Ferial: 22 June 2012
Two nights back, I woke up to a half-sleep state of panic: worried about packing too much to take into Uganda. And at 4:30 a.m., I found myself, on my bad knee, repacking like a rat packing in haste to leave a sinking ship. And this pack-rat found suddenly at the ultimate moment: with a frantic taxi man calling to let me know we had had to leave at once to not miss the 5: 45 a.m. bus, that the knee, the knee that had slowly healed to a functioning state, allowing me to ascend mountains to village deep within a Red Flag zone, and to walk out of Congo, with bags on both shoulders, and to walk up and down and back up the hills of Kigali, this knee was locked, and in searing pain, and I could not get up.
Back by this moment, I had learned a lesson: to let it all go: to loose the anxiety: and to relax. And slowly, with the taxi man now having now turned up his car stereo to underscore his point, I managed to stand once more, in the knick of time, and to hump one bag at a time, and to pile into the old car, and make off for the bus station.
On the bus, I sat next to a young man, who worked in the security industry, and whose specialty was I.T.
He was nice and nicely dressed. And he was a talker. He talked about the Congo, and M23, and the war, and the Congolese, and how crazy Goma was, and how clean and moving forward was Kigali. He commented that in Rwanda every villager was given a cow. And that there were buses and there was transport for everyone. People in Rwanda did not ride hanging on top of big trucks, atop sacks of produce and such stuff. And that in Kigali littering was illegal (at which I immediately thought of Singapore and canings). And as we moved across northern Rwanda and into southern Uganda, and traversed the hills, he said how the hills of Uganda and all of South Kivu (over in the Congo) right down to Katanga had for centuries “belonged to us… once.” He said: “we are now only a dot on the map, but a dot no one wants to mess with.” He said that back when the kings of Rwanda had had all of the land, the colons had been afraid of the Rwandans’ cleverness and their skills at battle, and so they had found devious ways to take away the kingdom and to relegate the Rwandans (to which he meant the ancient Tutsi dynasties) to no more than this dot on the map that “we are now.”
He had been in business for himself. He had not wanted to work in the family business. He had had sudden business brainstorms that had proven profitable for years, each and every one, but that others had caused these to fail when they had gotten greedy for small short-term gains, and had abandoned him, going over to other international companies, who had lured them away with bonuses of a car and shares in the company. He had had an I.T. company and had had a company marketing secondhand shoes. And he now worked in security, worked for a Swede, a muzungu who thought in Africa there were only “loose laws.”
He was old at 27. He was frustrated: he tried to go to England to get more education. But he had been rejected: his English had not scored high enough of the proficiency exams.
I asked him about his ideas. What did he hope to achieve? (Besides becoming simply rich…)
He couldn’t say. He and a friend had pitched a non-profit scheme to the government, to teach street children computer skills to make them more employable. The government had given them letters of endorsement and approval, but no start-up money. I had asked if they had approached foreigners… No.
I told him that if he was willing to market himself as wanting an education to use it to help and to empower others less fortunate he could perhaps solicit sponsorship, scholarship, and a student visa. But he had to position himself as a guy who was interested in becoming more than just another guy wanting to be another rich guy.
… For either he will hate one, and love the other; or he will sustain one, and despise the other.
(Mt. 6: 24)
Our bus pulled over and waited as bus after chartered bus after chartered bus of refugees from the camps along the border between Uganda and Congo darted by. The young man made reference to the fact that they were being bused far away from their homes to prevent them from becoming armed and militant, if things became more enflamed.
Thoughts of transference…
As a young Rwandan speaking ill of all of his neighbors… and hoists tribute to his ancestors and lays claim to his nation’s natural hegemony…
Being a Victim [lead to] Right to Victimize Another: this processing within a societal consciousness somehow forming a perfect circle of human construction: fictions from one person or one set of persons feeding off of and into other fictions from other quadrants: and building into something new and seemingly not connected to the spirals of previous causal associations: life half-sleep on a rainy lazy day, in bed sick, watching endless selections of borrowed DVDs from the local public library, and only awakening for bits of each narrative’s plot twists, which then feed back into one’s dream state, fabricating a unique unified ‘storyline’— surreal and unsettling and connected all the same, And still all fiction.
