By Novid Shaid, January, 2009
One day the four poles met: the north, the south, the east and the west. They gathered and communed, in the sanctified city of Jerusalem, amazingly calm and dynamic; elusive but intimate; separate but conjoined; utterly silent while resonating; invisible to many, while manifest to the few.
At the time, the world had been suffering immensely. In the north and the west, there was widespread warmongering, affluence and cynicism; in the south and the east, there was famine, disease and corruption. Raging conflicts and civil war blighted the struggling multitude, while protection, luxury and vitality massaged those of power and privilege. Power hungry generals and corporations callously exploited and murdered the unfortunate ones, while the masses thirsted for deliverance.
The world seemed to be spinning out of control, spiralling into a vortex of paradoxical realities, and those people with some vestige of a conscience couldn’t take it anymore.
Satiated, smirking families sprawling across their mansions; impoverished street-dwellers propping up their makeshift roofs with empty cardboard boxes; throngs of revellers dancing and cheering to the dawning of new seasons; crowds sprinting away from tear gas missiles and rubber bullets. The people couldn’t handle these paradoxes anymore, which haunted them everywhere they went: the televisions in their homes; the posters on the street; the images on the internet, many heard it on the radio and they all talked about it. The poor heard about the rich; the rich couldn’t escape the poor; the refugees cursed the safe ones; the safe ones argued about the refugees. They’d had enough. They felt these irreconcilable situations swirling around in their brains, filling their minds with bewilderment and dismay, and they couldn’t take it anymore.
These conflicts were particularly bewildering because deep down people knew that these events were linked; there was some connection binding these contradictions together, but they couldn’t resolve them or make any connections, and they couldn’t take the burden of these problems anymore.
That’s why the four poles met, in the resonating heart of Jerusalem, where there is silence, stillness and indescribable peace. Most people in Jerusalem, and for that matter, most people in the world did not realise anything had occurred. Most who witnessed the meeting blanked it out of their minds and dismissed it all, while a few would never ever forget.
Coincidentally, Jerusalem itself was experiencing some respite from its warring people, although, far to the south a terrible tragedy was unfolding which perfectly summarised the confounding paradox of the day: a carousel of war, murder, peace and charity. The people of Jerusalem wandered about their business in a mild stupor, with a combination of resignation and anticipation of the next nightmare that would darken their days. Deep within, they all yearned for a sign of hope for the future.
So, it happened that on the morning of the first day of a new year, and a sacred month, four strangers appeared in Jerusalem who did not appear on any file, computer memory, passport or CCTV. Four unknown people, two women and two men. They all came on foot: one from Chareidi in the North; one from Talpiot in the South; another appeared from the Mount of Olives in the East and the last from Ein Kerem in the West.
It was a mild and temperate day, with a wonderful clarity in the sky which unveiled layer upon layers of the ether and revealed shades of rare aurora, that ultimately lead onto the infinity of space. Conversely, few took any note of the above irregularities of the celestial plain, so engrossed were they with the multiplicity of the terrestrial world. However, these strangers seemed to take note and intermittently gazed above, whispering soft litanies, as they made their way, with relative ease, through their respective routes, heading for the heart of Jerusalem. They encountered very little interest and remained anonymous throughout their excursions. Neither did they falter in their steps or break for a rest, and neither did they hail taxis or hop on a bus. On they went, through the modern, paved streets, lined with busy vendors, pursuing their trade, while the strangers passed through, seemingly full of purpose and direction, but amazingly unnoticed and unperturbed.
As time progressed for the strangers, the modern Jerusalem suddenly gave way behind them to the stone-washed, ancient walls and plummeting, meandering paths and streets of the old city. It was convenient that each individual reached the old city, after hours of walking, maintaining their directional pattern, at exactly the same time, approaching mid-day. They all stood facing the Damascus, Dung, Jaffa and Lion gates and entered the old city, still on foot, still with resolution and vigour in their steps, holding their gazes ahead.
And they continued to remain below the radar of the authorities and unnoticed by any officials. As they penetrated the depths of the old city, they caught a glimpse of the glorious golden dome above the intersecting walls and tenements, like the sun slowly rising above the horizon. The traders and the inhabitants of the old city caught glimpses of the four unknowns, pacing through their streets, down the ancient steps to the heart of Jerusalem and the world. The residents thought them strange and out of place. Some were about to shout out and question the strangers and their business, but faltered in their suspicions, losing interest.
