To Silvia (my wonderful 10-years-younger-4-inches-taller friend) and Madalina (my equally wonderful, though 5-months-older-4-inches-shorter, friend) – may your bright smiles never fade for they bring a long lost warmth in the hearts of those around you.
“We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams, or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes…” (Madeleine L’Engle – The rock that is Higher: Story as Truth, 1993).
And the loss we feel is gnawing silently at our hearts, making us wonder what just happened. But then we brush it away in annoyance with a simple wave of a hand – oh, dear, am falling behind again with the tasks at hand. No time for lingering thoughts of… what was that again? Never mind. I should probably get some proper rest.
And life keeps going undeterred, and we are engrossed once more in the multitude of problems that seem to have no end. Quickly now, get that report finished before the market is closed and you have to invent something for dinner out of an almost indecently empty fridge (there’s that sweet fragrance again – I smelt it before, but where?); oh, an tomorrow morning the kids need a ride to practice (what was that image flashing at the corner of my eyes?); you almost forgot – there’s that anniversary party of your colleague (you’re not the best of friends, but you can’t quite refuse the invitation – it would be rather rude) – is it me, or there’s a song playing?; better hope the laundry was sorted properly – you wouldn’t want another batch of white linen with colorful stripes (how strange, that language seems so familiar I could almost understand it, yet I don’t even know what it is called); damn it, the car seems to have a mind of its own – but it will have to wait for a couple of months, that couch won’t be on sale for ever… (Clearly, I need some proper rest, perhaps even a short vacation, before I really start to go mad!)
It’s an unnerving feeling, much like a blasted bug that wouldn’t go away and keep buzzing, disrupting the little peace you have. Day and night that… that thing keeps grating on your nerves and no matter what you try (bug spray, fly-paper, even the big old dictionary!) – nothing would work.
But how am I to let you know of what I speak? Words – the most wondrous invention of human kind, destined to express everything and anything, to give others a sense of what we see, and hear, and smell, and learn – are within my grasp, yet so out of reach. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how am I to even begin to describe the storm of feelings raging madly inside me? How am I to reveal the silver tread, unthought-of and unseen, that tugs at my heart, pulling it gently yet firmly towards the unknown?
It always has been there, making its presence felt from time to time, although for years on end I could not understand what it was – a restlessness, a constant rustling, an ancient longing, always within my reach, but (very much like words) never close enough to grasp.
Yes, I’m at a loss, for there aren’t enough words in the tongues of men that could encompass the world that unfolds itself before me. I grew tired of that endless hide-and-seek; I grew tired of wondering if it is only a dream, a fairy-tale, or I’m simply losing my mind; I grew tired of trying to fight off that which I did not know it was for me to fight. So I closed my eyes and asked my heart: what is it, love? What is it that you seek? Once more the eerie feeling crept under my skin; my heart skipped a beat and my blood start boiling through my veins… but then there was only silence… blissful silence.
Time stood still as thousands glimpses from throughout my life start flowing in a silent stream, rearranging themselves (smells, images, sounds, and feelings alike) in a giant puzzle, each one in its rightful place, revealing step by step the answer to my question.
Unending rows of mountain tops, piercing the heavy clouds of the sky, majestic and menacing, like the teeth of a predator, breaking down in bottomless chasms and steep ravines; raspy edges, sharp and deadly melting into rolling hills that wave their paths in an odalisque’s dance, fading into the far horizon of snow-capped peaks; rushing streams cunningly winding their way, here crashing down with deafening screams in swirling falls, there sneaking silently into the depths of time forgotten forests; an infinite woven silk as far as the eyes can see, all the way into the heights of heavens and as far as the endless lengths of sea.
I walked along the strips of water only to find myself gazing into the unwavering mirrors of clear lakes, tracing the flawless contours of the realm that ensnared me. And as if a magic wand was waved about, the invisible ripples blended with the silent whispers of the unmoving water and time stood still once more. And the fresh green shades faded into countless hues of nuanced greys for a brief moment, only to explode in a myriad of breath-taking colours that would make the rainbow blush in shame, much like an unskilful apprentice who thought he could outdo his mentor.
The playful wind caresses my skin almost like a jealous lover, entwining itself in my hair, its wisps of chill surrounding me like a warning. But the fool in me is blind and pays no heed to the enchanting allurement that encircles me in a tight grip.
The silhouettes that roam the land don’t bother me; somehow I know they are part of it, they are cut from the same cloth, sturdy yet graceful, hardy yet warm and welcoming in their own way. Their language is sharp and brisk yet so mesmerizing, that I cannot stop myself from listening its sweet flow. And every note their music has to offer bores deeper and deeper into my last defence, and although I want to shrink away from it, I cannot; I freeze in awe and listen to it unwillingly until it is too late. I can almost touch the unspoken truce between the people and their land: they respect its power, not cowering before it, but living with a proud reverence, fully aware that any disrespectful step might claim its price; and in turn, the land allows their roaming, like a wise man forever watchful to its youngling’s antics.
I fell in love with it and embraced it with all my might and now cling to every detail for my dear life. Chilly and warm, high and low, steep and smooth, harsh and gentle, deafening and silent, without glitter yet full of life – an antagonistic splendour of a place that was never meant for me. It is a world in itself, where life goes on beyond the ephemeral nets of time; every inch of it’s where it should be (mountains and plains, hills and streams, people and beasts lakes and forests), adding up and melting into a whole that will keep being long after the children of our children will seize to be.
I don’t believe in dragons, yet it is their very scorching fire that lights up the sky in thousands shades of crimson red – one more breath before the devouring flames burn the the day behind, giving way to countless stars into the darkness of the night.
I don’t believe in fairies, yet it is their very song that brushes through the leafs, whispering the long forgotten curse – a soft and chilly kiss that sweeps my breath away, along with every ounce of warmth in my body, leaving me empty an shivering, naked of all I ever knew, before the beauty of the land that no one ever tamed… and that no one ever should…
It’s then I feel most alive, like waking up from a dreamless sleep, and the fool in me embraces the casts of spell, unaware and happy, without knowing there’s no turning back.
Beautiful and cruel, in constant motion yet unmoving, unexpected and treacherous, it stole my heart away for all eternity, leaving me forever longing. Aye, it is a longing, one that hurts beyond measure and that will forever linger within my soul for the remaining of my days. No matter how much water I pour, the scorching fire in my heart will never quench; no matter how many blankets I cover myself with, the icy flowers wreathed around my veins will never thaw.
I closed my eyes and opened wide my heart. Was it courage? Or was it foolishness?… I do not know.
Was it a curse that made me wonder? Perhaps, for now I know I mourn a loss that was never mine to lose; now I know I grieve for a land that I have not right to grieve for; now I know my longing will never recede and it is pointless to trust a hope… for now I know I may never live to see it for myself.
Yet a blissful silence descended upon me, despite the bitter taste that sneaks its way on me… for now I know that at least my heart found its way back home, to Scotland…
Photos courtesy of Jacky Cooper
“Make your choice, adventurous Stranger,
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.”
C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew