I kneel on stone that feels like ice under my legs but that may in fact be melting my skin for all the awareness I have of my surroundings. It’s unlikely that it’s warm in the slightest, this being March in England. I’m simply amazed that it’s dry, as it’s been raining with only brief pauses for what I imagine is two weeks, although I would certainly swear to the fact that it has not stopped since the time of the crucifixion. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us. But thou, o Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. The words ring in my ears as I speak them but am silent inside my mind, a state that I once would have thought impossible but now permeates every experience I have in this building. I speak the words and feel the presence of the Spirit but there seems to be no connection between me and the words, the words and the Spirit, or the tradition and any sort of comfort I keep showing up trying to find and blatantly failing at. There is peace, calm, silence. But it takes me nowhere. Still I am here on my knees feeling the brutal pain of hard stone that I hope will shake me from the misery of thought but it does nothing of the sort and standing I know that I am now a part of the decoration for visitors. There are few of those, I admit, who do not know me in this ancient sanctuary, yet in my loneliness I long simply to be alone. They know me so well yet my mind is a mystery to them that they do not realize exists — even from within the darkness of my personal clouds, it is no less unknown to me.
It’s not pain. Suffering rarely is, to be perfectly honest. It’s more like hallucination. I don’t imagine things into being. I experience them. They are no less real than anything else. They taste through my senses and I cannot separate them from what is truly out there, if indeed there is anything there in the first place other than my terrified self. I imagine with what passes these days for hope that there might still be a real world that I do not ever remember having experienced, although I may have. But that hope has taken a severe beating and looks more like rice paper than it resembles the stones against my legs.
The confusion is less dramatic than that, though. It isn’t a conflict or a fight. There’s no reality to fight for and no obvious interpretation. It simply is how each moment passes. But there is confusion. It is here, embodied in these words. Have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Have mercy on us, it echoes in my head or, perhaps, against the solid walls whose reverberations remain unsoftened by the few humans engaged in ritual around me. What have I done? If this is how I experience life and life is the consequence of that part of nature that we embody, I must have been a truly awful person throughout the ages, perhaps in this age.
Here is part of the problem. I know that I can find peace through embracing forgiveness. I might not have much faith in the idea of redemption in a Christian sense but I doubt Jesus would have been particularly troubled that I arrive here along a different path, even if the people around me might be a bit shocked by where my mind’s footsteps have led.
But that’s just it. Forgiveness for what? This is where I am lost. I simply don’t remember. I am sure that, like all humans, I am guilty of having hurt people. I sincerely wish that I had not been and try always to make sure that I do not. But there have definitely been times in my past when it has happened. They’re pretty far back, though. Not because I’ve been all that good the last decade of my life but I have little memory at all of it. Fleeting images but they’re incomplete and, more than likely, false.
I began with love. At least, love began before me. I don’t remember, mostly because I was not yet. But that part I have no difficulty believing is true. Parents and grandparents, overwhelmingly caring, teaching and demonstrating what a life is supposed to be. Until school happened. Then things didn’t simply go off the rails. The train ran without a slightest hint of ritardando into a mountain through which no tunnel had been cut. Peace ended.
I know what you’re thinking. I wasn’t miserable because I had to leave the warmth of family love that predated starting school. Well, sure, I did that, too, and like all other children it was not a pleasant experience. That, however, was not the real problem. Intelligence, you have abandoned me, and that absence has a name, and that name is primary school. A place where intelligence is mocked and knowledge is limited to what you can fit on a handheld chalkboard. Usually the sum of two twos. Or, if you’re very lucky, the correct spelling for cat.
At home there was reading and writing. Books were imbued with a living spirit. Each poetic word had a life that jumped from the page or the lips and danced into the world. Basho’s frog jumped ripples into the pond in the middle of the living room while Keats’ belle dame danced with the beautiful Rosalind on the rug beside my bed. Numbers flowed in unrestricted clouds of abandon through my daydreams and Bach’s pedals underpinned Scarlatti’s dancing sixteenths. But at school, idiocy found a voice and thought was abandoned. And that’s before we even got to the other students. There may well be teachers out there who despair at the lack of thought that goes into teaching young children. But I don’t know if I encountered any of them. Perhaps they have just become so used to what is normal and the fact that most people who are young have no desire beyond playground and nap time and crayons. But it would have been lovely to have been inspired just once in all those years the way that I was with every new day at home.
But that’s not what’s going through my head most of the time as I kneel here. Yes, childhood was a combination of brilliant sunshine and unthinkable darkness with little between. The education system is a failure. We all say it but nothing really changes. Curriculums come and go, as do teachers and students, yet there is an assumption that common knowledge is common knowledge and that what one generation learned is what the next generation should learn, stereotypical behavior and performed normalcy must be perpetuated, and age is important to learning. It’s all ridiculous. But, as I said, that’s not what I’m thinking, at least not actively.
