Relationships are valuable for healing and learning how to love.
Chapter 18: Undying
Thomas and Kathleen were sitting in their favourite city restaurant, the Afghan Light. They were enthusiastically discussing Thomas’s new retirement plan. Kathleen was very pleased with Thomas’s decision and felt it would do him the world of good. Thomas had mixed emotions – excitement and terror, serenity and emptiness. Every time he would veer towards one of the more unproductive feelings, Kathleen would remind him that he had achieved so much at school but now it was time for something new and wonderful.
“I know you are right, Kathleen,” said Thomas, “but then I start wondering if it’s all a big mistake.”
“Well then, Thomas, you don’t really know that I am right,” said Kathleen. “You only half know.” Thomas laughed.
The owner of the restaurant approached Thomas and Kathleen’s table. His name was Herat. He had moved from Afghanistan twenty-five years ago but was still proudly steeped in his heritage. When Thomas and Kathleen first started coming to the Afghan Light, Herat would always shake Thomas’s hand but never Kathleen’s. He would nod to Kathleen, put his hand on his chest, and say, “Assalamu Alaykum,” (peace be unto you). One day, Kathleen asked Herat’s wife if her husband didn’t like to shake hands with women.
“He would not touch you uninvited,” said Herat’s wife. “If you hold out your hand, he will gladly take it.” On their next visit to the restaurant, Kathleen hesitantly held out her hand to Herat. Herat rushed to take her hand and warmly shook it. From then on, Kathleen decided she rather liked the hand-on-heart gesture that he previously did and never bothered him again to shake hands.
This evening, Herat said to Thomas, “My friend, I have something for you. It is to commemorate the beginning of a new stage of life for you. Follow me, please.”
Thomas and Kathleen looked at each other with keen interest and followed Herat into the back of the shop. The restaurant was small. Although Thomas and Kathleen had occasionally seen people walking into the back area, they assumed it was for staff only. Herat led them to a darkish staircase and beckoned them down. Once their eyes accustomed to the low light, Thomas and Kathleen could see that the stairway was lined with antique rugs. It led to a corridor which was also carpet-lined. The corridor led to a windowless back room which was piled high with hundreds of exquisite, handmade Afghan rugs. Something about the room was magical. Thomas and Kathleen were enthralled and Herat’s eyes lit up. In the middle of the room was an antique coffee table. On the table was a blue porcelain teapot with a hand-painted floral motif. Herat poured green tea from it and passed them silver trays of pistachios, raisins, almonds, and traditional sweets.
“Please,” said Herat, “sit and eat. We will wait for the decision.” Thomas and Kathleen wondered, of course, what the decision was deciding and for whom but they didn’t want to break the sacred atmosphere by asking. They sat, ate, and waited. Herat paced the room. After ten minutes, he eagerly announced, “It is this one. They have decided.” He pointed to one of the rugs that had a corner poking out from the enormous pile. “It did have to be one at the bottom of the pile,” joked Herat as he pulled the top rugs off to get to the chosen one. Thomas jumped to his feet to help his friend. They each grabbed an end of the gorgeous rugs and, one by one, made a new pile while Herat told little stories about the rugs. He remembered where each one came from and how it had served its previous owners. “We value these rugs more for the service they have already given,” said Herat. Having reached the chosen rug, Herat pulled it out ceremoniously.
“It’s magnificent,” said Kathleen. It was a vibrant, intense red with a traditional, hand-knotted elephant foot design.
“It has two faults,” said Herat. “One is the intentional fault woven into the rug. Only God is perfect. I will not tell you where the intentional fault is. That is for you to discover.”
Thomas ran his hand over the thick rug. His hand came to a small hole in one corner. “Is this it?” asked Thomas.
“No,” said Herat. “That is the other fault. This rug was owned by a family whose child was very sick for months. The family dog refused to leave the child and eventually made a hole in the rug where it lay. Praise Allah, the child recovered. Undying love and healing are in this rug.” Herat looked at Thomas with eyes as deep as the rug’s rich darkness and said, “That is why it belongs to you. Use it well. They have given you a fine gift.”
Chapter 19: Faith
“Would you like to know what baby Lan-Lan was saying?” said Lord Lan-Lan to Vera. “Babies do not have both feet squarely on Earth. They float between the worlds, not being able to clearly distinguish them. As they grow, they must become firmly established as Earth dwellers. Their memory of other worlds fades and disappears. They learn how to be human before they can, one day, recall their spiritual heritage. Baby Lan-Lan was trying to convey his higher wisdom but did not have the intellectual capacity to relay it.”
Lord Lan-Lan and Vera were sitting inside his home in Long Hill. Vera was surprised to be back in Long Hill. She thought she would not be returning to it. However, she found herself once again amongst its familiar, green hills and standing outside a sweet, weatherboard cottage with an old slate roof. Nor had she expected Lan-Lan’s house to look like this. He was, after all, ruler of Long Hill.
“Were you expecting a castle?” Lan-Lan asked with a smile. “When you have a castle within, you don’t need one outside. I prefer to keep things simple.” It was a lovely, clean, and thoughtfully decorated home. Lan-Lan, also, explained that as Vera had remembered her spiritual name of Lady Faith, she was entitled to come and go from Long Hill whenever she wished.
Lan-Lan stood up, walked to the window, and surveyed the garden which was a delightful mixture of delicate flowers and magnificent trees. “The lords and ladies of Long Hill do not have sex,” said Lan-Lan unapologetically. Vera was taken aback by his unannounced frankness. “The reason they do not have sexual relationships or even exclusive, personal relationships is that they have something better. Their bodies materialise and dematerialise as needed. They have no need of physical gratification. It is child’s play to them. They, also, have no need of emotional pairing with other beings. Every lord and lady feels intimately joined with all other beings.”
“If I lived like that on Earth,” said Vera, “I would not be able to stay there.”
“You have a purpose there,” said Lan-Lan. “You must live as a human; knowing what a body does and what it feels like, knowing the human struggle, and recalling the way out. On Earth, relationships are necessary and valuable for purposes of healing and learning how to love. It is the medium which is best suited to Earth people, although, they always have a love/hate relationship with their most precious and sought-after treasure.”
It is one thing for me to know this, thought Vera, and quite another to expect other people to be interested in it, let alone to try and see things the same way. I may be too different to be able to properly connect with anyone.
“Not at all,” said Lan-Lan reading her mind. “Love unites. It speaks its own language and that language is always unifying.”
Although Vera did not have a specific answer to Amira’s problem with Gabriel, she had a broad one. The specifics would come.
“One more thing,” said Lan-Lan as Vera was leaving, “Be patient. It may get worse before it gets better.”
Chapter 20: Dressed Up
Gabriel didn’t come home after work on the day of his getting upset about baby Lan-Lan. He messaged Amira that he was staying in Darnall, the town of the College, for a party. Gabriel had a group of gay friends in Darnall. They were, generally, referred to as the Boys of Darnall, although, they were all men and a few, select women. Some of them were associated with the College and that is how Gabriel came to develop the friendship with them.
Gabriel messaged again the next night to say that he was going to stay in Darnall for the week as someone was away and he could use their house. It was right next to the College.
“What about your clothes?” Amira messaged back.
“It’s fine,” said Gabriel. “I can borrow some of theirs. They won’t care.”
No, they won’t care, thought Amira. They will like it! They were always trying to win Gabriel back into the flock. Amira missed him already but some things are more important than missing. Like love. People have to come back if and when they are ready. Then they will come back with the right ideas or requests or, at very least, the right bargains. Every other arrangement can only be a dressed-up delusion.