It came that on exactly mid-day, as the sun shone gently over the city, the four poles met in the heart of Jerusalem, entering through Bab Al Atim, the Double Gate, the Golden Gate, and Bab al Mastarak and stepped into the blinding concentration of light of the sacred precinct. The guards at the gates faltered as the strangers walked up to them, as if held back by an invisible hand, allowing the strangers through the block without question.
The strangers paced past the Temple Mount to the Golden Dome, the heart of the Jerusalem, and for some the very heart of the universe, which gazed below at its beloved neighbour, Al Aqsa, two unfathomable transistors of divine theophanies which were then broadcasted through Jerusalem, the world and the whole universe, of which only those sensitive hearts could hear and feel.
Suddenly, as if acting in perfect unison, they stopped in their tracks, forming a perfect diamond shape around the mosque, one to the north, one to the south, one to the east and one to west. They faced the dome and bowed their heads for a while and then, once again in perfect synchronization, rested to the ground, facing the dome, sitting with backs perfectly straight, cross-legged, like yogis.
Moments passed by; they continued to repose, silently, calmly and gazing intently at the golden dome of the Rock. It was mid-day, the central moment of the day, the ascension of the sun; the golden dome glistened; formations of swifts, swallows, thrushes and larks materialised, encircling the precinct; the poles met and sat in the heart of world, silent and intent.
By now, most of the staff in and around the dome had taken careful note of these newcomers. The caretakers and cleaners, after observing the position of each stranger, stood in the main doorway, whispering to each other about the peculiarity of these four people and their potential, nefarious intentions. The Dome had been attacked and abused in the past and they were apprehensive of future assaults at the hands of the many enemies of this structure, so using their hand-helds, they called in the guards who had been spellbound before.
The guards, from all sides, entered the grounds of the mosque and advanced towards the seated figures, when, miraculously, they were pushed back by a pressure they could no describe. They advanced again, but to no avail. Panic set in, something was wrong. The guards ordered the staff at the dome to evacuate the building, for something was not right. The guards assumed some foul play was in the air.
The army was called in; the precinct was secured; journalists with digital cameras and note-pads caught wind and bribed their way into the mission. The whipping echoes of an assault helicopter buzzed around the area, dispersing the conference of the birds. The authorities were taking no chances; terrorism was a constant threat by those who wanted to tear down the dome. Moreover, the authorities were keen to maintain the security of the ancient Dome, especially as a dark, official plot was probing and feeling its way around, under the surface of the sacred precinct.
The soldiers marched into the precinct, surrounding the area, rifles pointing, ready to confront, arrest and secure. A few soldiers, to the dismay of the journalists, were assigned to film the whole operation, for evidence, for the records. The news men were left to watch the drama unfold with their impatient eyes and conjure up the incident into their note pads.
Now before the leaders could reach the strangers, something unusual happened again. A freak gust of wind seemed to blow the chopper off course, harassing it, until the pilot had to skilfully steer his vehicle well away from the area and retreat. The leaders and soldiers all watched on, perplexed. Commanding officers radioed back and forth between themselves and their superiors. What were they to do next? Were they witnessing supernatural phenomena or some freak gales? The chopper had been called back due to the atmospheric conditions. But Central command ordered to resume the initial plan: secure and arrest.
So that’s what they were resolved to do. Once again, groups of soldiers with a leader advanced towards the strangers, all of whom remained in that yogic posture, with their attentions focussed on the dome. All through this incident the authorities had tried to gain visuals of these people, but each time a camera attempted to zoom in on any of the stranger’s faces, the picture blurred, unexplainably. This fact was transmitted and some of the more superstitious and religious troopers began to rumour about black magic and spells and a feeling of darkness and unease crept within the ranks of the well-armed, well-trained troops.
It was only when the leaders of each group reached the strangers, and the questionings took place, that a few chosen people participated in an event that they would never forget, and that most who witnessed would never understand and strangely enough dismiss in the future.
Each leader of the four groups approached the strangers carefully, until they stood above them. At this point, all of a sudden, every one of the troopers’ walkie-talkies and cameras malfunctioned and their mobiles lost signal. The authorities could not see or hear what was transpiring and could no longer communicate with the troops in the precinct, as if they had become deaf, dumb and blind. Consequently, the troops in the precinct became almost spellbound with confusion and dread. However, despite the loss of communication, those chosen to confront the strangers continued to advance.
