For the second time that year, the community took their trip down the side of the mountain, down to the sea. It was the middle of June, and it seemed like the whole world was covered in flowers, especially the tall, bright yellow flowers of the meadow, which some still believed were faeries in disguise. There was talk that at night, on the eve of this feast, they could be seen dancing across the fields and meadows, as if stepping on air, ethereal like the breeze itself. When asked about it, people whispered about the terrible fate which befell those who dared spy upon the unearthly creatures during their private dance.
For this celebration, however, they lent their flowers eagerly, to make crowns, garlands and wreaths.
“You look beautiful, granddaughter,” grandmother admired Aifa, whose countenance matched that of the fairies themselves, as she descended the rocky path to the seashore in her simple white garment, her long unruly hair the color of fire sprinkled with yellow flowers. She had flowers in her hands, and garlands around her neck, and looked very much like a flower herself. Grandmother couldn’t help a contented giggle.
The sun was approaching its zenith, glowing bright and lively over the already crowded beach, where people were getting ready for the traditional bonfire.
“Why do we light a bonfire for this feast, doyenne?” Aifa asked.
“Our people celebrate the symbolic nature of life, and its eternal cycles. On this, the longest day of the year, the sun rises to its glory. It rises to give us warmth and sustain life in all its forms, even the most humble. Its energy transforms and nourishes, but it can also be unyielding and unrelenting, like every force of nature. It is not good or bad, it just is. It represents the energy of fire, for which we light up bonfires on this day. The unwise bask in the blessings of nature and decry its unraveling, but what we always need to do is find balance. There is nothing in this life that can’t be used for both good, and evil, but when you seek harmony and equilibrium, otherwise antagonistic forces come to a head and cancel each other out. It is this balance that yields lasting peace. It is not our place to judge nature, which was before us and will be here long after we are gone. We are here to find our place inside of it, to understand that we are not removed from it, that our very essence is a part of nature too. We are here today to honor and celebrate the sacred realm that life creates between the earth and the heavens. We are in the world we create every day, the wholeness of being draws from our essence and reflects it, and we draw from its essence and reflect it too. There is no higher prize, no greater satisfaction for a life well lived than to look around yourself and see your world at peace. That is your equilibrium, your balance.”
“But what if I can’t, doyenne? What if I can’t find enough peace in my heart for it to shine out into the world?” Aifa expressed her deepest fear. She had never liked fire, even since she was a little girl. It always seemed menacing and uncontrollable to her, an unruly energy better left alone.
“If you have to remember one thing from this day, remember this. Whatever you fear controls you. Don’t fear fire. It is neither good, nor evil, it embodies the force of transformation. Do you remember what you told me about your love for water, that you feel the call of the sea into your blood?”
“You told me that, doyenne.”
“No matter. Until you learn how to feel the essence of fire inside your heart, just like you can feel the call of the sea, you will be afraid of it and its secrets will elude you. Everything under the sun has a purpose for being, including you and I. The wisdom is not to put ourselves above it. Today is the day when the sun stands still.”
People were celebrating on the beach, and children splashed in the sea, close to the shore under their parents’ watchful eyes, giggling and jumping, with flowers in their hair, feeling safe and comforted by this day of the year, when the world was awash in warmth and sunshine.
“We’re entering the second half of the year,” grandmother said thoughtfully, staring straight into the sun that had remained pinned onto the firmament, unwilling to move. “We are at a midpoint, again. For the Twins, this day represents their entering into adulthood. From now on they are here to teach and inspire us to understand the true nature of the divine.”
Aifa looked at the two, who were sitting close to the waters; they gazed upon the sea with so much longing it made her heart ache. In the midst of the very animated scene, Ama and Jal stood still, like two breathing statues, just as immovable as the rocky cliffs, battered by waves. Some said the Twins had transcended nature a long time ago, they said the Twins could walk on water, they said the Twins could walk on air. They said the Twins could suddenly scatter into a million butterflies, or become the living essence of every flower on earth, and yet, there they were, not bothered by the ruckus around them, patiently bearing the children who braided flowers in their long hair.
“It seems like they have sea water running in their blood too,” grandmother observed. “We are all called to different things upon this earth: some are called to change, some are called to nurture, some are called to steward and some are called to understand.”
“What are you called to, doyenne?” Aifa asked, her eyes shining with curiosity.
Grandmother didn’t answer, she just smiled.
The festivities were getting more and more animated, as a group of young people were lighting large wheels of straw and dried grasses on fire and rolled them down the beach, into the sea.
