The serpentine road of the Qadisha valley receded into the shadows of the mountains, confidently coiling around the slopes with the contentment of having fulfilled a holy mission – a well-deserved sentiment, since our journey’s end, the reserve of Lebanon’s Cedars of God, finally lay in front of our eyes. Filmy stripes of snow covered some of the ochre-tinted peaks at the horizon, reminiscent of the winter days that had only recently been swept away by April’s joyful hand. Ahead, the forest extended in scaling foliage plateaus, emitting woody fragrances and an enchanted ambiance of comfort and belonging.
We rambled through the paths, and the ancient trees yawned and stretched at our passage, as if coming out of a lethargic afternoon nap, gently massaging their fluids back into vividness. Hollow eyes, carved by age on 5000-year-old woods, followed us drowsily with the intimacy of an old friend, bearing a wisdom so primeval that my consciousness could not grasp. Fairies dashed among the branches, and naked female bodies, intertwined like the figures of Nature and Divinity in Khalil Gibran’s unsung paintings, emerged from the wrinkles of the barks. There was an absence of noise but not silence, for the whispering of eternal storytelling was audible, and the lapping of time on the shores of the present reverberated like a heartbeat.
My fingertips caressed lightning’ scars on the timber frames, the curves of my breasts found their matching place as I leaned against the rotundity of the trunks, and my hug – that of a perpetual girl, mother, and lover – opened in receptivity and abundance, ready to give and receive alike. There, while marinating in coniferous perfumes, murmurs and whiffs, creaks and sighs, the heart came to an orgasmic climax and the dulcet chanting that unexpectedly echoed from a well-concealed chapel’s womb mated with the spirit with vigor and intensity.
I sat on a plain bench inside the church: soles firmly on the ground, palms lightly cupping the curve of each knee, my back straight but relaxed. There is a nuance of humility and shyness in this posture; a quality that moves away from obsequiousness nearing atonement and earnest anticipation for something still elusive. I closed my eyes and, for a few seconds, there was absolute stillness as if each breath had paused, every thought abandoned. An invisible maestro raised his hands and all bodies – mine included – stiffened, yearning for the upcoming release: the redemption of the commencement. And when the celestial music finally unfurled, pathos was found not in the harmony itself but the details of the execution: details like a nod, a glance, a soft dancing twist of the fingers, or a gentle curve of the torso that smoothens out a choppy phrase, all working together to turn anything common into extraordinary. Gradually, a melodic theme delicately took shape, and tenderness, folded in ethereal gift packages, passed with gratitude from hand to hand among the present strangers.
It was only after having been cleansed in this mise-en-scene – where the ephemeral hues romanced with the grandeur of the eons – that I was allowed to fall on my knees, bending in reverence over the freshly-dug hole that was to welcome the cedar sapling I offered to plant on the mountain. I delved my fingers deeply into the wet soil, tapping on the constantly beating vein of the earth, stirring up the fragrances. “I am growing roots,” I thought and knew that, as I began to eavesdrop on the primordial sageness stored in the subterranean strata, I was building ties not just with the specific land but with Life itself.
I kissed the fragile twig, watering it with the extract that resides in the corners of the psyche and lubricates any motion forward when released through the eyes. Still spellbound, I sank back into the most aboriginal notion of existence – the beginning of the invention of the self – and, in this void, a message delineated, like a bubble surfacing on a successfully brewed potion. Nothing fancy, just two simple words: “I am.” No further description, analysis, or clarification: all the intellect of the perpetually spiraling tale of our humanity enclosed in a phrase that, though humble and modest, has the power to be complete and unlimited. Ultimately, I may be nothing more than a verse written for the untidy evenings of eternity; yet, I am also a change-maker who breeds a world courageous enough to wear its clothes inside out, daring to re-invent itself from its ashes. And I understood that, at the closing titles of another chaotic chapter in history, when everything seems, once again, about to collapse, the only reliable constant and the only accessible divinity lies in the creative power within.
I patted the earth softly and said goodbye to my young cedar, hoping the separation would only be temporary. I could almost hear the thread-like roots stretching, reaching out to the juices of the past, sucking the essence of the underground stories that, to the non-initiated, might seem forgotten. The tree was already growing, imperceptibly but steadily, and, along, so was I. Perhaps in 5000 years, the kiss I bestowed on this branch will still be floating around the mountain slopes – an anonymous legacy that may turn into my most precious gift to the future.
Fingertips still tickling, I wobbled back to the path, dizzy, almost intoxicated. My heart was beating in synchronicity with the arboreal vibration, and I could feel my thoughts probing on the frontiers of myself, caving for meanings and interpretations. But I could find nothing more, for these two small words – I am – that kept humming like wine aging in the sanctum of the barrel, incorporated the esoteric process of “being” and “becoming,” and, in their frugality, they were enough.
The moment broke into zillions of glass pieces: reflections of myself everywhere. I was part of all, and all was part of me. Boundaries got blurry, the gravitational center of my perceived existence vanished into obscurity, and the emerging anarchy exulted on the mourning ground, carrying the long-anticipated change while mocking my human fear. But, by then, I knew that at the subterranean currents where the cedars quench their thirst, there is always hope, wisdom, and the comfort of eternity. So, I timidly rooted myself in the simplicity of the “I am” acknowledgment and, with the pride of my young cedar sprout, I dared to stare ahead in confidence and faith.
Photos: © Konstantina Sakellariou
This post is part of a project temporarily called “Self-Portraits,” comprising of monthly dialogues with the inner and outer landscape in an attempt to document change over time. Complement this with the previous posts:
The Fragility of New Beginnings (November 2016)
A Libation to the Muse (December 2016)
There is Always Hope in the Beauty of Human Creations (January 2017)
Ode to Silence (February 2017)
Falling in Love Once Again (March 2017)
Pilgrimage (April 2017)