The thirty-fourth day of the crossing – the cross

I woke up in a good mood. And late. The caravanner was already returning with his hawk perched on the thick leather glove on the left arm when I filled a cup of fresh coffee at the mess hall tent. I followed him with my gaze. He handed the bird to the care of a foreman and rummaged in his stuff, looking for something. I had already noticed that the caravanner carried few items in his luggage. Very few in the caravan carried such a light saddlebag. The less I have, the freer I am, is a lesson that, apparently, he followed to the letter. I approached him. Because he did not object, I mustered the courage to address him. I mentioned my observation. “Realizing that material possessions are unnecessary signals and helps the achievement of freedom, as it prevents dependence. However, that is not enough. I may be out of the prison of worldly goods, but a prisoner in the spheres of emotions. Freedom is a state of the self as a whole. A groundbreaking achievement”, he said, drawing with his hand an imaginary vertical line in the air, “and a broad one”, he added, drawing this time a horizontal line. A cross. I didn’t know the reason why.

He turned and went back to whatever he was doing. I continued standing next to him. I said I had a love-hate relationship with the desert. On each day, a lesson. A hard one. The caravanner looked at me and advised: “When the desert becomes too inhospitable, let yourself be amazed by the light of the stars. However, not to the point of forgetting to continue the crossing.” And he turned again. I added that I had realized the desert was the metaphor of life; the crossing represented the setbacks and pleasures of our existence. The caravanner was still squatted, rummaging through his gear. He looked at me again and said: “A flower can translate the entire universe and the manifestations of existence. Nonetheless, it is still a flower”. I said that either he had not understood my observation, or I had not understood his answer. The caravanner retrieved the compass he was looking for, closed his saddlebag and said: “The crossing does not relate only to the desert”, and again he made the horizontal-line drawing in the air, “and also the stars”, and he drew a horizontal line. The cross, again. He continued: “You must understand something, either a subject, an idea or yourself. But you must understand that there is no limit to the edge of your perception but yourself.” And he went away.

I kept thinking about the words of the caravanner while I emptied my cup of coffee. I was running late. I laid my stuff in the saddlebag and placed the camel in line for another day’s march. Who lined up his camel next to mine was an European man, a guy I knew by sight, as I did all the travelers at that point of the crossing, but with whom I had never spoken. Julius was his name; he was very kind, nice and polite. Someone very pleasant to have a relationship with. It didn’t take long for him to start a conversation. He asked what I did for a living. I answered. He wanted to know more about the advertisement agency I was a partner of. He asked many questions about how it operated. He wanted to know if there was a business purpose behind my journey. I said no; I was only interested in meeting the wise dervish, “who knew many secrets between heaven and earth.” He did not ask anything about that. Next, he disclosed he was a sales representative, and sold medicines. He had made a fortune representing the most important pharmaceutical companies at the ends of earth, as he referred to places he used to travel to sell his medicines. He was traveling to the oasis on business. He said he was fortunate, because he had the chance of visiting the most unusual places of the planet, where other representatives refused to go. He was making money at the same time he had fun and enjoyed life. He was getting rich with money and experiences, he made a point to add. He told me about an experience he had the previous year, at a refugee camp in a war zone in central Africa. A country segregated by ethnicities but mainly, and unfortunately, separated by hatred. He explained that despite the many common cultural aspects which had turned them into a nation, their differences led to intolerance, bloodshed and deaths. A people destroyed economically and emotionally. When he arrived at the refugee camp, there were many people, adults and children, who had been mutilated by rival tribes, so that not only they could no longer fight or work, they became a burden for their family for the rest of their lives. To make things worse, in addition to many diseases, a dangerous epidemic was spreading, due to poor healthcare delivery and sanitary conditions. There were no hospitals, they had all been destroyed in that absurd war. Food and drinking water were rationed. A humanitarian non-governmental organization formed by physicians from all over the world travelled to that country paying their own expenses on their time off, in order to deliver the care and provide the support they could to that region and that population, making life possible. He saw surgeries being performed and healing achieved by the determination, competence and love beyond the words of those practitioners. 

I was listening closely. At this point, I pleaded to God to illuminate and protect those doctors. “God? What God? What Being filled with love, wisdom and justice would allow that tragedy? Why doesn’t he solve that tormented and inhumane situation?” His anger and his disbelief in an invisible world that permeates and interacts with the visible one became apparent. He informed me that the NGO of those kind physicians had no money to buy a new supply of medication to control the spread of epidemics. Hence, he, the medicines trader, the man who made a living selling medication, for the first time in his life not only he gave up his commission, he arranged a donation of medication with some pharmaceutical companies. Furthermore, he made all the arrangements for the medication to reach the conflict zone. Finally, he looked at me, smiled, and said he was very happy with the job he had chosen, because he took healing to many people through medicines, whether sold or donated, to the forgotten corners of the world. He said he doubted there was a better job.

