Saturday, September 27, 2008

The night that was

To preface this entry, I must begin with the fact that I have a strong belief in God. To some, this may be referred to as Allah, energy, or random occurrence, but in any case, there is some sort of force that drives the universe, all of its inhabitants, as well as their actions…

As I sat tonight drifting between conversations, listening, thinking, and feeling, I thought of what existence means to me. This is not a something foreign to my life, nor is it new, but with each passing moment, new thoughts come and go, just as the days which carry them like chariots to their destinations. I thought about right and wrong; is it relative, or are there things that are inherently good, balanced by those which are inevitably bad. As I roved between conversations, hearing one’s thoughts about existence, specifically where it comes from, I questioned myself and my stance, not only on a higher being, but on how I approach the thoughts of others. I consider myself a very open person, specifically to beliefs and ideas, and I think those who know me can attest, but the core of all this thought is the fact I am still only human, and will always have biases and agendas. As my body graces my temporary bed, and my ears fill with the sound of a ticking clock and jangling keys, I press my mind hard to fill a blank page with thoughts that only moments ago where so clear. I try and recount the revelations of the night, knowing full well this feat is impossible. What was felt tonight was the collective action of individuals connected in a moment, and though it is my interpretation, recreation is unattainable. A glimpse of enlightment is all I can offer.

The night that was

I came to Morocco in hopes of finding answers, and what I realized is this was the first mistake. It’s not our human duty to ask how, but to ask what. What is the purpose of existence? What caused this? What am I supposed to do with life, during the blink of an eye I’m on this earth? For one to find answers, they need to have questions, and at my stage in life, this is my longing. So to rephrase, I came to Morocco searching for something. My experiences abroad before have been quite different. The summer before the last, I spent my days with one other American, surrounded by Ugandans, engulfed in their culture, doing the best my body was capable of doing to shed my American skin, and experience life through their eyes. Since the start of this semester, I’ve felt like I’ve been living an American life in Rabat, more so then the feeling of being immersed in the culture. I spend my days at school surrounded by mostly Americans. I eat dinner with my host family, and sit silently when the language barrier bars me from the conversation, and I use the Internet to stay connected to home life. This has been the basis of my discomfort, but all was dissolved today in a solution of discovery.

We sat at our own table, united by our birthplace, in the heart of a café booming with Moroccans. We made eye contact, order drinks in Morocco’s native tongue, and even sparked basic conversation, but tonight these occurrences resonated with me. I have Moroccan friends, whom I talk with on a daily basis, but I am still American, and this fact will never change. But to me, this isn’t a bad thing. Shoes will never fit two people the same way, so all we can do is try and empathize with and understand one another. I’ll always be an American, whether I’m abroad or not, but that does not have to taint my experience. So with this new thought in mind, I was ready to live the life in which I’ve been bestowed.

Though I did not change seats through out the night, the final shuffle of others left a familiar face next to me. Before tonight, I had yet to discover what lies behind her brown eyes. She is typically shy, and very sweet, but her lack of assertion in an overanxious group, has left much to the imagination. I asked her about her home life, where her family lives, and in her case, where they came from. I heard an eye-opening story, and as she continued to speak, our conversation was buried under the forceful words of an argument in close proximity. We laughed about our classmates’ stubbornness, and unknowingly arrived at this evening’s conversational turning point. Since the other argument was about God, she asked me my belief on existence and creation. I told her I believed full well there is God, and that this God, as long as I’m right with my emotions, will give me insight and direction into my life’s path. She replied with the fact she’s agnostic for the most part, but had never felt she could grasp the feeling that most believers cannot convey in words alone. She is a science major in college, and a person who relies on equations to come to specific conclusions in life. I told her this is where I believed the problem lies. What makes the existence of God very hard to grasp is his omnipotence. For a rational thinker, trying to explain an answer, which is not a single solution that can be drawn through a constant equation, is a difficult battle. For an imperfect being, trying to explain perfection is like trying to fit a circle into a square, the outcome will never be what you hoped for. To her, It was as if this humble comment had been a flag of surrender. Our shields were lowered, and our armor was discarded. We were now ready to have a conversation.

