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The Birthday Gift


The wildflowers next to the lake were primarily yellow, rendered fluorescently more brilliant beneath a slate-grey sky that was threatening to drop rain. On the choppy surface of the water, a miniature pirate boat sailed through wisps of silver fog which manifested with the appearance of an army of ghosts dancing on the dusky blue sea.

Patrons of the renaissance faire milled about in 15th century attire, while drums pounded a Middle Eastern rhythm not far away. A baby was crying; seagulls wailed mournfully; and my sandals rendered an odd squeaking sound as I made my way through the dew-slick grass.

It occurred to me that it was my birthday - a fact I noted without any particular attachment. Made me chuckle to myself just a little - this arbitrary demarcation of time in an infinite sea of utterly meaningless moments. No difference whatsoever between yesterday, today and tomorrow, yet because we have been working these events for so long and become somewhat well-known among the other participants and merchants, I was greeted with smiles and the traditional calls of "Happy birthday!" as I made my way from one side of the faire to the other.

"Why are you so unhappy?" a woman’s voice inquired from out of nowhere.

I glanced up from where I had been looking at a path of tree roots and dewdrops and spilled fairy dust, to find myself face to face with Kara - one of the psychics who does card & palm readings at the faire. At first, it didn't register that she had been speaking to me, but as our eyes met, she quickly brushed her own words aside, and added, "Not that it's any of my business, of course..." It surprised her that she had spoken, that much was immediately obvious, for her face flushed and she put a hand to her mouth as if to staunch her own words – not the typical mannerisms of a seasoned and self-assured crone.

What I found odd was how time slowed down and back-flipped and ran through its system of checks and balances. Presented with the question, I quickly ran an inventory, and came back with the realization that I was not unhappy in the least. Being a seer myself, it stands to reason that I can read Kara every bit as well as she believed she was reading me, and what I immediately saw in her was an edge of very real hostility tempered only slightly by genuine curiosity. Though we have been at most of the same events for the past 6 years, she is not someone with whom I have made a connection, and so to my perceptions, her question seemed to come straight out of that sky overhead.

Difficult to wrap words around what I am attempting to convey here, but what struck me was that she was "seeing" something about me, yet failing to understand what she was seeing, and so she could only interpret it in the traditional 2-dimensional manner. She had read me as someone out of step with the usual drummers, and so her conclusion automatically became one of believing me to be unhappy. Hmmm. Not the first time this has happened - from family members to former friends. And, indeed, I suspect this is a pattern with most warriors who have been on their path for any length of time.

Because I had no reason to take her question personally, I stopped to talk with her. I told her first what she wanted to hear - for that's the stalker in me - which was the down and dirty truth that I was experiencing some physical pain from an old back injury, which is neither here nor there in the big picture. Just part of the inventory. That seemed to answer some question in her mind, for I saw her relax - and yet, even as we stood there with all the beauty of the lake surrounding us, I realized with a deep sense of Knowing that we were in two different realities.

Kara's definition of "happy" and mine are not the same - and so she could not reconcile within herself that my silence and preference to be alone do not automatically mean I am "unhappy". It occurred to me to attempt to explain my path to her, yet even as that thought crossed my mind, I knew it would be futile.

How could I tell her that the world is a vast, magnificent and mysterious stage peopled primarily by phantoms; and I am an immortal mortal who walks among them, knowing I am a being who is going to die? To Kara, my words would undoubtedly sound like the demented mumblings of a depressed schizophrenic... and yet, to my seeing, her "love and light" philosophy is only an extension of the illusions of the consensual reality – and so again I found myself looking out over the lake and the wildflowers, having the very solid realization that her world and mine were literally worlds apart even though we were standing only inches away from one another, breathing the same crisp morning air.

It was also one of those instances wherein I simply knew I was standing at a crossroads in my life. I could defend myself. I could take offense. I could walk away. The possibilities were endless – but perhaps the most dangerous was that I could surrender to the implications in the question itself. It wasn’t a question of am I unhappy, but the conclusion that I am, and the question of why this is so. Have you stopped beating your wife yet? The nature of the question presupposes guilt.

Spirit has a habit of testing us – or perhaps it could be perceived that we put ourselves in the path of our tests. Had I walked down any other row that morning, I never would have encountered Kara; and there was something about the energetically-charged nature of her question that awakened me to the fact that this was a test. It wasn’t Kara who was asking me why I was unhappy. It was mySelf asking the question by placing the words in the mouth of an extant being. Either that, or it was Kara asking herself the same question. Who knows, maybe it was both.

As I was standing there in that space between question and response, another long-time acquaintance passed by, smacked me unexpectedly on the rump, hugged me hard from behind, and planted a gruff kiss on my neck – far more intimate and familiar than I would have expected from this young man, but nonetheless sensual and erotically pleasant. (I’m older, not quite dead yet.). “Happy birthday, ye ol’ buccaneer,” he said with a piratical grin – a reference to my attire. “If ye can’t live forever, give ‘em hell in heaven!”

Sounded like good advice. He embraced me a second time, ran his scruffy chin across my neck in a gesture that would have brought me to my knees 20 years ago, then disappeared with a hearty “Arrrgh!” into the morning mist with the long black feather from his 3-cornered hat bobbing along behind his tall, lean form.

I looked at Kara for a moment, her inquiry still ringing in my ears, and finally I simply said, “What’s inside is good. It’s the wrapper that’s starting to fray a bit at the edges.” Her look said she didn’t understand, and there wasn’t enough time just then to explain the sorcerer’s way, the shaman’s path, the heartbeat of the eternal double in the body of the infinite. “Out of curiosity, what did you see that caused you to ask?” Another stalker trait – return the question to the questioner.

My inquiry seemed to surprise her, for her brows lifted, then furrowed. Her head tilted. “You walk alone, inside yourself, even when you’re in a group,” she said with a shrug, and seemed defensive for a moment. “I can’t see your aura – or when I do, it’s… black.”

And I knew then I had passed the test, for I felt a little smile tug at the corners of my lips and a raven swooped low, casting its shadow over my right shoulder. When I see a warrior or a wo/man of Knowledge, that is how they appear to me – like a cut-away in the fabric of reality, a shiny black egg that is reminiscent of a black hole: an anomaly so cohesive unto itself that not even light can escape.

'That is the singularity of consciousness,' Orlando’s voice whispered in my ear, masquerading as a gust of wind blowing cold and unexpected off the surface of the lake. 'The validation of it is my gift to you. Happy birthday, you ol’ buccaneer.'

Not far away, silhouetted against the morning sun, the man who had embraced me only moments before stood looking in our direction, and for no reason whatsoever, bowed elegantly from the waist before turning to disappear into the crowd.

The nagual glinted on the dark surface of the lake, reflecting that which cannot be named, that which cannot be explained. In that glint is my joy and my sadness and all that I-Am.

That is my happiness.

May, 2005
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