Sometimes something about the lighting or the sound of the wind or the simple absence of human companions to convince me otherwise will throw me into a state of observation that I can best describe as feeling like a stranger in a strange land.
That subtle change of paradigm wakes up the literary observer that lives within me and I start taking note of my surroundings in a way that my everyday hectic life doesn't allow. It happened yesterday as I sat alone in my apartment and the light of the setting sun through the window of the front door shot a bloody orange glare across the grey hallway. Suddenly this wasn't "my apartment" - the location of my everyday home-like activities, but it was a cold, stark modern building in its essence, and characters of a seedy future living a fabulous and horrid story of martial law and dark technology began to be born out of the corners of my head.
It happened once on a train pulling out of Rennes, France, on my way to Mont-St.-Michel. The industrial buildings that rose from the ashes of World War II were dancing with the vibrant colors of street graffiti, mostly in Arabic, and that strange juxtaposition of the ancient letters of the Koran and spray paint and vulgarity drew me out of the soft commuter train and into the gutters and into the wells of Europe and Asia whose rocks were trampled by tribes of nationless youth. Kings and Queens rose and fell and saracens advanced against the armies of Charlemagne and somewhere Roland sounded his horn but the Moors dug in for a fight that refused to come to a clean historical conclusion.
It happened once when I was 9 or 10, sledding on a crusty snow-covered hill behind my childhood home in the waning crepuscular light of winter that's so stark and piercing that it knocked my heavily-bundled childish frame to the ground in sudden awe of the light and the cold and the emptiness that is winter and I was certain that the next person to rise over the edge of the hill would not be my brother in a pop-pommed snow hat, but Mr. Tumnus and a vast adventure in the land of Narnia, a land that I was sure shared that same cold crescent moon now rising over the horizon.
It happened once when I must have been six, in the bathroom of the little rental house with yellow walls that my family called home. I stood transfixed in front of the mirror, mist from my bath dripping from its corners, and marvelled at the fact that I - the thing that I could identify as me - was inside the body I saw. I moved slightly, I wiggled my fingers, and the head and the fingers of the body responded, but I had a knowledge - a very clear knowledge - of the fact that I could be anywhere in the entirety of the universe, but I was here, and that was very strange to me. I sat, hovering in the mist, trying to remember the places outside of this body I had been, but was eventually resigned to settling back into it, towelling off, and opening the door.
For a wise and glorious purpose Thou hast placed me here on Earth And withheld the recollection Of my former friends and birth; Yet ofttimes a secret something Whispered, "You're a stranger here," And I felt that I had wandered From a more exalted sphere.
I love to travel. Some people speak of a satisfaction at the end of a vacation because they know that they're ready to go home, but I have never felt that. I have always been distraught as the days of my journeys slip by and I know that the point will come where I find myself boarding a plane or getting back in the car and being taken back to familiarity. Sometimes when I find myself frustrated with work or school or society, I have to leave my house and walk - preferably at night - far out into the country or along the empty city streets - to restore some kind of optimism and to breathe in deeply the cold air of the night that always smells like a journey, even if home is just around the block. As I travel and as I walk, I feel the emptiness of the universe above me and I feel myself hanging off the bottom of the planet, dangling into the stars above, and I know that there is some sort of cosmic ether that's holding me here in this sphere, but I know that when I get the right rocket shoes I'll be able to fall down into it and onto the brightly swirling balls of fire that are different dimensions of consciousness and existence.
I felt at home when I sat in a park in downtown Oaxaca, Mexico on a Sunday morning and watched a group of teenagers practicing traditional dance and small children selling thin woven scarves to tourists. I was reading the Book of Mormon, and I came across the 13th chapter of the Book of Alma, verse 23:
And they are made known unto us in plain terms, that we may understand, that we cannot err; and this because of our being wanderers in a strange land...
And I looked around me and I knew that I was not in a strange land. Rather, I was, but the strange land wasn't Mexico or the Oaxaca valley or the park or the nearby market that smelled of roasted chili peppers and grasshoppers. The earth is a strange land, as are human societies that we put our trust in only to be disappointed by the foolish choices of others. I had never felt more welcome than I did when a dirty four-year-old selling bracelets came and sat on my lap and laughed at my dismal Spanish, and I had never felt more alone than the time I had slept in an apartment in southern California, surrounded by my mother who was sobbing and my father who had just told her they didn't believe the same things anymore and needed to get a divorce. Then I had been a wanderer. Here, doodling on scraps of paper for Carolina whose favorite animal was a conejo, I belonged.