His existence led us to the next chapter, one which was concerned with heaven and hell. I told her I believe in the afterlife concept, but that I didn’t believe good people, in their earthly skin, who did not accept God, would spend eternity in Damnation. God is merciful, and I believe that once all is said and done, a person will have a chance to see their existence, with all the good, bad, wrong, and right turns, in the presence of a maker, and if at this point they still denounce him, then damnation would be their fate. But then again, what do I know? She seemed in intrigued, but said that this was one of the hardest concepts of religion for her, because she believed that life right now was all we are given. She said we can choose to do good, or bad, but at the end of the day, it was our choice, and we as people are defined by our actions. Her final words rang, and I sat dumbstruck, watching the smoke billowing from ashtrays littered around the café. The staggering conversations of our peers tried to impede our boarder, but the moment we created could not be stopped. It had become a wave during high tide, pushing its way to the shore, regardless of what lay in its path. My mind processed what she said, and I asked her if she believed her life had a specific person, and where did she derive her values and morals. Her reply was bare, and was backed by a source that has long since been neglected, her heart. She said that she wasn’t for sure if there was a specific purpose, but before she died, she wanted to know and understand the outside force that her physics classes were so reliant on. Morals where brought by the same force, as well as values, but she didn’t believe anything that didn’t feel right in her heart. When my reply was called, I told her that I believe each person has a purpose beyond themselves, regardless of their belief in its creator, and it was their choice to find it. For myself, my purpose is still hidden, but I know that part of it is to be a positive attribute to the community which I’m in. If my actions are hindering those around me, and my words hurting instead of helping, then in that moment, I’m not following my purpose. I told her of my religious upbringing, and how for years I was blinded by the morals the church dubbed as truth, but now I knew this was wrong. My morals come from the same source as hers, the heart. If something feels wrong, then it isn’t something I should partake in. If I’m hurting another with my actions, or if I feel my conscious scream, I need to reconsidered what I have put on my table. Morals should not be defined by another, they should be defined by your heart, but to be able to do this, one must connect with something many chose to ignore.

We sat in silence for a moment, catching the occasional eye as we stared at the room, submerged in cleansing thought, washing clean the inhibitions which prohibit such connection. She surfaced us by thanking me for my thoughts. We had been on the same level, and she was happy to hear another person, though with some what different beliefs, could share such a similar outlook on life. We continued to talk about the importance of knowledge, but only if it was backed by a warm feeling in you heart, reminding you it is something which should not be taken lightly. As our group began to pay our tab, and we left the café, our ambiance stayed locked to our sides, and the cool night air added a welcomed comfort. We began to talk about drugs, and their detrimental role in finding ones heart, and this lead to a conversation about high’s and low’s. Being able to reach this point tonight, we knew that what caused so much turmoil when trying to connect with the heart were the fatal flaws of doubt, self-conscious, and fear that are innate in humans. Though drugs and alcohol can temporarily silence these, what both of us had devoted much of recent times to, was finding this mental state in a natural way. I posed the idea of subjective highs and lows, whether the appeal of all natural existence was clear to us, because of a high we have reached naturally that others had never experienced. As if we had found the final clue that solved a mystery, she and I together, let loose the floodgate of what lies in our hearts.

Highs and lows seemed to be the key to us as people. When we feel that natural high, when self-doubt submits, when fear flees from the light, when every God-given talent in our bodies works to its fullest potential, nothing seems unattainable. But this could be countered when the low comes barreling through our thoughts like an avalanche, engulfing the strength, light, and guidance, leaving us stranded and alone, knee deep in the cold depths of misery. Lows were not what scared us though, it was the middle. Though centering oneself is important, the middle area is not the same. If highs are secluded white-sand beaches, and lows are like a blizzard, then the middle is like a desert, with no end at sight. When hitting that middle area, you see the world through apathetic eyes. You don’t feel happy or sad. You don’t feel anger. You don’t feel bliss. You don’t feel a thing. It’s like being a ghost, wandering the earth, questioning why you are still here when your body was banished so long ago. I had felt this a month ago after an incredible high on a bus to Cascade D’ Ozued, but I could never put it in to words like she had this evening. Though it would depend on what state our minds our in, the ability to recognize such states helps one peer into their own heart.