The real issue isn’t even what happened next. I always imagined that this thing people called love was something worth pursuing. Perhaps they even thought it was and weren’t just performing for the benefit of others. I didn’t know that at the time, though. I really did believe that everyone else was also just pretending so that they’d fit in. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanted to have someone touch their hands, certainly not other things. People were always too close. Yes, very special people warranted hugs, even cuddling. But the general public would be far better off in another room, if not on another continent. They were, I cannot emphasize enough, too close simply by virtue of existing. They were unpredictable and twitchy, noisy and, more than anything else, constantly seeming to be busy thinking about things that made no difference and doing things that simply didn’t need to be done. They called it getting on with things. I called it stupidity. I still do. Stillness is beautiful yet that’s not why I’m still here kneeling on the stones.
I did what most people would call falling in love. I call it friendship. True partnership, finding a person I would happily spend my life with. Not because I wanted to see them naked or lie in bed with them. I had no idea why people wanted to do those things. I still have no real idea but I had, even then, learned to pretend that this was the root of interest. But she was brilliant and understanding, accepting and didn’t pretend. Not ever, at least not to me. She spoke her mind and her mind was, in so many ways, clear.
Yet in one way, it wasn’t. I’m not sure how this happened. She believed truly that she was hurting people by her presence and that we would have better lives if she were not here. I couldn’t convince her that she was wrong. I didn’t care if there was no other person in the world who wanted to spend time with her. I’d happily do it without a moment’s pause if she’d let me. But she was adamant.
She asked me to save her and I failed.
We have erred. But it’s not quite that simple. I have failed to do the one thing that was in my power to do to make this a better place. I let her die.
I am here kneeling and time is flowing past but so slowly that I really haven’t taken up any noticeable amount of it to the people around me. I am asking forgiveness for this but I don’t know what else I have done wrong and that was so very long ago.
I cannot be forgiven for it, though. Not ever, because she is gone and forgiveness requires making amends, fixing the problem that I have caused. And she is dead by her own hand that I failed to prevent, failed to save her from herself and with every day I live without her in my life, I am aware that I can do nothing to make that past untrue in the present.
There is always more, though, as one would expect there to be. I lost myself that day. I don’t think I realized it at the time and I kept acting, kept pretending to think and behave as others did. But it was all rote performance after that. It’s not that I didn’t ask for help. I did. And occasionally someone even tried to give it. Which is a huge portion of the problem. I was always terrified.
I don’t see things as they are. I see things as they are merged with what I fear they might be in the moment. There’s no way to tear those two things apart once they enter the mind. Fragments of conversations or, far worse, television, overlayed onto whatever my senses are taking in, that by the time they reach my brain, they are indistinguishable. You may call it hallucination, I said. That’s not quite what it is, I must admit, but it’s pretty close. It’s not what normal people think of as perception or interpretation. But it’s how I experience the world.
Why, you may ask, but the answer is complicated. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with high-functioning autism. I pretended it wasn’t the case, just as I’d been pretending by that point for a decade or more that I cared about what other people cared about, wanted what they wanted, and acted naturally how they did, even though every moment was just a memorized acting job. I told them it wasn’t true even though I knew within myself it was.
And when she left, I didn’t just pretend. I started to believe it myself. They gave me round, white tablets that would stop me from having to be afraid, panic no longer, and turn acting into reality.
So I swallowed them every day and sank deeper into the fuzziness of a world that I could imagine simply didn’t exist and in that dream it would disappear and I could live within the moment. It was. It wasn’t good or bad because I was far too asleep for that. I jumped and skipped and danced and had no idea I was. I became passionate and angry, even though my subconscious knew those weren’t in the least real for me, but my conscious self was so disconnected that I thought it was the truth.
I forgot most of the past and created a whole new self. Often with each new day because yesterday’s self simply stopped existing. It was likely an intensely troubling existence but I didn’t know.
And then it ended.
It ended because the pills did. Gradually they gave way to panic and fear and pain in spite of swallowing them at exactly the right times. So I had no choice. They had to go away and I would rejoin a world that I had forgotten existed — a world that I had no idea what it was like and wouldn’t know until the pills were in the past. This world of hard stone and pasts that cannot be escaped or forgiven.
I have spent so much of this time contemplating what I have done wrong. It’s not like what other people are asking forgiveness for — although, I expect they are asking for it in a vastly different way, if they truly think someone came back to life and is now living in some theoretical afterlife. They have feelings of lust and hurt people with their actions, perpetuate a segregated society where competition is the norm and people play emotional games rather than saying what they feel and think. They hate and they forget that they are no more than a part of the entire Spirit of nature. So they ask forgiveness.
Me, I am tortured every moment by an existence that is only in the loosest sense attached to reality. Is that a punishment for letting her die? I hope not. I stand and hear words of absolution yet I cannot remember ten years of my own performed evil. He sounds so certain and I hear only echoes. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall me. Yes, it certainly feels that way. But I can hope it is not true. Perhaps the spirit of the stone that I now stand on will save me from myself and return me to a peaceful nature. Let us pray.