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?
Summer is returning.