Summer

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My senses prickled to the presence of the Otherworld. I saw everything in sharp relief: the risen moon, the bear, the men holding the torches, Uther, the glinting point of the spears, the stars, Pelleas, the hardness of the wall, the stones at my feet, the silent dogs…
It was a dream and more than a dream. The dream had become reality — or reality had become a dream. These times are rare — who is to say where the truth lies? Afterwards, men shake their heads in wonder and endure the scoffing of those who were not present. For it cannot be explained, only experienced. But this is what happened:
Uther boldly approached the bear and the animal lowered its head and dropped onto its forefeet. The High King held out his hand to the beast, and the bear, like a hound recognising its master, pushed its muzzle into the High King`s palm. With his other hand, Uther stroked the bear’s huge head.
Men stared in astonishment: their lord and a wild bear, greeting one another as old friends. Perhaps, in some inexplicable way, they were.
I will never know what Uther thought he was doing, for he could never remember it clearly. But the two stood this way for a space of a few heartbeats, then Uther lowered his hand and turned away.
Stephen Lawhead, Merlin

 

 

 

 

Not long ago, in the time when I was most happy and forgetful, there were many summers.

They were all different, surpassing one another in beauty; they danced a colourful, unforgettable dance. Yes, those summers had colours, wild, happy, and alive – the madness of the lights in a nightclub, the playfulness of the eternal sparkle in the eyes of beautiful strangers, the redness of a sunrise, seen through weary eyes from a beach that still bore the marks of the night. They had smells too – the smell of perfume and cocktails, of sea and sun-lotion; the sweet, stinging smell of whisky and the stale, dusty smell of the white powder, close and intimate and uplifting – a friend hidden in the pocket, a trusted ally in the battle for eternal joy.

Those summers connected me to other seekers – some were close, some not so much, and it seemed in those days, that nobody was being used, and everybody was completely happy.

But in my happiness, I hid; in my connectedness, I was cut off; I was disconnected – divorced from myself and from all others. For I did not know that my heart was left behind…

I did not know that I had lost my summer.

And so I grasped for those summers and I made them stay. They lasted long and my soul was free. There was no care, no harm, and no focus  –  I needed freedom and I had all I wanted.

But it did not last.

No matter how deep was the division within me, no matter how dark the grave that I had dug for my heart, the heart was not dead and it did not sleep; it was awake and it had great hunger.

It did not want to simply smell the sweetness in the air as we celebrated our youth beneath a sky that promised memories; it did not want to look into the deep eyes, that starry darkness, shining with proud beauty; it did not want to merely taste of the aromas, feel the budding feelings, drink from the rich laughter…

The heart wanted life; it searched for the life it once had and the world it had been made for. All the pleasures I gave it did nothing to appease its hunger. They only numbed me, so I could not see that they were mere signals and signs; they pointed to one different reality, to a world where everything is at it should be; where no pleasure is unlawful and no good sensation ever brings pain. A world where goodness endures and fulfilment is eternal.

This is what my heart was hungry for. And this is why I knew no rest.

My heart was on its search for summer.

I am thankful today that even the retreat from any deep feeling, that armour woven back in the unsteady days of my childhood, could not keep me from sensing the disturbance. I am grateful that even my life on the surface, when I lived in that shallow, happy place, could not keep me from feeling the tremors that shook the depths.

It is easy to feel happy when you are not yourself; pleasure is all you need. It is easy for an actor to play roles, for this is what an actor does best. But roles do not last and if masks are not taken off, they will rot and eat away at the face behind it.

On a day when I had not succeeded to keep the facade of happiness from crumbling; when some strange weakness came upon me, usually brought forth by something which seemed small and insignificant, I could not retreat too quickly from my feelings. A hint of rejection, a scratch of humiliation or exposure…then, it came; it always came, that message from the depths. Sadness, deep and old, darkened the horizon of my hopes. A hand that had no form yet seemed somehow familiar, reached out from another world, from beyond time, and gripped my trembling soul. The sadness often came when I looked upon the past; it came when I allowed my eyes to stray and rest unchecked on a forgotten sight; it came if I allowed myself to think too deeply, when I allowed my soul to be haunted by its own desires.

So I ran, though I did not know it. I ran from the sights and the smells; I ran from the familiar roofs and from those who lived beneath them; I ran from the old friends who I thought no longer fitted my new world.