I orient myself in a new city by walking the streets near where I'm staying, and I can navigate to nearby destinations in a matter of hours. When I walk the streets, I make them mine, whether they be the streets of Butte, Montana or downtown Chicago or Quimper, France or the ruined city of Kohunlich in the YucatĂˇn. And so many times, so secure in my surroundings, I can feel so lost in everything else that matters. I keep asking directions wildly, sobbing out for help in the daunting territory of life and human interactions.
I set out on a wild path, determined to find myself a new career or persuade someone he needs to love me. I get myself lost in craggy ravines of self-doubt because I don't want to say anything and I am determined to find my own way and I am so set on the goal that I forget to appeal to any sort of higher authority. I take it upon myself to choose the roles that other people should play in my life and then I throw a tantrum like a toddler when they wander off in a different direction.
I spend all my energy pining to be part of another culture and despising my own. I curse my half-breed blood, and I feel as if I only have one finger in a million pots of culture, none of them truly my own, none of them accepting me and my mixed lineage. I mourn for the state of the world and the choices of millions of people who are so incomprehensible to me that they only become large numbers. I look around me at the relationships of others and I feel like I am a stranger, like I am the white face in a sea of warm brown skins and everyone else speaks the language and as in my worst dream, I cannot understand.
13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country; 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
And then I meet others who I can reach out to, who become my brothers and sisters, and they lead me to my own land. They usher me in through the gates of a city and I know that I am home. I only get brief glimpses, but I know that these are people of my own blood, even though some are dark and some are fair and some are tall and some, my closest of sisters, come up to my shoulder and I have to bend down to embrace them.
And though I lose sight of this city from time to time, I have a firm conviction that it is there. I see it in the periphery of my dreams and in the distance as I pray. I lose myself in the ravines time and time again as I fail to listen to the voice of my true family and as I fail to return home when night falls. And I sometimes mistake the vast white desert where we all wander for the true world, and its expanse and its hot fatigue weigh down my soul. But my brothers and sisters are there as well, and I can grasp their hands, and we can both lead each other out of the ravines, lead each other back home.
I'm leaving this corner of the desert for another, I'm dedicating a year and a half of my life to finding my brothers and sisters in Tokyo and grasping them by the hands. But I know that I am no longer a stranger, and I know that after our sojourn through this strange land we all get to go home. I will miss those of you that I will not be able to hear from as often, but I will see you soon enough and one day we'll all sit around a garden table in our city and we'll laugh and we'll cry and we'll welcome each other home.
Posts: 8503 | Registered: Aug 1999
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Thank you for sharing it. I can relate to much of it. In many places, I read a line and thought, "Yes! That's me! I have felt that way." You were able to put the feelings into words and write it so beautifully.
quote:I only get brief glimpses, but I know that these are people of my own blood, even though some are dark and some are fair and some are tall and some, my closest of sisters, come up to my shoulder and I have to bend down to embrace them.
That's so funny, KQ, because I had totally forgotten about your landmark and had to go back and read it. It looks like I stole all your ideas and then promptly forgot the source.
Posts: 67 | Registered: Aug 2005
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Annie, I adore that scripture that you quoted from Hebrews. Thanks for that landmark. I have moments like those you mentioned (I especially loved the one of you in front of the mirror) and it's nice to see them described in a way that explains how I feel too.
Happy Mission dear, I can't imagine how wonderful your experience will be.
Posts: 6414 | Registered: Jul 2000
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I thought of quoting something and saying "I know what you're talking about, I felt that precisely this Sunday". I thought of doing it, and then I realised there was another thing I wanted to say about that I've experienced that too for a time, or that I'm still trying to resolve a conflict related.
I thought of saying so, until I realised that everything you wrote in your landmark I can relate to in one way or another. I realised that even though the two of us are different people, we have so damn much in common; and that's not just because "we're Anneke Majors and Jonathan Howard", it is so because we are two humans. To speak from the point of view of Realism - since you are human and I am human, we have "human-ness" in common.
I can connect to what you say. In fact, I can connect to it so much, that I've been babbling on for paragraphs and I've essentially said nothing. That is because I have nothing to say, I have nothing to say except what I've said, which is already been said so what I now say is useless, and by saying that I say it I say nothing. I've been saying the word "say" too much, and I've said nothing. Talk about meta-nonsense. I make up paradoxes.
I want to meet you even more badly now. This landmark showed me that you are possibly the one person I know to whom I can truly say what I feel in my heart. Thoughts that are impossible to word I've tried to express through my poetry. Any defect you see in it is either because my poem has bad language use and I'm not good enough to express it, because there's no way how to, or because I don't quite grasp that thought well.
