Those very words came to mind when I first read the following from a favorite author’s memoir. Here, Isabel Allende recounts her only daughter’s slow and horrifying death, the kind of cosmos-tipping agony that outstrips even the sturdiest personalities, causes the steadiest minds to quaver, can drain and yank and capsize utterly:
I am a raft without a rudder, adrift on a sea of pain. During these long months I have been peeling away like an onion, layer after layer, changing; I am not the same woman, my daughter has given me an opportunity to look inside myself and discover interior spaces—empty, dark, strangely peaceful—I have never explored before. These are holy places, and to reach them I must travel a narrow road blocked with many obstacles, vanquish the beasts of imagination that jump out in my path. When terror paralyzes me, I close my eyes and give myself to it with the sensation of sinking into storm-tossed waters, pounded by the fury of the waves. For a few instants that are a true eternity, I think I am dying, but little by little I comprehend that, despite everything, I am still alive because in the ferocious whirlpool there is a merciful shaft through which I can breathe. Unresisting, I let myself be dragged down, and gradually the fear recedes. I float into an underwater cave, and rest there for a while, safe from the dragons of despair. Raw and bleeding inside, I cry without tears, as animals may cry, but then the sun comes up and the cat comes to ask for breakfast, and I hear [my husband’s] footsteps in the kitchen, and the odor of coffee spreads through the house. Another day is beginning, a day like any other day.
—Isabel Allende, Paula, 272
Within my own experience in “the ferocious whirlpool” following significant tragedy, there was, thankfully, down very, very deep, an anchor, and that was the temple. More specifically, there were the promises made there and the blessings that flow from trying to keep those promises. I add that specification, because a temple itself as a building is not some magical locus. It is what happens inside that offers more than peace and quiet, escape from the world and a place to clear the mind.
If it’s escape from the din, crush and flakiness of the world I want, I can just as easily set up camp in a cave as go to a temple.
If it’s meditation I’m looking for, there’s YMCA yoga classes. Or Tibet.
If it’s protection I seek for my daughter, there are real good Tae Kwan Do courses. And Kevlar.
If it’s wholesome hand-in-hand harmony I’m hoping to find, I can sign up for a Christian line-dancing club.
If I long for a sense of connectedness to my ancestors, I can always spelunk around in my parents’ attic.
The temple offers much more than all the above, anchoring the human vessel not only amid something, (whirlwinds), but to something, (the unseen but true reality), because we throw our line not only down to the depths of what’s real, but back through time and space, affixing ourselves to the expanse of humanity. Everyone who has proceeded us, though unseen, still reaches toward the line we cast. That, I have known directly and unmistakably in the temple.
How? I’ll only say that the temple is truly the plane where heaven intersects with earth, it is the link between the unseen and seen realms, the pivot where timelessness and time converge, the place where men and angels comingle. It is the great gathering place of the universe where, as one author writes, “the whole human family meets in a common enterprise” and “the worlds—seen and unseen— join hands in this work of love.”
To my husband, two-weeks after our Parker’s death.
Another trip to Manti Temple. Postscript to Sailing to Manti
We crawl through excavation:
Splayed walls of striated fleshrock where water has ploughed
this thorny gorge,
where debris rots under tumbled planes
of memory, upended and shuffled.
A dam burst here.
Viscera and veins—striped pink sandstone—contain us;
on all sides shudder layers of petrified soundwaves wailing
wailing beneath the crushing rush of water
that rakes and claws and scrapes to the bone,
demolishing, devouring, leaving desolate.
One river’s vivisecting roar.
Gouged out, carved wide open on an altar,
drawn and scored, torn between here and there:
here, where the mudslide spews its dull red of caked blood;
there, where heaven’s ragged hem conceals our boy.
Yet: through terra cotta ribbons on every side sprout wisps of bright-green shrubs.
Life insisting on itself.
Once we sailed,
all wing and fervor, wind and future.
Now we cut through low buttes,
groping our way to Manti, writhing,
Trusting, we offer hands stretched through a veil.
© Melissa Dalton-Bradford and melissadaltonbradford.wordpress.com, 2012. This work (text and images) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. . . which means, as long you’re not selling it, you’re welcome to share, but please remember to give me a link and mention my name.