“So, Bob, you’ve committed to writing a series of clues to unraveling the mysteries of our suffering and thereby it’s end. For God’s sake why?”
“Wouldn’t you much rather be out in your kayak or making music than collecting images and writing blogs?”
“Well yeah, but…”
“And your meditation practice has gone to pot. You spend most of every session with your mind running wild composing, re-wording, searching for clever ways to express yourself.”
“Well, I’m not sure how to put it…maybe… Well, if you find a gold mine there are two obvious things you can do. You could not tell anyone and keep it all for yourself, or you could…well, maybe that would best be described with a story.”
The Story of Aaliyah
There was a girl named Aaliyah who lived in a remote village where no one had any knowledge of the world beyond the mountains that surrounded them. The villagers had a small herd of cattle and otherwise survived on game brought back by the men from their hunting trips and vegetables that the women grew in their gardens. Once a rather strange man paid a visit to the village. He didn’t speak their language very well, but asked a lot of questions. He would take out a stack of square white sheets which he called a “pad” and make marks on them with a stick he called a “pencil”. One day when the men were off hunting, he asked questions of the women who were digging root vegetables they had planted.
“Do any of the women ever go on hunting trips?”
“Oh no! The men would never allow that!”
“Do the men ever help with the gardening?”
The women laughed and laughed. Some of them were rolling on the ground in hysterics. “Oh no! How silly. They wouldn’t know how! The men are really stupid about plants.”
Life was pretty good in the village, but one year there was much less rain than usual. The crops were barely enough to keep everyone fed, and the game the men hunted was getting more scarce. The following year was even worse. Time after time the men would return to the village empty handed. By the end of the year all of the small herd of cattle had been slaughtered to feed the hungry villagers. There was no longer any food to be had and not a drop of rain to moisten the parched land.
Aaliyah became more and more despondent seeing her friends and family starving. She had always been enthusiastic about life, had been the first to jump in when help was needed and was a great encouragement to her younger brothers and sisters as they grew up to become responsible members of the community. But now she had lost all hope, and would have shed many tears if there had been any tears left to shed. One night, in despair, she walked out of the village toward the mountains. She could no longer bear the wailing of the women whenever someone died, and the sight of sickness and death sickened her heart. She was going to die and she wanted to do it in peace and quiet. By the time she found herself climbing one of the mountains, she had almost forgotten the village. She was conscious only of one foot being planted in front of the other on the rocky ground. When she reached the summit she was so delirious that she was not even aware of her own shivering from the high altitude cold, nor could she appreciate the growing warmth as she descended the other side.
Aaliyha awoke from a comatose sleep to a feeling she only slowly came to recognize. Lifting a hand to her face she felt coolness, wet, and opened her eyes to see a misty rain falling toward her, falling through a green canopy of trees. With great difficulty she rose to her feet, looked around and found herself surrounded by rainforest. There was the sound of a running brook nearby and weak though she was she ran to the edge, fell face first into it and sucked in the fresh cool water. She drank as if she had never drunk before – drank in life itself. Hanging from the trees were fruits which she ate with relish and finally, feeling as if she were in a dream, lay down in the grass and fell into a deep sleep. The following days were a wonder of discoveries as her strength gradually returned. It was as if she had never seen green before. The brilliant red of the berries she picked was almost painful to look at and the blue of the sky was so intense that she wondered if she had ever actually seen sky before. She would sometimes stand for what seemed like hours with her eyes closed, drawing into her lungs the fresh air and the smell of the fertile earth. But she never thought about the village or her family and friends there. It was as if her entire past life had never existed.
Then one day as she stood on a ridge high up on the side of the mountain, gazing out over the valley at the distant hills and more distant mountains, imagining the plains beyond the mountains, she suddenly thought of her mother, and of her father who had died, and of her brothers and sisters, and one by one every member of the village, those who had recently died and those who were still barely alive when she had left the village and walked into the mountains to die. Thinking of all these people she once had loved she began to cry. She wept and wept for all those who were still suffering and dying at home while she was here in bliss, in paradise. But what pained her most was that she could do nothing to help them. She couldn’t bring this place to them and she couldn’t bring them to this place. Here she was in the midst of boundless beauty and she was more miserable than she had ever dreamed was possible. This was truly the darkest of nights, and her suffering was so deep that even in death there would be no release.
For the next couple of days there was a sadness for Aaliyah deeper than any sadness she had ever known. Though the forest was as bright as it had ever been, it’s beauty was hidden from her by the cloud of her thoughts. Though there had been bright colored birds everywhere around her singing beautifully, there was not a bird song to be heard except for the occasional cry of a hawk far, far in the distance. Everything she had done with great pleasure from gathering food to arranging her bed of leaves for the night she now did with disinterest.
There were coconuts high up in the trees but they were too high for her to reach. Long vines grew up some of these trees and she had discovered that by tugging on these vines she could loosen a few of the coconuts so they would fall to the ground. But now when she tried this she had no success. She tugged and tugged and shook the tree more and more violenty, grunting and shouting, but no coconuts fell. Finally the vine broke high up in the tree, Aaliyah fell to the ground on her back, the vine fell into a pile on top of her and one of the coconuts fell to the ground almost hitting her in the head. “Wow,” she thought, “these vines are really strong and they bend nicely”. Then she had an idea. She spent the rest of that day weaving a very large basket. She felt strong enough now that she thought she might be able to carry a basket of fruit back to the village. It would be hard going and the basket would be heavy but she felt pretty sure she could do it, and it was certainly worth a try. She had come to the mountains to die, and if she died trying to get back to the village to help her people at least she would have tried as best she could.
While Aaliyah was weaving her basket, she thought through her plan. There was a problem. She couldn’t possibly carry enough food to feed the entire village, and if she showed up with only as much as she could carry, there would be a riot. All those people desperate for food would struggle with each other to get just a piece of the fruit and no one would really be better off. Then she thought of the two strongest people in the village. There was Chidi whose name means “God Exists”. Chidi was the head of the village and was the one who decided when the men would go on a hunting trip. No one had any idea how he knew it was a good time to go hunting, but before the drought, every time they followed Chidi there was an abundance of game, and whenever a smaller party was organized by someone else they would find nothing. Aaliyah also thought of Halla whose name means “Unexpected Gift”. Halla was most respected of all the women and she was thought to have a god-like understanding of plants and the earth. Although she was among the older women she had a strength and perseverance greater than any of the other women and in fact most of the men. “Yes,” thought Aaliyah, “Chidi and Halla could make this possible.”
After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast – she had learned to catch fish from a pond and cook them over a fire – Aaliyah packed much fruit and a few dried fishes into the basket, placed it on her head over a cap she had made of dried mosses and headed off over the mountain. She ate as little out of the basket as possible. It was a difficult trek and there were times when she dispared of ever reaching the village let alone successfully enlisting the help of Chidi and Halla. But thinking of the people she loved gave her strength and finally she arrived at the side of a hill just out of view of the village late one afternoon. She set down her basket, ate a few berries and curled up to get some sleep. Early the next morning, long before the sun would rise, Aaliyah rose, left her basket where it was, silently walked into the village and crawled into Chidi’s tent where she found him sitting, eyes closed in deep meditation. As soon as she entered the tent without making the slightest noise, Chidi sniffed the air deeply and a smile crept over his face. When he opened his eyes, Aaliyah was holding a warning finger to her lips. “Meet me over the hill on the path that goes to the mountain,” she whispered. Chidi broke into a wide grin and nodded in agreement. Aaliyah then found Halla in her tent and was barely in time to clap a hand over her mouth preventing a scream at seeing this girl risen from the dead and looking so healthy! When the three gathered around the basket, Chidi and Halla ate heartily while Aaliyah told them about the rainforest on the other side of the mountain. They stayed in that place until they were fortified by the food they had eaten and then began the journey over the mountain.
Some days later they made their way back to the place on the path on the other side of the hill, each with a large basket of fruit and dried fish to plot the midnight kidnapping of six of the strongest and most trustworthy people in the village. Those left behind, being somewhat delirious from hunger and dehydration, began talking about the mysterious disappearance of more and more villagers every few days. Among the theories being proposed where that the missing people had been snatched by beasts more fierce than any they had ever known. Those most willing to believe this spent their nights trembling in fear. Another theory was that the gods had levitated the missing up to a glorious heaven and those who believed this spent their days staring at the sky and acting as if they were drunk. Eventually, a sufficient number of villagers had disappeared over the mountain that they were able to carry back enough food to feed all of those who remained, and early one morning the entire village stood gazing in disbelief as a steady stream of the missing villagers came over the hill, each carrying a basket of food, and each no longer looking thin and emaciated but glowing with good health. The entire village burst into celebration and many versions were told of the story of how a young girl had found the fountain that saved the village. “But where is Aaliyah?” several people began to ask. No one had seen her, and some of those who had been with her said that she had been right behind them on the path. Chidi and Halla just smiled as they watched all the worried faces. “There she is!” shouted a young boy. Everyone looked toward the hill to see Aaliyah coming over the top with a basket on her head and followed by…a cow. Unlike the skinny cows they had tended before the drought, this one was fat, her udder was full, and someone said it looked as if she were soon to birth a calf. For the first time in many months, drops of rain began to fall from the heavens.
That was not the last time the village suffered a drought, but the villagers always managed somehow to get through the hard times. Life there was not easy but it was good, and Aaliyah seemed to have forgotten that she had saved the village, even when the little children sat wide eyed listening to the stories told by the elders about the girl who discovered the rainforest. It was more than enough reward for her just to see her people happy and contented.
Next Clue: Compassion at Breakfast