Little did I know how much the old world yearned to return.

For me, summer was a time of eternal sights and unforgettable smells, a time when time did not exist and when all life sang an immortal song, a song of being.

Sunshine. Vines. Lazy skies. Cobwebs carried by the wind…

And creatures. Creatures that gripped my heart and stirred it to life, creatures that awoke wonder from beyond this world, and told me story after story without uttering a word. In a hushed awe, I watched as mysteries unfolded before my eyes, day after day.

A stag beetle with majestic antlers. A buzzard, soaring high, right above our house. Bee-eaters, each a small explosion of colours, livening the bleached sky with their loud, extravagant presence. A snake – a gleaming stream of quicksilver, swiftly moving among the plants; a vagabond that lived a hated, outlawed life, waiting for the time of its vindication. Storks – many of them, circling the high blue vastness in morning; owls, calling to each other in the evening; a beech marten — a fleeting glimpse of a bushy tail on the roof at night:

It all existed once, and I lost it.

Embittered at the world and my inability to grow, and fit in it and become the man I wanted to be, I cursed it all, forfeiting summer forever. Thus, I passed from the life of summer – that one summer, permanent and eternal — into the realm of many summers, a world of empty promises and shadows. The summers came and went, each taking a part of me with it – a precious part that they had no right to take if I had not myself given it freely. I was stranded in a lonely island, where I survived as best I could.

But all was not lost.

Summer, though shunned from my life, waited for me, even as I was searching for it.

It called to me – the sights, the smells, the very breath of the village – connecing me to that which I unknowingly ran from.

I avoided nature, and I hid from the creatures, for they brought forth the child in me, that self which I so hated. This was the self about which I had once believed lies, the self I saw as weak, slow, and stupid, and it was my hatred for that weak self which drove me away from it, and away from all that reminded me of it – away from the village and those old secret places, away from the fishing and the woods; away from the people too. It was not that I purposely avoided those places and people, back in those years of numb blindness; I simply needed to feel less. I needed to see and feel less of them, less about them and toward them, because I needed to feel less of my own hated self. For that self, the self I saw as pitiful and childish, was now buried deeply and I did not want to resurrect it; it was dead, and for this I was glad.

In the presence of such greatness – the greatness of the place where I was once alive, the greatness of those people`s older, but unchanged selves – I could not help but feel, and feeling was what I wished to escape. So I barred my soul against the power of that place; I shunned the people, even though I still sat with them, listened to them, and laughed with them; I shunned them in my heart, just like I had shunned it, that very heart, and allowed it no depth, and no true desire. For me, the loss was final, and those obstinate old people and things; those sites that still kept the fossils and remnants of my eternally lost paradise, had to be kept at bay. They had to be seen as rarely as possible, lest they opened that door within me which no man can shut, the door to grief and madness; the door through which a life of youth and promise would go, and disappear forever. No, I did not want that door to open, I hated to even think of that lost self. That child had too much pain and too much sorrow; he did not fit into the brave new world. He had too much hope for old, lost glory, and this is why I sentenced him to death.

But he lived, and from his grave, he reached for his summer.

And more and more often, I found myself beholding the old, familiar sights, listening to and telling stories which should have long been forgotten, and sitting on the bench in front of our house, looking at the street where I had once played with my friends. Often at least one of those friends would be with me, there in that place which kept so many memories.

In those moments, the place beckoned me; it those times summer rose from its grave and was again, though still only in my heart…

There, on the spot where more than two decades before a child had played and laughed with that immortal glory still sparkling in his eyes, I now sit, I listen, and I live as if I had never left the place…as if I had never left that boy behind, locked deep within me, darkened by shame and lies, laden with worries and burdens, haunted by unseen terrors. No, for although I had once shunned him, he is now mine. I have fought hard for him, and I have fought hard for summer, and despite the heavy loss, despite the suffering and all the pain, I have prevailed. He is now free, and this writing comes from his true home, the place where summer resides.

Although the war has not yet ended, the battle had been won.

Sitting there, under that eternal sky, on that eternal street, surrounded by birdsong and fading glory, I marvel – could it really be true?

Yes.

Summer is returning.

Roots – Part 2

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What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The street I was standing on had the appearance of a street that had two faces, or two natures. The old houses at its bottom revealed something of its darker past, while the modern ones at the top showed much warmer, more presentable character, as well as a desire to be in the present, and not look back.

