The hut in which I live is a simple shelter made of wood, set on a foundation of piled stones, with a roof of hewn wooden shakes. The chimney is short, the hearth just deep enough for a piece or two of firewood. It is perched on a rise near the side of a mountain, overlooking a valley that fills with morning mist and gliding birds. There is a trail that winds along the ridge, following the spine of the only world I have ever known. The trail is a tiny tributary of packed earth, gnarled roots, and the partially revealed tips of upthrust rocks that crawls through the mountains, linking me to places I’ve never seen and people I’ve never met. Traffic is minimal.
The sightings of people are few and far between. Except for Him.
He comes, periodically, and stays with me. A night here. A night there. I don’t even know how this all got started. I know He is always moving along the trail, coming and going like the seasons, passing through in a time that is all His own, giving to others along the way like He has given to me. He taps on the door with a twinkle in His eye, His heart full of that one story He has to tell me. In its telling, His presence remakes the atmosphere of my mind, opens windows I can’t remember shutting. My stale thoughts waft through the undone boundaries and make way for warm breezes that seem to rise from His heart in every direction at once, like swarms of butterflies coming up out of the trees.
* * * * *
His visits are the balm of my life.
* * * * *
When He is near something in me relaxes. I discover a Love for preparing food I can never sustain on my own, a Love for simple things that most other times is replaced by an incapacity for satisfaction, by an odd ensemble of scoffing and self-reproach that brooks the very idleness it seems to despise. I am warmed to the core by giving Him my only plate, mostly vacant, dotted with a tiny serving of beans that roll around like frightened bugs, and a scrap of cornbread- the only bounty I can afford. He always shares it with me.
He coaches me with gentle words, and feelings, mostly. He sees how I keep myself when He is away, and reminds me how much more than that I am- never by saying so directly- but by sharing His own inner life with me, as if I am an equal, as if we share a great understanding. I take on a new identity when He is near.
* * * * *
It is when He leaves that I am unable to sustain the grace He has given, and I am ashamed. The first day after is still warm and resplendent: it is the echo of His Love for every place and every thing that is. On that first day I think a lot about His Love, about the way it seems to compel moments to soften and gently flower within the fields of time. I think of losing myself in that Love. I think of giving something up, something I cannot quite name or place.
And then, sometime later, a dullness creeps in. Isolation. The air transforms from spaciousness into flat planes- invisible boxes at the boundary of my world. Ten feet beyond the trail that leads to my door there is an edge to my heart’s range. Nothing beyond can be sensed or known or touched. Scarcely beyond the garden plot out back there is another. My mind becomes compressed. Clouds roll by and days become nights, and the identity I reached for when He was near becomes a distant thought. It is as if the man I once knew as myself is somehow on a boat whose mast and sail have just disappeared beyond the horizon. I know they’re still there, but how to reverse the direction of movement between us?
* * * * *
At some point I realize I am clinging to His memory, hoping that the brewing doubts I am stoppering down with my clinging will not get out of the bottle in my chest. Once out, they swarm and annihilate. They overwhelm. You try and talk to them, but they do not listen to reasons.
Sometimes a night comes in which I lay on my back, in my hut, listening to the sound of my own breathing, feeling like an emptiness that could never be filled. A dark, furry spider with beady red eyes climbs up out of my chest, and crawls along my body, and I cannot even move. The others come out of the corners, up along the seams in the walls, along the floor beneath my bed. Some are spiders. Some are smaller insects. My breathing becomes shallow and hesitant. I cling to the hope that this too shall pass.
Unreality is an extended hollowness, filled with tinny half-sounds and an angst that chugs like a diesel. It seems as though it has always been. I don’t know what else I could possibly be. I feel like the impotent, embattled conductor of a marching band of spiders and ants and centipedes, unable or somehow unwilling to offer a clear direction. My voice is dry and raspy- its power unavailable to me. There seems to be no way that this could ever be different. This is perhaps, just who I am.
Fear never feels like a choice. It is certainly not a choice like deciding when to walk down to the stream. If anything, it is related to a deeper choice I can almost never see that sits like a discarded, petrified thought underneath a tree somewhere off in the distance. I tossed it onto the mountainside one time long ago. Now, I cannot even find it, but I will have to get it back one day. It must have been a choice about genuine greatness, because even now sometimes the thought is still too painful to approach. Abandon yourself, and you will know what I mean. Everything thereafter is an aftershock
* * * * *
Eventually, there is a clearing. The genie is placed back in the bottle. There is a loosening, and a lightness, and I wonder how I could have ever believed in a self so small. This is what it is like between His visits. I want to be rid of these fears, rid of the dark and furry things that sometimes crawl out of my chest to have a look around. And I think maybe that is why He has been checking up on me all these years, because He has been combing the hillside for me, to find that petrified thought and return it to me. You get the sense He would walk the entire world for you, or maybe that He already has.
He will visit again, soon, and I will be filled once again with a great question. A great question is like a bathyscape or a zeppelin- it takes you to new depths, lifts you to new heights. From the moment I first met Him, the great question was within me… How do I do this? How do I… become like Him…?