like this post, the following was originally born on fotolog...
i love this picture. i love the moment it was taken, the moment when i stopped crying, started talking to G-d and fell into a bit of quiet trance. i had been at the ornately twisted, wrought-iron doors to the church, fingers gently laced through what was depicted in a past picture. i remember resting my forehead against the figure who probably represented Jesus. i remember closing my eyes and feeling that on april 13, 2005, my world was a volatile, emotionally dangerous place.
i'm not as religious as the other good malayalees on fotolog/friendster; perhaps that is the legacy of NOT growing up in a proper mar thoma/jacobite church, amid dozens just like you. being greek orthodox is so different from that. we don't attend VBS, go to regional conferences held at welcoming universities, discuss the rapture or latest "left behind" book, watch the "passion" on movie screens or do other things i see mentioned in malayalee-kid friendster profiles. though i never let it touch the ground or anything else untoward, though it was the first book i reverently placed in my new ikea shelving unit, though i remember reading it cover to cover in my early teens, i am not going to list my bible under "favourite books" in some social networking program. that's not to say other people shouldn't or are insincere for doing so, it's just how i am. perhaps i should say it's how i was raised, b/c my little sister, who is far more orthodox than i am, behaves similarly.
another example: when terry schiavo was lingering in that grey, middling nowhere-land between this world and the next, my legendarily obstinate, polar-opposite-from-PC, old skool priest (father john of saint sophia's g.o. cathedral) centered his sermon on her plight. he carefully, deliberately voiced his distaste with the chaos that unnecessarily came with the end of poor terri's life. to my complete astonishment, he also said that our church would probably side with the husband, since we have a strict definition of what constitutes "natural" means...i wish i had been taking notes, so that i could quote his stark eloquence accurately. alas, writing is not really an apposite activity, when you're in a pew.
the point is, it was almost "unorthodox" to prolong her life past what G-d intended. when he finished explaining, i felt silly for my initial surprise. of course, we are more reserved than placard-waving activists, we are more pragmatic than those who wish to animate a body that is ready to be a corpse, we are ruthlessly old-fashioned; "what would happen back in greece, in the village? not this. we would mourn. we would pray. we would let them go to pater imon." amen.
i am far from where i wanted this paragraph to be. i can already see the outraged comments that will come wrt the schiavo case. sigh. i'm sorry. haven't had my coffee yet.
what i wanted to tell you, what i gave you all that background for, is this; when my skin, long-washed of double-perfection powder, spf 10 and retinol--thanks to countless splashes of cold water applied in the bathroom, during three separate, pathetic attempts to continue looking presentable at work despite the havoc wreaked by unbelievably nasty, sepia-coloured comments-- when my naked, raw, unhappy skin finally pressed against that silken metal, mentally everything went white.
for the first time all horrid day, my thoughts stopped racing and my heart slowed down. i took a deep, blessed breath, letting oxygen that my hyperventilating lungs were desperate for swirl within like pentecostal fire. i felt myself automatically letting go, and i was so grateful for that release.
it's so rare that i reach that naked state where everything is stripped away from my mind. i think constantly, excessively, chaotically. during those extremely anomalous occasions when i am able to quiet all that, i've learned that "what comes next" is beyond significant. the picture, words or thoughts that follow the erasing of my messy internal chalkboard are always telling and important.
as soon as the day was effectively contained and disposed of, the epiphany came, sure and strong as the summer sun. i cannot emphasize to you how bizzare this was for me, for my type of christianity, for my past and the myriad ways i was socialised...people like me or my little sister don't end up thinking this way.
the white blurred and a bleak, adamantine image replaced the nothing i had been so hungry for...i saw the crucifiction, and immediately felt the innate horror that should accompany nails through wrists, a crown of thorns and a broken body staked to the ground. my head snapped up, my eyes appropriately focusing on what i had brazenly rested my forehead against--the pewter or brass figure of Jesus looking at a supplicant, with absolute compassion. i felt that ancient, familiar catholic guilt well up from my intestines, "how could the hurt you experienced today be ANYTHING like that? it PALES comparatively." beyond this saintly, wholly unnatural-for-me thought, my brain, thrilled that it had permission to turn back on, fired up all twelve cylinders.
it roared back to life, furiously recalling images of the tsunami's wake, mukhtaran bibi, decapitations in fallujah, hutu vs tutsi, the pancaking wtc and my own, personal, agonizing hell-- my father lifeless in a hospital bed, his face and upper body a maze of plastic tubing and sensors that constantly, needlessly informed me that he was no more. i thought of the sixth day of that ordeal, how i collapsed in the shower when my mother burst in and said my name, b/c i knew that meant it was really over, that i had lost him, and therefore everything, forever. i remembered my eyes burning and gushing tears, but not b/c shampoo was snaking rivulets across my anguished face as i fell fetal, under the brutally powerful rain of hot water. i was being pelted with a forceful showerhead that daddy had installed, b/c i didn't like the stock version and its weak water flow. it all seemed viciously appropriate.