Whenever I (for I should only speak of I now) enter into the worry of my food and drink and clothing and my collection of comforts as signifiers to a life being lived – I naturally transfer my “standard” onto my assessment of others: meat trumps life; raiment trumps body (Matthew 6: 24-34). And I make impotent my ability to engage in and with this world, whilst remaining seated in a state of apatheia (“indifference to physical conditions”) and hesychia (“an interior silence characterized by a tranquil acquiescence to the will of God”), whilst cultivating through the praktika a presence of xenitea. (“making one a stranger and a sojourner” – 1 Pet. 3: 11; for the parentheticals, please refer to the “Glossary” in The Book of Elders, transl. by John Wortley, Cistercian Publications, 2012). I become anxious – over the future and over the post, concurrently and continuously, and as such, am blind to the pit opening up in front of me in my present (Is. 24: 18).
The young man on the bus, who need not be named, mentioned “the birds” of Matthew 6, but only in platitude. His litany as we moved from Kigali towards Masaka betrayed a worry that I have known terribly myself, and only now, after all so many years of impatience and self-torture, have begun to try to live without. How often do each of us – and I put myself front and center – still fall into the pit, each and every day, whilst knowing better, and despite earnestly striving to be that better? And why must such knowing men and knowing women walk, move, speak, act, forwardly, without pulling the plank out first, without counting to ten before releasing their thoughts, or better still simply releasing hold of their thoughts, letting them fly away in silence, and instead choosing to simply smile a genuine humble smile, all the while saying nothing, as if the salvation of not only themselves depended upon it. Giving it all up to a constant trust in God…
But they don’t all the time. And certainly neither do I.
And with all of this I landed myself in Masaka. Or just beyond Masaka, as the bus driver forgot about me in his rush to reach Kampala.
And I walked in the heat back to the bus stop, with my “game” knee.
And Brother D. espied me. And we went to lunch and to errands. And it was waiting to become “registered” with the government so as to gain a new cell phone number, that the day hit me hard.
And in the truck, waiting at another stop for Brother Daniel to check on his phone’s repairs, that I felt tired and tested, challenged not to sink into my disappointments and pressured not to maintain equilibrium… it happened:
A boy with Down’s syndrome came straight up to the open window of the monastery’s pick-up truck and he smiled at me, and would not stop smiling, and he touched my shoulder. And he stood by me, smiling, and looking, and making not a sound in the twilight. “And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1: 5) And my mind turned to my aunt, who recently passed away, having had lived with the same syndrome for over threescore years. And my mind turned to Benjamin Compson and Faulkner and the South and its gothic. And it turned to so much more. And the boy stood at the back of the truck, smiling. And he climbed in, next to the vegetables, and poultry feed, and my backpack. And he waited in the twilight. And Brother D. came and smiled at the boy, and we gave the angel a lift to the gas station at the end of a long street, where his parents worked. And the boy climbed out, and that was that.
And he had lifted in a moment the weight of a long dusty day. And he showed me in his benevolent silence so much.
I then reached the monastery.
And moving toward my room in the darkness, I came across Father G. who greeted me, and who blessed me for my smile. And I confessed that the smile did not belong to me, but was something that was passed to me by an angel back in town.
A thought, tonight, a day later, on the road back from a trip to town with Br. D. to repair the lawn mower: The cultures of Christendom are best weighed and measured out along its fringes. Its capitals are all cluttered up in confusing, often militant, pageants, stone-cold mausoleums, and selfish entertainments.
Christ on the Mount clearly commands to those who choose to follow:
“Be not solicitous therefore, saying, what shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?”
“For after all these things do the heathens seek…”
“See ye therefore first the kingdom of God…” (Mt. 6: 31-33)
Writes Segundo Galilea:
“It is not ‘popular’ to assert truths such as the positive value of austerity, suffering, and the cross, or life after death.”
“Authentic Christian prayer… experiences God in everything, acting and directing the extraordinary as well as the ordinary.”
Advises St. Isaac the Syrian:
“Each day have death before your eyes.”
Using such a compass, how different one’s actions amount, moment to moment, building into a constant and irreversible change in navigation.
The boy smiled, and my yoke lifted, and my dour spirit healed.
“A man cannot receive spiritual knowledge except he be converted, and become as a little child.”
– St. Isaac the Syrian