“I see you are still afraid,” grandmother placed her hand over Aifa’s, as if to steady her agitation. “Quiet your wavering, child. Moving from one thought to its opposite disquiets the mind and wastes your energy to no avail. You can’t be purposeful and afraid at the same time. We strive so hard to live in the light that we refuse to acknowledge the truth in front of our very eyes: where there is light, there is shadow. Everything casts shadows on the earth. As soon as the sun comes out, so do our shadows. Pretending that they are not there is the endeavor of fools. There are those who say ‘I will live in the light and I will banish the darkness’, not realizing that it is not the light, and the darkness, it is their light, and their darkness, neither of which they can cling to or escape.” She stopped, because Aifa looked sad.
“Don’t be sad, granddaughter. Today is a day of gratitude. Look at the world around you, the abundance of the fruit of the earth, the warmth of the sun, the blessing of rain, the children’s joy. As we are at peace, so is the world at peace. We live in balance.”
The children, famished after their endless frolic in the sea, descended upon the grilled meats and vegetables like a flock of seagulls on a beach after the tide. They were munching and chasing each other at the same time, to the outrage of their parents, whose voices rose above the crowd to make them stop. The warm sand and sea salt got everywhere: in their hair, in their noses, inside their clothing and their toes. Most of them had abandoned their sandals, to run on the beach barefoot, and their slices of grilled summer zucchini were crunchy with a fine dusting of sand.
“Settle down,” the parents screamed, to no avail, while their tireless offspring scattered their energy in large bursts of noise and sand across the beach.
“Oh, there is no use,” grandmother smiled and turned to Aifa. “I remember you at that age, you were untamable. We all have to live through the seasons of our lives, the wise understand that.”
As the sun started moving again on its path towards the horizon, the endless amounts of energy the little ones doled out started to taper off a bit, and they gathered around in small groups to play games and make sand castles, to the relief of their parents, who were thankful that their little ones got some rest before the evening, since the ceremonies were supposed to last well into the night. After the sunset, the light of the bonfire took much greater prominence. Both young and old gathered around it, watching the flames dance in the darkness and reach up to the stars. Ever so often, somebody would start a song, and many joined in, merrily. The children, finally exhausted, nestled themselves in their parents’ laps, trying very hard not to fall asleep.
There was this fairy tale Aifa, like all the children of Cré, knew from her childhood, about a magical orchard, whose fruit was made of precious metals and gems, only nobody ever got to see it, because, come midnight on this very holiday, the slumber of the soul came about, and while every one of the people fell into a deep sleep, the fruit invariably disappeared.
“Do you think they are going to tell the story of the golden fruit, doyenne?” Aifa asked.
“Of course. They always tell that story, it is tradition. What a wonderful meaning this story has, about the importance of not allowing our souls to slumber while the fruits of our spirit are whisked away. I’m not sure they’ll be able to wake the children,” she looked around and noticed the little ones looked absolutely bushed, “but at least the grown-ups are all awake. You’re not going to fall asleep, are you?” she gave Aifa a sharp look and then relaxed when she noticed her granddaughter was sharp as a tack. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to plant you in the middle of a circle of spears, just to keep you from dozing off,” she said, half joking.
Aifa shuddered with discomfort, while she remembered the details of the story. After he found himself unable to keep vigil for the first two nights, the hero decided to stand through the entire third night, and to this end he planted spears, pointing up, all around himself: one under his chin, to awake him if his head wobbled forward, one at the back of his head, if he happened to lean back, one next to the right shoulder and one next to the left, if he veered sideways. He had to spend the whole night getting poked by spears, but in the end, he didn’t fall asleep.
“The fruits of the spirit must be guarded, granddaughter,” grandmother nodded in agreement. “You don’t trade your wisdom for a little shut-eye,” she frowned, displeased.
Aifa looked into the flames, quietly, trying to imagine what that magical fruit must have looked like; she could almost see it in the darkness behind the dancing flames, hanging from the branches of the orchard trees, gleaming softly in the dim light of the moon and the stars.
“If only we could picture the beauty and richness of our wisdom, granddaughter. How much wealthier would we all feel!”
Throughout the entire day the Twins hadn’t uttered a single word. They were sitting in front of the fire now, still looking like living statues, with several sleeping children in their laps. They weren’t happy, they weren’t sad, and they weren’t tired. They welcomed the time of harvest and maturity that had arrived, according to its season. At the strike of midnight, as the fire was dying, they got up and walked slowly across its embers towards the path that led back home, and everyone followed in their footsteps, carrying sleeping children on their backs on in their arms, to brave the long climb back to the city, under the light of the stars, accompanied only by the restless breath of the sea and the calls of nocturnal creatures. The sky seemed to glow softly into the distance, in an eerie dance of light, and, as tired as she was, Aifa remembered the flower faeries and averted her eyes. She didn’t want to tempt luck and incur their wrath.
“Are we harboring fear again, granddaughter,” grandmother stared at her, then shook her head with disappointment, and continued her climb through the night, eager to get back home.
(A Year and A Day – Excerpt – June)