i don't remember this picture being taken. i just remember leaving those doors, trudging automatically down the steps and walking away. i was drawn to the bishop's garden, where i found a rock and shrub to cushion my zombie-like form. i sat and looked at my feet, dangling above a modest pond. there were two relatively small koi fish huddled together for warmth, quite understandably, as i, too, could feel the chill emanating from the water that cascaded down the rocks i sat next to...
seeing the diminutive koi reminded me of my father even more. in november of 1998, i asked him for a pond at the house he was developing in kottayam, kerala. he laughed indulgently while my mother grumbled about what a pain in the ass a pond would be. "edi, she hasn't asked for anything in this house...and the garden should be beautiful," he smilingly told her. a month after that mundane parental exchange, i would see my father's open casket and angrily wish it were closed. i remember standing on that hill as two cemetery-workers dropped his coffin twelve-feet under, all the while looking bored and jaded as they manipulated ropes that took him further and further away. the koi fish suddenly reanimated and scurried a few inches away, to a small overturned vessel that had been placed in the pond on purpose, to obscure the filter. the loss of their quivering white and orange forms returned me from stillness to sadness. they were gone. he was gone. earlier in the day, i had wished that i were gone.
i would not let go of this absolutely vital equilibrium, this intoxicating peace. i closed my eyes again, to continue my internal communication with G-d. it was obvious, after the flurry of mental images stolen from CNN and various websites, and the painful memories of 1998-99, that what my inner voice was attempting to say, was "today was awful, yes, but it wasn't horrible. so many more than YOU suffer unbearably. you suffered too, a few years ago, when loss overwhelmed you. today was a piffling trifle compared to all that."
sigh. very true.
i drew solace from the simple fact that whether or not i thought i could at the time, i did survive the worst thing that ever happened to me. though i could scarcely believe that i still had that unbelievable old strength, i did, whether i felt it now or not. it didn't just leak out of my pores one day during these past six years. i took a deep breath and felt a tiny sort of resolve float up within...this too shall pass. we die little deaths every single day, crucified by our sins, our choices, our "romans" (read: people who judge/condemn/lash out for their own inscrutable reasons, though they don't know anything about us). we ache, feel that such torture is unbearable and we suffer, seemingly needlessly. we are buried and we sleep (though not for three days...even though we might want to) and afterwards, we walk out of our caves into the light. through our pain and its attendant bloodletting and soul-searching, we are resurrected, remade, reborn. this cycle perfects us, it refines us. it shapes our hearts and strengthens our faith.
my pond-side meditation nearly complete, i felt a pure calm, almost teflon-like, inside. things would improve. like a small child who hurts their elbow and cries b/c they feel like the world is ending and the pain overwhelms them, i had wept and felt similarly. while rubbing their elbow and sobbing piteously, the child is convinced that life will always be so wretched, since they are mired in their hurt. i, too, had become mired, though i don't have the right to, since i am far from childhood. the comments on SM and my diary were vicious, but life is not always so cruel and toxic. elbows heal. tears dry. comments get deleted and trolls get banned. tomorrow is a brand new day, shaped only by my willingness to see/do/feel good. if i wake up and center myself, contemplating my faith in right triumphing over its opposite, if i shake off the bondage of insecurity and hurt, i am free. reborn, if you will.
i looked up at the glorious cherry tree, in full bloom just inside the bishop's garden, near the gate. it was so massive, its canopy of branches had grown over the pond, too. pure, divine beauty, made tangible by bark and blossom. i could see a brilliant horizon fragmented like a mosaic by the tree's branches, though no grout caressing tile was ever as beautiful as those tiny pink flowers dividing the blue. when i see such things, i am 1000% sure that G-d exists, that he is the well of all perfection. if ever on my day at the cathedral i felt like i had my heavenly father's ear, it was now.
"well, did i get it? is that what you wanted me to hear in the stillness of this enchanted, secret place? did i successfully translate babbling waterfall, chirping birds, the distant laughter of children and the rustle of green in the wind?" i kept looking up, though my neck was starting to ache. the picture on the infinite canvas above was so gorgeous, a crick seemed worth it. i stayed in the moment, consummately mindful of vibrant colour, comforting sound and heavenly fragrance wafting towards me from the myriad flowers in the garden. i was even aware of the dull pain in my neck. i closed my eyes, waiting for a confirmation of some kind.
finally, i glumly looked down, hoping that the koi had come out from their hiding place. they had not. i started to feel my disappointment increase, but i tried to quell such negativity. i had experienced enough sadness today. i had had it. i was done with feeling blue.
at that exact moment, from a corner of the pool that i had neglected to pay attention to, b/c it seemed inactive and empty, a tiny movement summoned my attention via peripheral vision. there, behind a less than stellar-looking plant, there it was again, though it disappeared so quickly, the ripple was all i was left to gaze at...
the third time's the charm. a baby koi fish, just a few inches long, concomitantly curious and anxious wobbled out from behind the plant, its vibrant red-gold colour reminding me of wedding saris, hong bao and other asian-good-fortune. i was thrilled. i leaned down, carefully, ever so slowly, not wanting to startle the wriggling little gem. after a moment or two, it suddenly swam up to me and blew a bubble. a smile that threatened to make contact with my ears invaded my tear-stained, swollen face.
"thank you" i replied, sincerely and joyfully. i looked up at the azure perfection above, and murmured it again.