The first soldier was a handsome, well-built man with years of service behind him and the blood of many of his country’s enemies, including young children, on his hands. After kneeling down, in front of the stranger on the north side, he fiercely commanded the individual to hold up his hands and follow orders, while pointing a revolver at the stranger’s head. Curiously the stranger now sat with his head bowed and seemed to be unaware of his surroundings. But, at the order, the stranger lifted his head.
The soldier faltered as he looked upon a beautiful old man, with long, soft white hair and beard, wearing the apparel of an old pensioner, and his oceanic blue eyes shone with purity. The solider was caught in his gaze. He attempted to bark another order, but couldn’t. Involuntarily, he threw down his revolver and sat down, face to face with the old man as if in communion. The old man’s soft eyes suddenly contorted into fierce, damning pools of fire and in them, the cruel soldier observed his past exploits, full of pain and woe. His colleagues in the distance could only watch, themselves stymied, as he winced and shook while he stared into the old man’s eyes. Suddenly, the old man’s face shifted again, settling itself into another face, someone familiar, a female; the face of a desperate woman that the soldier and his colleagues had used and abused during an operation. At that realisation, the soldier screamed in a fit of terror and curled up on the ground. He wriggled about, feeling around with his hands as if blinded, unresponsive and speechless.
This dumbfounding event had not interrupted the other questionings that were going on, around the heart of Jerusalem. Exactly as the brutal soldier began his interrogation, the soldier at the southern end confronted the stranger from the south who faced the golden dome, behind which shone the Mount of Olives brimming with mid day light. This soldier was a youthful female, smart, well-trained, proud of her country; her country proud of her. She now gave the same order as her northern counterpart, which induced the stranger to look up.
The young woman now faced an adult, African woman, as black as the night, with eyes as resplendent as the stars on a clear night. This stranger was clothed and wrapped in black, and her body seemed to merge into folds and wrappings. The soldier smirked for a moment but was also caught by the light in this stranger’s eyes. Without repulsion, the soldier sat before the woman, cross-legged and she now gazed into this woman’s resplendent face. The eyes shone, deepening, plummeting into an ocean of infinite light, then instantly, covered over with poignancy and sadness. The soldier looked on and began shedding tears. For as she looked on, she now saw herself, in an office she once worked in, sending away the poor and dispossessed who asked for permission to cross the borders and find work and food. The woman’s face, there and then, transmogrified into the face of that old woman, whose despairing look and damning words haunted the soldier in her nightmares, “May you feel the sadness that I feel now”. It was too much, the soldier broke down, sobbing, feeling the very entrails of her conscience spilling out into the open, and she now grasped onto the woman, resting in her lap while the woman, smiled, gazing on at the dome, caressing the soldier’s head.
At that same point the leader on the eastern side had reached the stranger from the east. This soldier was more forceful, attempting to the grab the stranger and haul him up to his feet, against orders. Only, as he touched the man, he felt a rush of pain paralyse his body and like electric shocks, throwing him to the ground. After a moment of unawareness, he recovered himself and looked upon the stranger, a distinctly Asian, oriental man in mature age, with a thin, beardless face and full, piercing eyes, who wore the appearance of an office worker, which at first puzzled the soldier. Now this trooper had become an utter cynic in his life, despairing about his people, dismissing their superstitious ways and choosing to work for the enemies of his forefathers, believing that all there was to do in the world was to survive and live well.
He refused to acknowledge the miraculous surge of energy or the inexplicability of this individual. He thought this was all a big con and was prepared to make another assault on the figure, who he decided was an extremist who had come to cause trouble. So, the soldier held his rifle to the man’s body and warned that he would shoot if the man did not give himself up or tried to electrocute him again with whatever device he may be hiding.
The stranger smiled, revealed an A5 notebook and pencil from his jacket pocket and began pencilling things on a page. The soldier grew impatient and yelled the same order. The stranger ignored the threat and instead, after a few moments, held the pad into the soldier’s vision. He looked and saw a dumbfounding image. It was a perfect, graphic sketch of the soldier, hanging over an inferno, but being held up by a hand, which through some strange intuition he knew was the hand of his people. The stranger smiled patiently and then held his gaze onto the dome, putting the notepad away. The solider gasped, an acknowledgement surfacing, then threw his gun to the floor and walked away from the scene.
The stranger facing the west held her gaze and whispered a litany under her breath as the soldier from the western side reached her just as the others were being confronted. The stranger revealed herself to the soldier who was a young, ethnic woman, who hailed from a poor family from a western district, another outcast, another outsider in her enemies’ army. She had no choice but to act to feed her loved ones, despite the shame, despite the betrayal. But now her pursuit of success had outstripped everything.