Speaking of relative experiences set ablaze an already burning flame that has been raging in me since February. This fire of relativity was sparked when I had the chance to hear a lecture from author Ishmael Beah. He is from Sierra Leon, and spent a vast majority of his youth as a child solider. This man has seen his family die, been forced into killing the innocent, completely desensitized, brought back to life, and still suffers from nightmares and insomnia as a result of his experience. As miraculous as this is alone, what sets him apart is his ability to understand relative emotion. Though through an objective lens, a very unfortunate select few could say they have experienced something to such a magnitude, but what Ishmael preached was the fact that no one should belittle another person’s suffering. He used the example of a person loosing their pet, and said if this person feels the worst pain possible, relative to them, resulting from the loss of a loved one, then why should his worst suffering as a child soldier be considered any worse then the person who lost their pet? Though Ishmael stands a mere five foot four inches, I remember looking at him, wondering how he could fit in the hall which held over two thousand people. This man’s soul, his prowess, his wisdom, and most of all, his heart, are large enough to fill a city. I told her, as we walked down the street towards our home stays, that my hope is to one-day amount to a small piece of what that man is. To have the ability to not underestimate what a person is feeling, as well as sacrifice my pride to truly empathize with another. I looked at her as my words came to a close, and I could see our moment had only grown with this segway.

With a look of query in her eye, she asked me if I would ever be able to sacrifice my family, friends, and loved ones if it was what God called for. If God wanted me to renounce all my possessions, leave my home, and move to the world’s end, would I be able to do it? I would love to say yes, and think that I was an island, but being stripped of all my pride, in my barest form, I told her the truth. My most prized possessions in life are my loved ones, and the thought of having them stricken from my life devastates me. I know how important soul searching is, and I think months at a time I could go with very little communication, but actually not having them be a part of my life is something I cannot fathom. She told me how one of her favorite books is “The Razor’s Edge,” and how this is the premise for the story. She felt the same as I did about her loved ones, but found herself in a similar situation on a relative scale. Her mother and uncle fled the east, against less the 50% odds, during the Vietnamese war, and it was this act of selflessness that brought her and her family to safety and prosperity. She had worked hard in school, since the point in which grades became lasting, in hopes to gain acceptance to a prestigious grad school, which would grant her a high paying job. With this, she could continue to aid her family, and guarantee the same life to her kids to which she had been shown. She had come to Morocco in search of an answer, already knowing her question, and as we walked past the vendors, smelling the aroma of foreign cuisine, she realized this was her razor’s edge. Her heart felt content, and spoke to her as if they were timeless friends, when she was working with youth and volunteering in orphanages. She is a person who loves to give and she felt that she was following the right path when she was donating her time, being a beckon of hope for those who have lost their way. Her family, unfortunately, did not see this as a prestigious career, leaving her with a life-altering dilemma. I thought for a second that the answer was simple, do what your heart says, but then realized how ridiculous that thought really was. She was torn between what she loved, and whom she loved, and it seemed certain that the fork in the road would lead her far away from one. At this point I was stumped, and although we reached many conclusions this evening, the means for this end were going to take her more then one heartfelt conversation to find. Maybe it was the last remaining minutes of that high, but this seemed to be a very acceptable answer for her. We embraced, and I thanked her for every thought she had that evening, and we went our separate ways, accompany two different groups, still arguing, but not hearing the words the others spoke.

One of my favorite lines in “The Alchemist,” talks about how a person whose finds days monotonous has blinded himself from the simple beauties in life. The most basic beauty of humanity is interaction, and tonight was a testament to that. We had been on this program for a month now, exchanged subtitles, but nothing more. If we would have moved seats, or kept the conversation superficial, we would have missed our chance at a moment of bliss. What was amazing was the fact these self-conclusions could not have been reached without the guidance and wisdom of one another. I would like to consider myself a decently intelligent person, and she obviously has much wisdom, but without each other’s insight, neither of us would have been able to take the spiritual step we did that evening. I think this is why human interaction is important. A lot can be learned from a sabatical, or a trip spent alone in the woods, but the aid of another, someone who is on a similar spiritual plan, will always triumph the insight of a person urning to be an island.
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