Sunday, July 8, 2012

On Excess... and Blindness

Star Maker, Les Edwards

You wander from room to room, hunting for the diamond necklace that is already around your neck. ~ Jalaluddin Rumi

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Years ago, when I still lived in Egypt, I traveled to the Sinai Peninsula annually. Every November, for six years, I separated myself from the chatter of everyday life, went into the desert, and prepared for my climb to the summit of Mt. Moses. On the morning (or rather, the night) of the climb, I would wake up at 2:00 a.m., wrap myself in as many warm layers as possible, wear two or three pairs of socks, put on my hiking boots, and board the bus that would take me to the bottom of the mountain, where I would begin a cliff-ridden journey speckled with small chapels and other niches of worship, that would end at the top just as the sun was about to rise.

As I stepped off the bus and stood at the foot of Mt. Moses, there was never a need to look up into the sky to see the stars. Everything around me was stars! The sky was everywherehumming against my cheekbones, rubbing against my skin. I remember the falling meteoroids, plunging to their final rest so beautifully, like a platinum firework. We like to call those “shooting stars.” But they are not shooting. And they are not stars. They are dying pieces of rock that sing their swan song as they fall into our atmosphere in an explosion of light, as if to say, I am eternal. Always remember me.

Here is an excerpt from my journal from the trip I took in 1998: Walking in the supposed footsteps of Moses, passing beneath the night shadow of what was believed to be the original burning bush, I never once stopped to think about the holiness of the place from that context. The holiness for me was in the heavens. And the heavens were not up there, but right here… enveloping me like a blanket. It was all so overwhelmingthe brightness, the aliveness, the sacredness, the now-ness. How to take it all in?

Most haunting were the sleepless nights that followed, as that brilliant image lingered inside my psyche, knitting the tips of my darkest nights with interconnected haloes.

These memories called me outside again, last night, like innumerable nights before. And I stood at the step leading up to my front door, beside the “Welcome” garden gnome who perches there, my head craned back, my eyes scanning the heavens. The sky was so dark… the stars so bright. And I wanted so greedily to see it all. Every star. Every glimmer. Every dip. Every pose. Every eloquent and timid hue of purple. And silver. And black. And as I swiveled my head up and down, left and right, in my hunger to take in this immenseness, I realized the absurdity of my greed, and how insidiously it metastasizes.

Jorge Luis Borges once said that when he went blind, he became an insomniac. He’d slept all his life in total darkness, and now that he could no longer see, too much light danced behind his eyelids, haunting the receptacle of his absent sense, and stealing his sleep.

Ah, yes!

Last night, after countless insomniac nights… insomniac years… of searching the sky for stars, my neck sore from trying to support my ricocheting head, I walked out onto my front lawn, planted my bare feet firmly in the grass, and understood: The stars are there, even by day, even when I can’t see them. I need not search for them.
They are there.
They are there.
They are there.

I can’t see it all,
Can’t do it all,
Can’t have it all.

And the beauty of it is that I’m finally… finally… perfectly at peace with that.