Thursday, August 21, 2008

Midwife Crisis, 1b

1. Opening the Door and Peeking In
continuing from August 18, 2008...

After a year of living at ocean's edge, I found myself in a state of enlightenment. Yup. So I decided I could handle anything, and I went off to travel around the world for a year, which turned out to be eight months. I spent the majority of that time in India, where I thought that as soon as I crossed the border, people would run up to me and read my soul and tell me my future. That trip was so intense and mind blowing, it was like tripping on acid 24/7 for 8 months. I got back to the US and couldn't stop laughing for six weeks. Literally. The US was so easy, so beautiful, so clean, so healthy, so politically and economically put together. I think about that every day. It helps me keep my perspective.

I remember stopping in a sprawling village of disintegrating mud brick hovels built into the waste hills and cliffs of the Khyber Pass. It was illegal, and very dangerous even then, to stop in the Pass, but we did anyway. I was hungry and looking for some bread, but the only things for sale in that whole village were opium and bullets. You think we're going to fix Afghanistan and Waziristan? Forget it. I've even abandoned my belief that we should be there.

I remember an old woman on the road in Afghanistan, all dressed in black rags. Her mouth was a withered and toothless hole. I have never seen anyone look so ancient, haggard, mythic. There was a baby tied to her back, wailing and howling. The two were a unit, some kind of spirit, not human or even animal. She was picking dried weeds out of the parched mud crags and stuffing them in her mouth.

I remember a man in Southeast India, plowing a field. I was riding a slow train north to the holy city of Puri (which, it turned out, was packed with starving beggars), coming from Pondicherry, the leper capital of the world, best as I could tell. Pondicherry! Its colonialist-built streets were full of amazingly ancient-looking, 18th century French architecture. Thousands of lepers roamed those masterfully designed streets, with open sores that oozed pus, missing fingers, stumps for hands and feet, disfigured faces without noses and ears. Or they were lying among the intricately carved stone facades, begging or not even trying to beg. I was on a slow train out of there (and I'm still on that train). It was then that I saw a man plowing a field with a single ox and a heavy wooden stick for a plow. The field was flooded. The slurry of mud was gray against a steely sky. The man and the ox were slogging up to their waists in the mud, plowing sludge, slipping, falling, re-emerging from the earth like some chthonic clay beasts emerging from a haunted corner of Middle Earth in Tolkien's imagination.

I couldn't stop laughing when I got back to the US. Oh, how I found I loved this country, yes, the one I once thought was so horrible and depraved! It is horrible and depraved, but only when you have nothing to compare it to.

And not so long after, I met a woman and married her. To quote my buddy Rimbaud, "Long ago, if memory serves, life was a banquet where all hearts were generous, and all wines flowed. One evening I sat beauty down on my knees. I found her bitter and it stabbed me deeply. I lost faith in justice and ran away."

That too was in the late 70's. And I'm still running.

So now the teenagers that surround me see me as an old man. But I don't feel old. And I am at that age where I should have settled my differences and found a straight path. "Oh witches, plowmen, opium dealers, I confer my treasures to you!"

Rimbaud could have said that last line, too. But he didn't live long enough.

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