"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."


~C.S. Lewis




Thursday, March 22, 2012

Eternity under an oak tree

Lake Johanna before me, Nazareth Chapel behind. Oaks in front, so many, criss-crossed, a giant’s sideways version of pick-up-sticks. This is the seen, and the unseen is here too: now ahead, down the hill, to the right, by the shore, a small cave sleeps. In it is one awake and watching with sightless eyes—the Virgin Mary, hands upraised, blessing me, sanctifying the water. The sunlight does not reach there.

It does not reach me either. Wrapped in the oak tree’s stretching shadow, I am sitting in its lap, and it lets me be alone. The ground is dry here—drier than the manicured lawns I left minutes ago—maybe because it is happy, not crying, content to be where there are beaches and breezes and a view of the sea. My bare feet are pleased to be dirty, my hair not so pleased to be spitting out twigs onto my homework (I was rude to it when I lay in the dirt two minutes ago). Backpack, papers, Fundamentals of Finance, pens I keep losing, papers that keep blowing, shoes beached on their backs, I carried so much baggage with me when I came here a half hour ago. I should be doing homework. No, actually, I shouldn’t.

There is no one here. There are people, but there is no one here. We all came, this evening, to be alone with the hillside, to listen to the sun and hear the warmth and feel the silence, to believe it is June when it’s actually March, to pretend we are not prisoners in a dizzy anthill that won't let us go.

Beside me, a silent maiden descends the cold old hillside steps—awkward stone stairs too large for one step, too small for two—down toward the water, toward Mary’s shrine. And as she glides, the clouds open to allow glory-light to whisk out its rug ahead of her, making a royal path of heaven for her to walk on, the chosen one.

I am still in shadow. The light did not come for me.

A puffed-up chickadee, mottled black on swirly brown, flits on her song: up and down and down and around—“Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!”—until an owl with a headache finally shouts, “Hell-oh!” and she stops. Shocked. Muddy bark runs down in rivulets, headwaters in the sky; a good place to be from. Leaves spin and skip, no longer leashed to trees or imprisoned by snow, bouncy now. Clover buds, threads of grass, moss coral, waft out of the ground as steam from winter’s last breath. Just before sunset, all seems sacred—colors more royal, leaves more hallowed, trees more divine. Evenings and mornings were given so we could touch the face of God.

The water was silver before, flat, but now it shatters under the setting sun to reveal a glittering opal center, like the quartz-filled rocks I used to find and line up on my bedroom shelf—the ordinary holy. There is something of forever here, in the psychedelic water and the mahogany trees. Seeing it is like grasping at something you thought you forgot; it is a dreamy reflection remembering vaguely that “beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror” (Kahlil Gibran).

I know my eternity, now, my beauty, for the hillside told me so. Eternity sits under an oak tree with her twiggy hair and dirty feet, brushed by a scepter of light set with gold.