A desire to forget their roots…

Yes. The new and modern design of the last houses, their wealth and beauty, looked like their owners had intended to clothe the past with new garments, to dress it with rich and beautiful clothes; they had attempted to transform their houses – they lives – into something radically different from the life of their ancestors. A noble task indeed, and a good desire, for we all know the dark sides of our past; most of us remember well the shame of our family, community, state, or nation. But there is one problem with this way of dealing with the shadows of the past.

It does not work.

One look at the modern buildings confirmed it. I examined one of the new houses and was stunned to see that everything about it – its very shape – was a reminder of its past. The house did not simply carry a memory of its roots. The house was its roots, for, just like a tree cannot stand without its physical roots, a house cannot exist without its roots which, though unseen, stretch far back in time and go deep into the heart of the world, deeper than the roots of any tree. We all have roots; we all have history.

Most of our history is not ours at all, and this perhaps explains the vengeance with which we attack and attempt to cover and erase all that is dark in our family history, that unwanted part of the heritage we have all received from our parents and theirs. But our attempts, as noble as they might be, do not serve a right purpose; nor can they be successful in redeeming our bloodline. Fought in this way, even the most righteous of wars will be lost. Alas, this is the story of most of us; we have not fought well; we have not swung the sword in the right direction, and, to a greater or lesser degree, we have all been defeated. You can see that defeat in the eyes of the father who, after years of fierce battle with his hidden addictions and compulsions, discovers that his young son is now tormented by the same afflictions, and that, despite the father’s heroic efforts, the darkness has been passed on. You can see it in the confused eyes of the aging man who, after a lifetime of denouncing the ways of his harsh and abusive father, is still lacking the masculine identity and the inner strength that only a strong but loving father could have bestowed upon him. Or in the face of the woman who has lived under a terrible (or, for that matter, a passive and emotionally absent) father, and then, for some inexplicable and tragic reason, falls in love and again becomes chained; enslaved by her love, or rather, her need for the same kind of man – abusive or passive – as her own father had been, the very man whom she had resented for years.

No, roots are not to be denounced; neither are they to be embraced blindly. Indeed, there is another way in which a redemptive battle can be lost. It happens when one, often in a sincere attempt to honor one’s bloodline, chooses to overlook their sins, their afflictions, and their darkness. Such a person remains ever distant from his real roots; too busy defending the castle from the outside, he can never get inside and see the true hearts of his people, the hearts that have undoubtedly passed true, unique blessings to him – blessings that often remain unseen, unacknowledged; precious gifts that are never truly received. Always defensive and overly protective of their family’s name, these people are often the first to ‘honor’ and ‘serve’ it, but their motive is as perverted as the ones who denounce their kin outright. This is indeed a kind of denunciation, since such approach does not allow for real closeness with the family members in question, not even a frank look at their true nature. There is no real examination of their good, their evil, and their own heritage, and therefore, there can be no true forgiveness and no subsequent discovery of their true hearts, and the story of their own personal harm. As opposed to demonisation and hatred, this way of relating is far more subtle and so, even more destructive.

I know that well, for I have lived with this particular affliction most of my life. It is only in the recent years, and after a series of events with deep and life-changing consequences, that my inner outlook on life, other people, and myself, began to change. Never before have I experienced such suffering, yet I would not trade those times for anything in the world. Pain, when it is left unaddressed, festers in the soul; it poisons us and it clips our wings, and, though we do not even suspect it is there, it slowly drains the joy out of our lives. I know this now, yet for decades I did not. Indeed, in my blindness then, I even thought I was happy – as happy as a human can be, as I often put it. But I was wrong, and my heart was hiding great pain. It was the pain that made me run from my roots, and it was the pain that made me blind to them, to their greatness and to their curse.

You see, when was old enough, I ran from my roots physically; but also, and most of all, I ran spiritually. My soul needed to run; it longed to travel far and away from what I knew as my roots. And although, as I said, I have only recently began my return, I am discovering that the return takes me far deeper than that place, so pitifully shallow now, where I once thought I belonged. Oh no, roots are deeper, and roots endure.

