After years of intense preparation, Magdalena was finally ready to make her pilgrimage to the Sacred Island. She knew she had done her best to purify her body for the blessings to come from those who lived there, sacred beings that had remained untouched by modernity. What she didn’t know was that The Eternal Ones who lived there could never die.
The councillor stepped into view an said “You will be granted a holy sighting at 1:30 this afternoon. You will all be seated prior to their arrival. Bring your cushions and umbrellas. It usually twins after they return to their quarters. Offer your gifts in silence, one by one. Men to the right. Women to the left. You will be expected to provide a written response afterwards. The length of your stay here will be determined thereafter.”
I was immediately outraged. I had payed good money to get here for a full two months. What were my councillors talking about? I was going to say something to somebody later. For now, it was all about getting to finally see one of them, an “eternal one”. Nobody knew for sure, but I had heard they were aboriginal peoples of the Pacific Ocean, sea faring nomads for centuries, living in small boats, always at sea. Their tribe was “officially” discovered in 1939 after a violent hurricane. They had the markings of the ocean, their bodies covered in intricate designs carved into their flesh with fish bone, octopus ink, ground coral, and fire. So I was told. It was forbidden to take pictures of them.
“The first time is always a challenge. You haven’t seen anything like this before in your life. No matter what happens, remember this: you are not the body, nor the mind. You are eternal” said the councillor.
This enervated me even more. I had studied their teachings and jumped through every hoop just to get here. “What’s up with all the ominous…” I started to say to my neighbor, who was standing, just like me and the forty or so others that had gathered on the island from every corner of the globe, in the roasting midday sun, when the councillor interrupted “You have never seen that which cannot die. When you do, you may realize the deathless state. And for that to occur, you, your ego, must die. Is this not what you have come here for?”
“Yes” I answered sheepishly. “Good. Good” replied the councillor. “Then you are ready”.
We all filed into the small hut that served as a temple and waited. The first hour flew by. The chanting was fun and I enjoyed singing. The second hour of waiting was more challenging. I thought my knees were going to explode. The third was an insult. I would later understand that the wait was part of the necessary preparation before entering into the company of the eternal ones. A good move if you wanted to avoid flipping out.
Finally, after embarrassingly checking my watch every few minutes for over three hours, the drums could be heard from a distance. They were fast approaching.
The door behind us suddenly opened and we could hear the sound of robes or long clothing run across the floor with a silky hiss moving through the center isle to the front of the hall where we were all seated.
What I saw next was both shocking and extraordinary. I felt like I was a prey running with a pack of wolves for the hunt, mysteriously protected from becoming the evening’s feast, a voyeur witnessing the majestic power of an endangered species unharmed.
They were three. There were more of course, but these three were sent to greet us and initiate the process I had been preparing for in my downtown apartment for so long a continent away.
The first thing that freaked me out was that they obviously weren’t touching the ground. They were dressed in robes, as my ears had guessed, but they moved funny, like a coconut bobbing on the ocean’s water top. I was pretty sure their feet, if they had any, weren’t touching the ground. Then came the smell, sweat like apples but also of freshly baked bread. They got to the front to the hall and turned around to take their seat. That’s when it hit me.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like to see a dead person. If you’ve ever seen one, it’s unsettling. There’s that sudden absence of the life that was there before. It’s not just about lack of movement, lack of talking, joking around, having fun. It’s about the spark of life being, suddenly, absent. The person that was there, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, friend, lover, is suddenly not there. You feel their departure. Their gone. This was different. Way different.
When the three turned around to sit, everybody in the hall could see their faces. They were gorgeous, but not pretty. Their eyes blazed with a depth that knew no bounds. Their bodies were like lighthouses, blazing beacons to warn all who approached that dangers lie ahead. Their features displayed the symbols of the sea and of the sun, of the moon, the tide, and all the creatures above and below. Adorned in colors the mind could barely comprehend, these three became like stone before us and we all bowed with the acquired reverence of studious pupils, eager for a badge or a star, or butterfly stickers in our notebooks. That’s when “it” happened.
Each in turn, everybody in the hall began to hum. At first, the sound was imperceptible, as if in a dream or a thought. But then, every body began to shake, arms flailing, head turn back, eyes rolled up. One by one we began to see through the veiled symbols, the beautiful robes, the exotic smells, and our lush environment. One by one we began to notice something odd about the three before us.
“Who are you” I thought. “What are you?” Then it all became clear in a flash, and I thought I was going to loose my mind I was so afraid. What became obvious was that these bodies sitting before us were gifts from the sea itself. They were not people, but the water itself, somehow landlocked into form. Not alive. Not dead.
“The water…it’s conscious” I thought, and promptly passed out from the shock. Soon, I would hear the comforting sound of our councillor overhead, cooling me with a fan and my mantra “See? You are not the body, nor the mind. You are eternal.”
The three had already left by that point. Everybody in the hall was in a state of discombobulation, but we all knew now that the eternal ones had never lived and never died and our true destiny was to return to the ocean and become the water itself.