The only way this can be shared is if two people have thought that thought or have experienced that "thing" separately, but know what that is about. Musical emotion cannot be explained - it's just something you've got to have in common. It can be converted from one form of art to another (very hard), but not explained in technical language. There's a barrier that must be passed for each of those thoughts or concepts to be understood. Because there is vocabulary you have to experience in order to understand.
I know that for so many things we've broken the barriers, Annie, each to our own; but the fact that the two of us can share it (for instance e-mails we've been sending to each other) - that is the true shared love of art - be it in any form.
For instance, when you said "It happened yesterday as I sat alone in my apartment and the light of the setting sun through the window of the front door shot a bloody orange glare across the grey hallway", I've experienced some of the things you described you did - but I was never able to express them. I still can't, but the closest I managed was in one of my poems.
I don't know if anyone else knows what the feeling - the sensation - which stands behind your words, is. But the one thing that's certain is that I know - or think I know - what you meant. That thing is what makes me feel so much of what you say you do. That is why I've got to see you sometime and we can just talk. Because you spoke to what little of a heart I have left.
Remember to e-mail me your contact-info before you go to Japan.
P.S. I'm listening to the 10th movement of the Christmas Oratorios (sp?) by JSB as I'm writing this; if anyone wonders why I'm acting weird.
Posts: 2978 | Registered: Oct 2004
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To be alone in a room full of people, to know you are alone, and yet to choose to reach out, this is a human's greatest strength. Knowing that others will let you down, will slap away a hand outstreached to help and comfort, and yet still extending it, that is goodness.
I am not a Mormon, I do not agree with much of LDS dogma, but I wish you well on your mission. It doesn't matter to me that you are going to spread one religion, you are spreading the only religion that matters, human compasion.
Posts: 5085 | Registered: Jun 2005
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Godspeed Annie. I like the new you, and also had to mention that your landmark title is the title to a song by my favorite band, Iron Maiden from the Somewhere In Time album.
I would love to go to Tokyo someday, but that is very far off, maybe in 5 years or so. Please let us know at Hatrack your experiences, and good luck in all you do! May your mission be successful, peaceful, and rewarding.
And remember, you can never add too much water to a nuclear reactor.
Posts: 1870 | Registered: Mar 2003
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Annie, that was awesome! This really resonated with me right now because of rereading the Book of Mormon. It's bringing our true home that much closer to my heart. I feel that something quite significant to the history of the world is about to happen in the next few months, for some reason. It's both scary and exciting. And you will be in Tokyo.
Please email me your contact info, and I will write you. I'm so proud of you that you're going on a mission. I know it will be an amazing experience.
Posts: 6192 | Registered: Aug 2004
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Thanks, everyone. I appreciate the sentiments shared and support given.
I have about eight billion responses, and about 10 more minutes on the computer.
And then I'm off to Salt Lake for a wedding tomorrow and won't be back for several days. Take note! This is a metaphor for life! You waste the days of your probation posting in the "think of a lyric" thread and then you have eight billion profound things to say and you have to leave.
I love you all. I will talk to you as soon as I can.
Posts: 67 | Registered: Aug 2005
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Oh, Dostoyevsky said the same about being a condemned man. They led him out to be shot, he believed up to the last moment that he was about to die, then they commuted his sentence. He said those last moments of his life were filled with so much aliveness. He noted the colors, the sky, the trees. Every instant was filled with beauty and meaning for him. After his life was spared, he swore he would live his entire life that way from then on. But it never can last.
Another moving landmark, Annie. I missed it as I've been offline a lot. You express your epiphanies very well. It's difficult to write about such experiences as they are very personal and totally subjective. I cannot really explain my experience and feelings related below, but I'll try.
Your landmark reminded me of a similar epiphany I had several days ago while driving home from work. I was tired, and eager to get home. So I was speeding, as I always do. Not crazy speeding, just 75-85 mph, in 65 and 70 mph zones.
I was weaving through traffic, treating other vehicles as only mere obstacles, when it hit me: behind the wheels of all those cars and trucks was another human, and we are all such stupendously complex freaking miracles and mysteries, all with our own unique loves and hates, annoying habits and charming peccodillos, hard-won skills and silly fears. And we were all just truckin' down the highway, moving towards some common goal even though we'd never met. I was very proud of the human race in that moment, that we'd built our civilization up so far, and in the last 200 years, so incredibly fast. I felt such peace and contentment.
Then I thought of all the killing and murders going on, and my bubble burst, to be replaced by sadness and incomprehension that people could kill such amazing creatures as one another. But I slowed down some, because I realized that even if I were reckless and didn't care much about my safety, others might care about theirs. Also, it's dangerous to drive while under the influence of a mystical epiphany.
Posts: 6316 | Registered: Jun 2003
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