Since my first years, I could never bring myself to say, or even think, anything negative about my father. To me, my father was not merely a god; he was God. This is how I grew up, and this is what I believed, deep in my wounded, confused soul. I was not aware of that, of course, and did not became aware of it until, after my first brief encounter with the Truth, I one day found myself in a men`s group. Those men had all been walking the road to wholeness for some time, and all of them said, or hinted in some way, that I (like all people, they insisted) may have a problem with my father, and only a willingness to acknowledge that, and look at my inner life closely, could bring about the change I seemed to be so hungry for. I was hurt, and, deep down, I was very angry. To me, this could not be further from the truth; my father was a good man — their fathers were not. I stubbornly clung onto this belief until, in time, both pain and grace helped me in my desire to open my heart and look inside of it for the first time. What I saw was darkness, hatred, and terror, and to my utmost horror I discovered that my father was not what I thought he was; he had never been what I had so desperately wanted him to be. For the little boy within me, the man I had always called my father and had so adored, was a stranger; he was also an enemy. To my true heart – that self I was born with, that should have been nourished, loved and accepted as it was – my father was a merciless god; a god on whose approval depended the very life of the boy I once was. Although, in worldly standards, he was indeed a good man, indeed, a great man and an example to all, he failed to embrace and love me; he was cold when he should have been gentle; he was absent when he should have been present and involved in the small details of his son’s life. His virtues were impossible for me to attain, and his character I could never hope to emulate – he was a god too high for me, but I had no other god to worship. It was that need, among other things, which twisted my soul; it was that helpless frustration with myself which forced my heart to tremble in fear and hate itself, believing that I am no good and will indeed never be good. Such beliefs are like poison to the soul and in time become tools for forging the self most of us wear like a mask to ensure our acceptance by those around us – the performer, the joker, the smart one, the macho man, the good girl – oh, so many are the faces of the broken self!

But there is hope. And I am here to tell you that freedom is possible, and that, even what we may now call our character, can change. But it is hard. A journey must first be taken. A quest through darkness, a mission that promises hardship and unexpected twists; a pilgrimage which offers only grief and sorrow…on this journey, pain is a constant companion.

Yet, underneath the pain, there is gold. The roots also are there.

You see, what I just told you about – my blind worship of my father, the false face and self I have had all of my life – has, in part, already become history. There is of course more – more to leave behind and more to receive — but the way I now live; the way I now see others and myself — yes, even my father — has been forever altered. My heart is now free and is not tied to any, save for those to whom I wish to give it. There is no sickness in the blood ties; there is no dependence; there are no taboos, and there are no idols.

Freedom is attainable, but it is only gained when we are hungry enough, or indeed, desperate enough, and so are resolved to face the great wave of pain at last, and instead of swimming away from it, we choose to swim towards it, and plunge into the darkest depths. There, in the deep, are the wave’s roots, and there we discover that its roots are made of water – the same water that gives life, and does not kill. Thus, in our abandon of life, we find it. This has all been spoken of, and this has all been taught. And the Man who once taught it is teaching it to us still…

Seek the narrow gate. Lose your life, so you can find it.

How have you tried to cover up your roots? Have you, like the people on that Spanish street, painted the ‘house’ of your soul and body; have you changed its doors, or remodeled its roof? What are you running from?

Did you, perhaps out of hurt, shock and embarrassment, renovate your house on the outside, doing your utmost to change its appearance and identity, while sacrificing and losing much in the process? Or did you, perhaps out of fear – fear to disobey, fear to dishonor – choose to remain blind to all darkness, hastily covering all stains and blemishes as soon as they are exposed by the events of life?

Do you disown those whose lives were meant to uphold yours; those whose name was meant to make you proud, but instead have brought you only anger and shame? Or do you worship them like I once did, choosing to ‘see only the good’ about them in an outward act which can be performed truthfully only after the ‘bad and the ugly’ – their darkness – has also been seen and looked at; only after it has been stared in the face, and its hold over your life broken and released.

No, this is not the way of hope; it is not the way of love and true redemption. Roots must be uncovered, wounds must be entered, and pain must be felt… There is darkness in the roots, I know; yes, there is poison there that kills…

But hear this:

 

Beneath all shame, there lies a noble heart.

Behind a twisted face, there hides a treasure, and an art.

The coward wasn’t born one, and the whore in secret weeps.

Beneath the mire runs pure red blood; the yoke of shame the soul in torment keeps.

Roots must not be forgotten; pain must not be left unwept.

The cave of the ages must at last be opened, and the brave must enter its depth.

Only then will blood become true blood; only then will the storm stop its raging.

If we are cut off from our roots, in sorrow we will be aging.