Note: This little ditty is the beginning of what I thought might eventually turn into a book. I suppose it still might, but the initial idea has changed and evolved so much over the last couple of years as to be virtually unrecognisable. I am currently in the ‘research and note-taking’ phase (read: ‘procrastination and noodling about’) of the book it will now become. That said, it began as a story about balance, and it will end as one.
A sky burial
The circling shadows ripple across the sparse scrub of the mountain top. The air is thin here, and cool. The five figures stand loosely gathered, each looking out in a different direction across the bluff, where the light paints a late afternoon, bordering on dusk. It is fitting, given their purpose.
As the sun dips and grows, and dips and grows, the five stretch upturned hands in the direction they each are facing before lowering their arms and reaching out to the sides. Rather than joining hands, as you might be expecting, each person takes a light hold of their neighbour’s left wrist, until a circle is made. If you are listening, you will have begun to imagine the drone of a low hum as it undulates in the space – swelling, intoxicating. If you are observant, you will have spotted the not-quite-discernible bundle, wrapped in a blanket that fades through elemental colours, interrupting the ground within the ring of five.
The stillness of the scene is sharply highlighted by the flick and wave of the gusted grass, the thrum and roll of the low, low tone that seems to come up through the ground and collect in the throats of the five. If you find you have been there a lifetime, it is because the sound of the receding day has had a way of stopping thoughts in their tracks; make of that what you will.
When the sun kisses the distant summit the sound abruptly stops and hands once again fall to sides. Wordlessly, the five drop into a crouch and begin to shuck the blanket from what it shrouds.
And there you are. And me; except it isn’t really you or me but it might have been you and one day it will be me – we are all connected.
The body may have been man, or woman, or neither, but it doesn’t really matter as it all comes from the same place it will go back to: a memory that morphs over time.
The five stand back from their charge and once again turn to face outwards. Each one of them with gaze relaxed to encompass all in their periphery. You see them solemn, but clear-eyed and open. They stand still a long moment more, and before they disband each one touches fingertips to the forehead of every companion. Then they break into broad smiles and depart, each stepping lightly in a different direction. One waves the blanket-shroud jauntily in time with every step. By the time they are twenty yards away, the first vulture has landed amid a great beating of wings.
Days and nights pass in stillness on the mountain top, weaving in and around the tempestuous grass and the carrion birds that circle and hop. There is nothing to be done now but wait for life to creep forward in that inevitable way it has; we might call it la via vita. Laviavita, rolling inexorably on.
After a few days exposed to the elements, our disconnected sibling reconnects; only this time the signal is clearer, stronger, faster. No data is sidelined, or siphoned off to become tangled in a web of our own making. There is no different perspective now.
Its hair flows in quiet symphony with the grass; it is naked, and unashamed when the birds begin to tease meat from bone in strips that stretch and snap as they are plucked. A simultaneous exchange goes on unnoticed below. Something – memory, experience, perspective – reaches down and noses its way between stone and root and earth, the one enriching the other as they pass by, eternally osmotic. It joins with the sweat of the earth to become religiously one with it.
Religion, from religare; to bind together. Take a moment to wonder what happened.