A Year and A Day – Excerpt – June

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“Are you nervous, granddaughter?” grandmother asked. It was Aifa’s first public speaking assignment, one for which she had prepared the entire week, and she was, of course, all nerves. “Don’t fret over it, you will do just fine.”

“What if I don’t?” Aifa asked, wretched.

“Then you won’t,” grandmother joked. “I’m sure they’ll let you live.”

“Don’t joke about it, doyenne!” Aifa chided.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” grandmother said, trying very hard to be serious but unable to suppress a smile. She kept filling the picnic basket with wholesome foods for the potluck picnic. Nobody in the city would miss this outing, which always happened at the beginning of June, the time when they celebrated the revelation of wisdom.

It was the day when the fire of wisdom had descended from the sky, oh, so long ago. Some people said it looked like lightning, others said it could not be anything of the sort, the comforting wisdom from above. The effect on those whom it had touched was professed to be nothing sort of miraculous: they received untold knowledge, the gift of understanding, the power to heal with a touch. The people of Cré called them the gifts of the spirit. Those blessed with the gifts had always shared them with the people, to expand their knowledge and understanding of things, both seen and unseen. They advanced the city’s education, medicine and strict moral code. It was believed that the advanced medicine that the city was known for far and wide had its humble beginnings in this very experience, and the community had never been the same since.

The gifts didn’t die with the ones who received them. As they advanced in age and became the community elders, the first receivers of the gifts passed them on to the younger generation, by the simple touch of their hands, and the gifts were thus perpetuated and multiplied, up until now.

It wasn’t clear at this time who were the bearers of the gifts; the passing on of wisdom was always done privately and quietly, in the spirit of cultivating them with humility. It was the gift, not its bearer, that was meant to shine its light unto the world, and the customs required that all prophecy, healing and conveying of knowledge be done anonymously if possible and be made available to everyone.

Over the centuries, their prophecies and body of wisdom built up to enormous archives, entire libraries whose custodians inherited the honor of maintaining, just like the duty of Caretaker was assigned to Aifa at birth. Every name of every person who ever lived in Cré was painstakingly noted in the books of family records, together with the details of their lives – their occupation, their passions, outstanding events of their lives, but most importantly, their family ties. Family was everything in Cré, because family was forever.

Since the gifts of the spirit where focused on the area of communication, all the art forms relating to writing and public speaking were held in high regard, and all people were expected to express themselves with poise and eloquence, even at a young age. And thus Aifa became the orator for this particular day, to her untold dread.

“What is your discourse about?” grandmother decided to help her out.

“The importance of properly nourishing one’s body and the avoidance of unhealthy things,” Aifa responded eagerly.

“That shouldn’t be too hard,” grandmother encouraged.

“It’s not the content, it’s the speaking it in public that is the problem,” Aifa mumbled, awkward.

“It is like everything else, granddaughter. It takes practice.”

Strangely enough, even though she had been born into a Caretaker family, Aifa’s grandmother had received the gift of sight. She was touched by visions when she was very young, and, in accordance with tradition, she kept them between herself and the pages she brought to the hall of records and left on the table before anyone could see her.

“Don’t think of yourself as gifted,” wisdom decreed. “The gift was passed on to you by someone from the past and you will pass it on to someone in the future. You are not your gift. Your gift is eternal, you are just a vessel through which it flows into our lives.”

Aifa’s grandmother took this wisdom to heart and acted according to it her whole life. That was not to say her gift hadn’t served her well in her own life, and hadn’t helped her guide her children, and now her grandchildren. Aifa had asked once whether the gifts made people special, better than others.

“No person is better than another person, child. In the eyes of the divine, we’re all equal. The gifts just get us a little closer to understanding its glory, that’s all. Some things are only meant to be seen with the spirit.”

By the time they arrived to the picnic area the sun was at high noon and many of the people had already set up their blankets for the afternoon outdoors. Close to the middle of the clearing, a larger group was gathered around the Twins, to listen to wisdom, which the two imparted generously, and with an eloquence that made Aifa envious.

Ever since they had been awaken to wisdom, the Twins had become obsessed with writing down what they had learned or understood, and leaving messages for their future selves. This was a habit nobody but the Twins could understand, but the people accepted it, just like they took for granted many of their other unusual behaviors, such as waking up at dawn to sit on the wall and watch the sun rise over the ocean, every day and without a word. Their gaze betrayed their longing for the ocean, a place they were not allowed to go to, although none of the elders was able to explain why.

Sometimes they gave Aifa messages, with instructions to return them the following year on the same day. Aifa complied, dutifully, but couldn’t help wonder whether there were messages they had left with other Caretakers in previous years. If there were, the Twins never remembered to ask about them, and nobody reminded them either. It felt so sad, this conspiracy of silence, and Aifa promised herself to deliver her messages on time.

