Sunday, November 17, 2013

Abandoned. Hidden. Forgotten. Lost, possibly for centuries. Then, the sudden discovery of a damaged treasure. In a nutshell, that is the story of the Zvenigorod icon of the Redeemer, found in 1919 by accident under a board in a farmer's yard. Apparently, it was being trampled into the mud on a daily basis, because it was used to support a walkway into a barn. Now it is one of the prize possessions of the Tretyakov Gallery, and is attributed to the great Andrei Rublev. There was a time when it was one of my favorite icons. I could stare at the gentle face for a long time.

What if such a pearl lay abandoned, hidden, forgotten, and lost within our own selves? Would we want to find it?

For a long time, I rejected these kinds of thoughts.

Those walls that I had built around my heart: I thought that they were impregnable. I thought that I was doing the right thing. Then --

When a few of the bricks began to hit me in the face, I tasted them with my tongue for the first time. I discovered that they tasted like shit, that they smelled of falsehood and that they were, indeed, lies.

Did that stop me from laying the bricks again and again? No, it did not.

It took the glimpse of my reflection in the face of a child for me to realize what I had been doing to the child in my heart. I had held her in prison without the possibility of parole. She had almost lost hope. She was beyond tears and beyond words. There in my arms sat a child of my flesh, a son without words, and I knew that I must find a way to reach both children.

The little girl liked to peek out at me in between the flecks of textured paint in the wall. She waved at me from the branch that hung in front of my window.

I was discovering how to free her. That I must take her hand with a feathered touch. We would walk up the steps to that place and not deny any more. That there were pictures on the walls. One of them was that icon. That she was wearing a pale blue skirt with a white peasant blouse, given to her as a gift from a dear friend. That she was pushed down. That she said, No. There was no doubt of that.

That she was left alone, to scrub the blood from the floor, the bed, even from her shoes. The blankets and sheets washed out in the tub, but the stains on her clothing only turned brown, so she ripped them into pieces and shoved them, still dripping, down a garbage chute.

That she looked up later into those unseeing eyes and saw nothing. Nothing. So what did she do? She felt sorry for the eyes. She lost herself in them. She wanted to know: why? In her search for an answer, she became their slave, and walked further and further into a labyrinth.

Who would not have wanted to comfort her? I, in my cruelty, did not bother. She had made her bed, I decided. She could sleep in it, splayed out cruciform. It was none of my business. I disowned her, I changed my name, my personality, and tried to re-create myself altogether, without her.

Then I decided finally that I wanted to whisper to her this word that I have learned. I do not know if she can always understand it, or if when it passes through my lips, it will only hiss in her ears like so many snakes passing in the wind.

But I have learned, also, that I must persist in repeating the word:

And somehow, we are learning, bit by bit, what this means. The child in my arms has grown. He has words, but they are different for him than they are for the girl in my heart. His words march in rows. They zoom around racetracks. They clatter on train rails. I do not know if he could understand the word, Beloved. But I do know that he understands the love that I give. The pressure of his heels against my thigh when he is tired, this tells me that he trusts me to lull him to sleep. That is a beginning.

I am learning to say to the little girl: I am sorry. I think she is beginning to believe me. Hand in hand, we will keep walking, and we will find the right door, and when we find it, we will open it, and be set free. If we could, then we would draw a map that would help any girl to escape from such a trap.

We are learning, she and I, that there is nothing more sacred than a person, than a human being. Not love. Not truth. Not money. Not sacrifices. Not morals. Nothing. Only you -- and I.  You and I, who shine in the darkness like priceless pearls, when we discover the divine image in one another.

And as for the word, "Why", well--we will let it flutter away like a capricious butterfly.

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