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.