Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Christmas Jewel

I have a Christmas memory that I pull out of the box more than once a year.

India is my homeland, it is the place in which the sigh of relief came blissfully from my heart the moment I saw it.  For me, everything looked familiar in the way that one experiences when returning home from a long, long trip. It's scent is perfume, the scent that is so perfect for me that it makes all the others seem so wrong.

I had been living in an ashram in Haridwar and was close to a group of about 8 fellow seekers in the early '70's. This was the time when it was not complicated or touristy: when visitors were the exception and not the rule.

December in the north of India has a range of temperature from about the mid to high 60's during the day but chill of low to mid 50's at night. It was the week of Christmas and for no other reason than an adventure, our little band of friends, in patched jeans and tapestried dresses and the red embroidered Chinese slippers that I loved to wear,  decided to visit Missoorie, a small town about an hour and 1/2 train ride from Haridwar.  Missoori is known for it's abundance of sadhus's  preforming all kinds of feats from levitating to the bed of nails thing  - it doesn't disappoint.

We spent a lovely warm day wandering and meditating - basically daydreaming - and a respite in a magical little cove with a calm pool of shaded water and warm white sand where we shared chapatis and vegetables and probably mango juice.

When evening began, it was decided that the train was too noisy, too crowded after such a peaceful day.  One of the boys (we were so young and naive - children really) found a farmer with a large cart carrying a load of hay and going in our direction. 
Things happen in India all the time that would be called luck elsewhere, but are what can only be defined as graceful, grace-filled, in the holiness that is India.

It was late, cold, and we were all tired so the mound of hay on the back of the cart was perfect for offering a soft and warm place to rest or sleep.  It's a long and dark trip when traveling this way because it is mostly fields with no houses, no lights, just moon and the swinging back and forth of a fire lit lantern hanging near the driver.  India was like that then, maybe it can still be found there, somewhere. I remember, as if they suddenly appeared out of the darkness, Christmas lights.  A small gathering of ten or twelve open canvas roofed shops lining both sides of the road were all strung with exactly those large bulbs that decorated the tree when you were little. The small lean-to shops sold all kinds of things, useless and inviting, that are found in every village.  It seemed to have popped out of nowhere, like a dream that has no congruity, not attached to anything, just a scene in surrounding dark. There was soft music playing, the gentle, old fashioned Indian songs.  But there was one booth with an old radio, playing Christmas carols that laced through  the sing-song of the music.

The bells on the horses pulling the wagon rang slow, back and forth, back and forth.  I felt completely alone, in the way that alone can feel safe and enveloping, on the very top of the hay right behind the driver, wrapped in a cream-white, light wool shawl with the faintest embroidery of flowers at the ends, that gave a warmth that seemed impossible.  It had been given to me when I arrived in India by a boy with soft blue eyes who must have been in love with me.  As I sat high on the fragrant hay, I felt as if I was looking down from far, far above on the most perfect scene of a simple, gentle Christmas from another time. A time before Santa, before parties and food and presents.  The vibrant colors of the women's sari's under the Christmas lights strung on the shops gave the impression of a Christmas tree, all decorated and shiny. Father's carried children wearing little round caps in pastel velvet's, their tiny fists holding tight to the sticks of candy in pinks and reds and bright greens. It all seemed to be happening in slow motion, even the sounds, slow and soft.  I vividly remember feeling that I had been given a gift that I would never receive again in my life.  A moment, beautiful and pure and sacred. The darkness surrounding this dream-like moment seemed to separate it from time, and the scent of the hay in the crisp chill of that night, the faint sound of carols and the lights, the beautiful lights, has stayed with me, a multi-colored Christmas jewel, deep in my heart.


  1. Thanks for this, this story of numinosity and grace. There are so few moments like that in one's life. It was, indeed, a gift. And in India, for crying out loud! What an adventure! Have a nice Christmas.

  2. what a wonderful experience. I never had the opportunity or courage, really I guess, to go off to travel in Europe or India. my brother did after high school. he bought a bicycle and biked all over Europe with our parent's blessing and funds. being a girl, that was denied to me. it was several more years before I managed to get out from under their collective thumb. I do have a similar moment of peace and beauty. during my brief first 'trial' marriage we took a 3 month trip during the summer around the US and towards the end we ended up in New Hampshire where a friend was living at the time. he had some pure psilocybin in capsule form which we all took and headed for the coast. we never made it that far as it came on quickly. when we stopped for gas there was a rainbow in the sky which we took for a sign and went to a nearby park of some sort...a lake with a stream that fed into it surrounded by acres of fir and pine. it was the most wonderful day as I wandered alone feeling connected to the heartbeat of the universe.

  3. Joanne,
    Thanks for visiting! A very Happy Christmas to you and a Jolly New Year!

    That beautiful moment you told about in your last post was equally as "once in a lifetime" as mine! I'm so glad you shared that. Christmas blessings and a wonderful New Year to you!

    New Hampshire! I can only imagine it's beauty. You made me laugh with your Summer adventure. Not everyone gets to experience a moment like yours. I think it probably changed your life, feeling that connection and I'm glad that you've taken it with you all these years.
    Merry Christmas to you and all happiness in the New Year!

  4. A beautiful story, beautifully told! What a wonderful life you've led -- thank you for sharing bits of it with us. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your holiday and a happy new year!

  5. Elizabeth,
    It seems sometimes that memories are all I have to share. I learn about the world from you, you open my eyes and many others I'm sure.

    Happy holidays to you and your dear family and the very best of everything for you in the new year.

  6. Have you ever watched the movie I Origins? This reminds me of the concept of past lives and how we instantly feel comfortable with places or things that are wildly outside our places of birth.

  7. SJ
    Thank you so much!
    The movie sounds really interesting, I'll see if I can find it, I'd love to watch it. Yeah, that feeling comfortable in a "wildly outside" place is amazing!