“Maybe we all forget, just like they do,” she thought of possible reasons. She asked her grandmother.

“That is not why, granddaughter. It’s just that messages conveyed and understood in this life don’t necessarily translate to the next. The Twins held me to the promise to deliver their messages from one year to the next, and I tried, I really did. They never remember their meaning and get really frustrated and sad, so, on balance, the messages do them more harm than good. Do you want to open the one they just gave you and read it?”

Aifa unfolded the paper and saw it contained nothing but a little scribble: a crescent moon, laying on its back.

“What do you think it means, grandmother?” Aifa asked, puzzled.

“My point exactly, child. I urge you to go ask them about it right now, you’ll see that even seconds after they gave you the sign, they already can’t decipher its meaning. It must be an unwritten law of the spirit, that symbols are only to be conveyed and understood in the instant.”

“So, what should I do with this message, doyenne?” Aifa asked.

“Keep it, deliver it as asked. Keep your promise. You have to experience this for yourself, otherwise it will feel like a betrayal. It is hard for a Caretaker to go back on her word. I deliver all of the messages they left me, even now, although I know better. I keep thinking that somehow, someday they will understand them.”

“Maybe they understand them in their hearts, even though their minds can’t make heads or tails of their meaning.”

“Maybe.”

The Twins were giving a spellbinding lecture on the nature of the spirit, and it was almost impossible to reconcile the fact that the beings who were speaking so articulately in front of her eyes and those who had given and forgotten the meaning of the scribble she held in her hands were one and the same.

“Don’t let your heart be troubled, granddaughter. Just concentrate on learning and enlightening your spirit. All things that need revealing will be revealed to you in their own time.”

It has been Aifa’s experience so far that such revealed truths always descended upon the spirit with crystalline clarity, and always in hindsight.

“There will be dancing and sports later on. Maybe it would be a good idea for you to participate, to show your practical understanding of all of those things you are going to talk about.” Aifa groaned, because she had almost forgotten about the dreaded presentation.

“Why do I need to tell people about this, everybody knows it is important to keep their body healthy and strong,” she attempted one last protest.

“It is not about the content itself, it is about your being at ease with public discourse. Later on you will want to touch upon subjects that you are passionate about, you don’t want the discomfort of talking about your ideas to prevent them from coming to life,” grandmother encouraged her.

The Twins had finished their presentation about the nature of the spirit and were engaged in a new one, on the subject of life’s transformations throughout eternity.

“How do they do it?” Aifa asked herself. “How does it come so easy to them to talk about a subject for hours at a time? How do they even remember it all?”

“The gifts of the spirit come in different packages, granddaughter. Some can see, some can talk, some can move with grace. Things come and go in life, but you should always keep a watch on your own routine, to keep your behavior blameless, your body healthy and strong and your love for those around you untarnished. These are things well within your reach, and if you make these intentions a habit, they will bless and guide your life to a ripe old age. If the spirit grants you a gift, you have to honor it. There is no transgression sadder than intentionally withholding the light that was given you to shine into the world. Praise moderation in all things and be your body’s keeper, not its slave.”

“But, doyenne, you just went through my entire presentation,” Aifa protested.

“I know. I just thought I’d go through the main points with you, to help you remember them. Sometimes in the middle of the presentation the ideas try to run away from you, it is always useful to keep them in focus by mentally attaching them to things you are sure not to forget.”

“It is almost my turn,” Aifa said. She was so nervous she could feel her jaw go numb. The Twins were still talking, they have switched from their latest subject to that of being a good and faithful steward of the body and life that were given you right here on earth.

“This is unbelievable,” Aifa mumbled. “There is no amount of practice that would even bring me close to this level of comfort with public speaking. They look like they have been born specifically to do this!”

“Maybe they were,” grandmother replied.

The dreaded moment finally came, as time rolled forward implacably, and Aifa got in front of the crowd to gave her first presentation. She was so tense about so many eyes staring right at her that she went through the entirety of it as if in a haze. When it was finished, she couldn’t remember if she had gotten through all the points, if she had used the correct words, over which she had agonized for more than a week, or if anybody in the audience had asked her any questions. When she got away from the platform, she was so far removed from the activity she’d been intimately involved in for the last half hour, that she might as well have been locked up in a room, all by herself. She was eager to hear her grandmother’s impressions.

“That was very good, granddaughter. Next time, try to engage a little bit more with the audience, it will help you feel when their attention is shifting and guide you to harmonize your chosen subject with it. It takes some time, but eventually it becomes so natural to you, this mix of opinions and ideas, that you’ll wonder why you ever were nervous about immersing yourself in it. It doesn’t matter if you are talking to one person or a thousand at a time, in the end it’s still just a conversation.”

(A Year and A Day – Excerpt – June)