the motes of holy dust which snagged them on their way to heaven.

There were walls. They could not contain what was within.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Story Full of Asses

I fell off my ass. Yup. I said “off”. I fell off it and onto it. And I was one, too. It was that sort of a time, when I didn’t experience something new, but became part of an ancient tradition of human conflict. It was a brief time of what-ifs and maybes, but in the end I was just part of something beyond my capacity to alter. And yet the impact of that fall did more than leave bruises and remove possessions, it also left a lasting impact on me, in the way I was picked up, and put back on my ass again.

Gratuitous use of the word ass. Sure. This is why. The ass I fell off was the one on which I was travelling: a donkey. Like the guy in the story, I was merely going from one place to another, my ass and me, oblivious to physical threat. Then, like the story, I was set upon by bandits. They beat me up and took whatever they could. No new plot twists there, either. They pulled me off my ass, and literally threw me down, on my ass. I was left in several pools of blood with nothing left.

The next part is important… I made it as far as the police station. They didn’t help me. Then the first of the Samaritans came along. See, I could have fallen asleep in my house, which is where I was attacked, and died; alone, my phones, money and computer gone. Might as well have been lying in a ditch in the semi-desert. And yet over the next few days, I had so many people seeking me out. They’d heard a little bit, and they made sure I was in a safe place, a place of recovery. They gave me enough to get on my feet, and ultimately put me back on my ass.

I was traumatised- the ancient stories and their modern counterparts- movies and books- don’t acknowledge that as a central theme to violence. But despite my behaviour unravelling to the point that I was half-unhinged, a frightened man, vacillating between fantasies of revenge and of wanting to hide, my friends insisted that I had never lost my ass, but that all I had to do was recover, and they would help me climb back on when the time was right.

And I’m back- I sometimes get off to rest, sometimes suspect that the ass could throw me off and refuse to take me on my journey, but so far so good. I could get on a treadmill of hate, hating the bandits or the people who didn’t offer the assistance I required, but instead I want to focus on the amazing way that my Samaritan friends came along. Some of them have never met me. Some of them have. Neither of those factors prevented them from offering love and support, and for that I’m grateful. When I coped with it the wrong way, and fell apart, I was met with wisdom and encouragement, and even when I wasn’t a pleasant person to be around, my friends and extended virtual family didn’t focus on the ugliness, but on the healing.

Once again, it’s worth saying: Friends put friends back on their asses, and my own experience of that is absolutely awe-inspiring. From practical support to a short message beamed through a cable, it made a difference. Made the shadows get shorter, and the light brighter.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

In the Belly

It’s a fire. It always starts with a spark. From the speck of orange that connects two substances, it can explode in one swift ball of gases, or it can skirt around the fringes, consuming the dry parts first. It can fold in on itself, a flame parasite devouring the surface which gives it life and so consuming the hope of a future. It can be unstoppable. A wall of flame which devastates an entire landscape, and while it burns there is no time for work or food for those in its path. It sears the flesh leaving blisters, scars, and scores arcs of memory into seared eyes. You can keep it in a fireplace, feed it, watch it, meditate on it as you look into it. It’s a crystal ball of connected thoughts and wistful moments. You can guide it, but you can’t master it. Fire has a way of finding loopholes and surprises. Fire seeks out everything which it can lick and taste, and its appetite is never sated. Fire is pretty to look at, but hard to hold. You can dash across a bed of embers, or breathe it like the moist-lipped circus performer, but you can’t suppress it without killing it completely. You can huddle around it and harness it for cooking, call it entertainment, but it remains an elemental force, channelling your mind into the mists of time, where men walked in fear of serpents and beasts that called in the dark. Sometimes it’s just a candle, nodding away in the corner, giving off a stuttering light in a shadowed room. Sometimes it’s an ember, a smoking piece of moss in a leather pouch waiting to be touched against a ball of grass and blown upon. When it’s out of control, people can’t tame it or quench it. When it sits in the belly of a volcano, it turns rocks to liquid and rolls in on itself,a creative force altering maps and horizons. Fire is one of the sculptors of human destiny and the great-great grandparent of all things mechanical and industrial. Without fire, we’d be doomed to a stone age of gnawed hard things, and nights spent with chattering teeth alone under our woven blankets or flensed hides. Without fire, we’d be without warmth or comfort. Without fire, we’d be gathering on weekends around bowls of fruit, barking our shins on roughly-hewn logs.

Aw, crap. Just wanted to say that love is like fire, and then got a little carried away. Anyway, it really, really, really is. So there.