She looked into this stranger’s face and to her surprise found a European female, with dazzling blue eyes, saintly presence, once again wrapped and covered. The soldier was taken aback by her mildness and her sacredness and could not bring it in herself to order her. Instead she regarded a singular necklace around the woman’s neck, which, at its centre, carried an intricate, golden carving of a rose, pierced with a thorn. The soldier stared longer at the carving and noticed tiny droplets of blood appearing from the tip of the thorn and landing in tiny drops on the lap of the stranger.
“What does it mean?” asked the soldier, haunted and bewildered.
The strange woman only said: “It is your heart, and the thorn is this world”.
The soldier drew back, deeply moved and despondent. She shed her weaponry and gear and disappeared into the greats doors that lead into the dome.
A crippled maverick; a humbled official; a censured cynic; a repentant poor girl. The four soldiers from the four districts of Jerusalem met the four poles, from the four corners of the world, whose conjoined lights and radiance flowed up to the golden dome, united with the effulgence of Al Aqsa, and ascended into the skies of the infinitely manifesting lights of unity.
The four poles had spoken to four people of humanity, each in their own inimitable way, revealing the ultimate punishment for the oppressors, counselling humility for the proud, indicating sacrifice for the cynics and repentance for the worldly. And for one moment, like a momentary brilliance of light, all those who witnessed this event understood, and the whole of humanity understood, just for a single moment, that the paradoxes of world were nothing but the ever-flickering, divine manifestations of hope and fear, of light and darkness; of belief and unbelief; of justice and injustice; and that the only way to countenance these paradoxes was by blending into the brilliance of justice, repentance, sacrifice, humility and all the other illuminating divine manifestations that appear in the world.
The four poles met, in the centre of the world, blending into these divine qualities and illuminations, which lead onto infinity, enlightening the darkness of these soldiers’ lives and those of humanity. The revelation was but momentary. Many blocked out the light and their darkness and constriction increased, but a few willing hearts relented and began to receive visions and suggestions of the ever-flowing fountain of eternal light.
After the poles had shared in the lights of justice, repentance, sacrifice and humility, they arose, unmoved, utterly composed, disappearing into the Al Aqsa Mosque, paying their respects, praying for its preservation and protection from those who were conspiring against it. Then, they walked through the stymied groups of soldiers and journalists, disappearing from whence they came.
Moments later the crippled soldier awoke, straightened himself and walked away, more resolute in the hatred of his enemies and unremorseful of any pain he had caused. The sobbing woman came back to herself and walked back into the ranks of her men, sobered, convinced, planning her escape from her societal prison and to turn from her life of cruelty to a life of benevolence and charity. The ethnic woman refused to leave the dome, preferring the safety she felt there, and was neither loved by her own people or her government’s, but lived in the safety of the sacred precinct, choosing obscurity. The soldier who walked away wondered the streets for days and days then disappeared, the light of sacrifice burning in his heart, waiting for a day when he would understand what to do.
The remaining soldiers shuffled away with subdued murmurs, finding their mobile phones and walkie-talkies functioning again. But they shrugged off any suggestion of miracles, and the sacredness of this event poured out of them just as water pours out of an unplugged basin. The journalists shook their heads, as if annoyed by their precious times being wasted.
The authorities began an investigation, which dwindled into nothingness, as it was crowded out by new assaults, terrorism and conflict, adding to the cycles of darkness that added to the illusion of disconcerting paradoxes that most people reckoned there were in the world, though, in reality, they were nothing but the sites of the divine manifestations of abasement, delusion and unbelief. Most people still couldn’t take it anymore, despite the meeting of poles, and continued to tip headlong into an abyss of despair. But a few took heed and endeavoured to remain upright and upstanding, wading in light.
The poles lived on, thriving and shape-shifting through time, into hundreds of iridescent faces who would become mirrors of divine beauty, who reflected the beauty of justice, repentance, sacrifice and humility. And they continued to meet and remind, when most people felt they couldn’t take it anymore, and they shone the lights of truth, through the sites of truth, through the transistors of divine lights, clarifying contradictions, engulfing darkness with light, like hundreds of suns, illuminating their own worlds, though most chose to ignore and continue to despair.
The golden dome and the enigmatic Aqsa continue to shine in their brilliance, with their unearthly lights uniting with the almighty, dazzling lights of majesty and beauty to the east, surging way up into the heavens, showering down on the universe, lighting upon souls, glowing in those subtle hearts, extinguishing in those who remain in the dark.