The Sermon At The Stelae II

“The answer”—Father Egan was saying—”I think they have it on the prayer wheels. Do you know what it says on the prayer wheels?”

Most of them had gone to sleep. From among the group only the girl with the bandaged arm, the feverish girl and her boyfriend, the dark-bearded young man and the blond giant remained to listen. A few others had gathered around a fire at the base of the overgrown pyramid and were smoking marijuana and passing a bottle of colorless rum. Their laughter sounded a muffled echo off the ancient stone.

“On the prayer wheel it says, ‘The jewel is in the lotus.’ They turn the wheels round hundreds of times a day. The little flags flutter so the wind says it. The Jewel is in the Lotus.”

The feverish girl moaned and stirred in her lover’s arms. Egan stopped speaking and looked at her and saw that she had the dengue. He had had it himself several times. The girl, he thought, was like a lotus and the pain in her overbright eyes a jewel.

“The lotus,” he told her, “is sweet and fragrant, beautiful in life. But it’s fallible and it’s born for death. It’s sown in corruption. But the jewel—” He felt his arm go numb and when he tried to raise it he could not. “The jewel is undying and beyond time. Beyond measure. The jewel is the meaning, you see.

“You’re the lotus. Your dear bodies that you’re so fond of. You’re the lotus. The jewel is in you.” Egan laughed and brushed his sleeve across his mouth again. “The jewel’s in hock to you. And the whole world of mortality is the lotus. And the Living is the jewel in it. That’s the bright side.

“It is sown in corruption,” Egan declaimed, “it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power! On the bright side—everything’s fine. You’d think they’d have no business here whose place is on the bright side. Here—it’s a whirl.” He put out his hand and described a spiral with three fingers. “Whirl is King and it’s lonely and in shadow, but over there—well, that’s life over there, that’s where the Living belongs. But,” he said, “the Jewel is in the Lotus! Why?”

He looked at them each in turn.

“Why, children?”

They were all still, watching.

“Because,” Egan thundered, “they’re as lonely as we are! The Living is lonely for itself. For the shard of itself that’s lost in us, the jewel in the lotus.” He paused to draw breath.

“Isn’t it wonderful after all? That we’re secret lovers? Because why else would the Living be concealed within this meat, in all these fears and sweats, the Holy One among the dead? Why would he hide himself in Whirl to give meaning to a pile of corpses? Because the Jewel is in the Lotus out of loneliness and secret love. He doesn’t have any choice.

“It’s hard to see,” he told the young people. “You never know when you see the Living. The eye you see him with is the same eye with which he sees you.”

The girl with dengue put her hands on her companion’s shoulders and pulled herself upright.

“The bands broke,” she said, half singing. “The bands broke on Faithful John’s heart.” The boy who was with her tried to ease her back down; she fought him. “The bands broke on the heart of Faithful John,” she screamed.

Egan had sunk to the ground and lay resting against the stela. It seemed to him that he had made it come out all right. His hand was on his briefcase, over the bulge of his bottle of Flor de Cana.

“No, no,” he told the girl kindly. “That’s not the same at all. That’s a fairy tale.”

—Robert Stone, A Flag For Sunrise


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When I Worked

April 2011
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