Lately, as the world zips beneath me, and time zones waft lazily back and forth like an Earth-scale metronome, I don’t have much to say. People continue to agitate for ideas. Earlier, I chatted with my seatmate, an American Sikh who is on his way back from visiting family in Punjab. The purpose? To “calm everybody down” from his cousin’s engagement to a Hindu, a man she loves and is clearly happy with. He showed me pictures—her smile luminous, hanging onto the arm of her tall, awkwardly handsome, bespectacled betrothed.
Surrounding us is a large Buddhist contingent from Taiwan, traveling with at least two monks, a man and a woman, both shaved bald. There are two Filipino passengers—an overwhelmingly Catholic populace—immediately adjacent to us. On the first leg of the trip I read an intensely moving account of an American Muslim’s hajj: the Islamic journey to the holiest city of Mecca. He quotes a resident of the city:
“The Prophet said, in Mecca, even if you see the killer of your father, you cannot raise your hand.”
What is the substance of our common humanity? Traveling, I notice not only the vastly simplifying fact of our needs—water, something to eat, a bathroom, a resting place—but also the stark ghost of my own god-concepts of long ago. When the plane founders in the sky, whatever thoughts I once had about a personified spirit who held the keys to a special box which held the scroll of my life’s past, present, and future narrative, pop faintly across the ticker of conscious thought. But where I was once speaking to someone—a human thought-consciousness that was not discernibly different from anything or anyone I had ever known—there is now just the impossible space of awareness. There has been no way of stopping it from growing. And I’m glad.
Why then do my eyes sting with tears every time I read, over and over, these words: In Mecca, even if you meet the killer of your father, you cannot raise your hand.
I am flying back from Bali, that tiny wet island of magical nurturance, where statues of Hindu gods are draped in wide skirts of checkerboarded black, white, and gray fabric. This is meant to remind worshippers of the equivalence of good and evil, dark and light, life and death. It’s not that one cannot exist without the other—it is that both are. All is. All that we perceive in this world is. In Bali there is not the usual need to elevate one aspect over the other, which so predictably fuels the world’s heavy chorus: We = good, They = bad.
And still, there are a hundred thousand million strange little superstitions everywhere, in everyone’s mind, the belief that one alone hears the Voice, and is heard. I inherited this along with my human form. There’s no way to stop listening, as my Voice changes timbre, from a forbidding (and–let’s be real–male) God-voice into something so much less knowable, but also so much less blatantly opposed to everything I see, hear, understand, and experience. And I—desperately hurtling through time and space with my fellow-travelers—am at peace.