The order for the usual midday break came. A brief rest and a light meal were necessary. When we were placing our camels in line for the second half of that day’s march, a religious man, almost an ascetic, paired his camel next to mine. A man devoted to meditation, prayer and spiritual charity. Although we had never spoken before, just like with Julius, I also knew him by sight. He was very kind and oozed tremendous serenity. He spoke always in a soft tone, and his words were extremely comforting. Just like Julius, he was very nice, and I felt good being next to him. I told him that; he smiled and said his name was Nahim. He added that his name was of Arabic origin, and it meant tranquility. Soon, he asked me what my religion was. I said all of them. I told him I had had a strong Christian influence since childhood, precious teachings that I came to expand as I became acquainted with other Eastern and Western philosophical and religious traditions. I added that I was interested in all words of love and wisdom, regardless of their origin. I showed him my chain with a cross in a circle. That was the symbol of the esoteric brotherhood I belonged to, devoted to the study of philosophy and metaphysics, and whose backbone was the Sermon on the Mount. Nahim smiled with his heart. He asked about my studies; he showed no interest in my job. Then, he said he travelled to the ends of the world to bring comforting words to any suffering soul. This was his tremendous wealth. His material assets, on the other hand, were the tunic he was wearing and another one, which he would wear when this one was being washed. “Ah, I also have these sandals”, he said pointing to his feet. He would wear them until they wore out to the point of falling apart. 

The conversation continued. Nahim confessed that the stories he experienced were also part of his wealth. He said that in the previous year he had been to the central part of Africa, in a country torn by civil war. The fighting over power by different ethnic tribes had caused material deprivation to the people, but particularly spiritual misery. People suffered so much they no longer believed in anything. He added that when we lose hope, faith does not survive. Then, there is nothing left. It is difficult for love to blossom. He was in a sort of refugee camp where a dangerous epidemic was rapidly spreading due to poor living conditions and also due to a low vibrational pattern caused by fear and pessimism, impairing the immune system of those people. A healthcare NGO spent human and financial resources to attend to that suffering people, despite all the risks involved for its workers, of being shot at, of being made prisoners by one of the tribes or of being contaminated by the epidemic. Healthcare practitioners who could go on vacation to paradisiac places but, as in the mythology, descended to hell as guardian angels to rescue hopeless and helpless souls.

New medication was required to control the bacterial infection that was spreading. There were no more resources; all means of help had been engaged, and no solution was possible. Despondency was also infectious. Nahim was concerned with cheering up people with encouraging words and comforting hugs. He also prayed to God for His intervention. On the following day, camp was raided by one of the violent tribes. The tribe’s chief’s son was very ill, but physicians were unable to identify the disease that was assailing him. The boy’s life was hanging by a thread. Some days before, the chief had taken the boy out of camp, where he had been under medical care, and brought him back to the tribe, where his strength was about to be exhausted. The chief had returned to get revenge over the people he believed had contaminated his son. Nahim asked for a chance to try to heal the boy. A single chance. If he didn’t, the chief would carry on his plan. He claimed that otherwise, that father would take away the last chance of his son. Although he was suspicious, the chief agreed, but not without threatening Nahim with a cruel and painful death if he failed. When he arrived at the tribe’s settlement, Nahim immediately felt the dense energy of the place, and realized the boy had his vital strength sucked up by gloomy spirits that, due to vibrational affinities, had settled on that site. The doctors weren’t able to heal the chief’s son because he did not have a physical, but a spiritual disease. He performed a purification and energy-balancing ritual. In a few days, the boy was well, playing with other children as if nothing had happened.

Thankful and happy, the chief granted Nahim any wish he wanted. Nahim asked that the camp was never raided again. Under no excuse. He explained there was already too much suffering. The chief agreed with his request. The religious man explained that organic diseases are generally connected to an ill soul. Nahim also asked to be sent back to the camp, because he was concerned with the spreading epidemics. The chief promised he would be taken back forthwith. However, he told Nahim that he should not be so concerned, because after they left an European had arrived. This man had brought the necessary medication to control the epidemics and heal the infections it caused. Nahim said he spent that night thankfully praying to God for having granted his wish and for His ready intervention. “At that moment, the hand of God was present through this European”, he said with teary eyes. A man who, despite his disbelief in God but with his heart filled with love, became a sacred tool, I thought to myself.” Nahim said that when he returned to the refugee camp, the European he would have liked to meet had already left. With the new medications and without the fear of constant raids, healing was sustained.

It was early evening. The order came to halt the march and set up camp for the night. Nahim thanked me for the afternoon we spent together and said good-bye. There were people who needed him. “I am a healer of souls”, he declared. He said he was a man blessed by the work he did. I also thanked him for the conversation but did not mention the synchronicity of that day’s meeting. The caravan was enveloped in magic.

It wasn’t hard to imagine that the desert had left me with the charge of being the link between the two ends of a story. Under different angles and gazes, the ends would meet at some point. “At the point where the desert meets the stars”, I heard the voice of the beautiful woman with laps-lazuli eyes whispering in my ears.  I turned my head to one side and the other, there was no one. “The cross”, I heard her voice again. Once again, there was no one around. I thought that that inhospitable crossing would soon make me delusional again. 

I saw the caravanner move away for the evening training of his hawk. I sat on the sand, at a distance, to appreciate the bird’s flight. And to think. I needed to think. Those two men telling me their adventures on the same day. Men whose existence was intertwined but who did not know one another. Chance does not exist, I knew that. From afar, the caravanner watched me. When our gazes crossed, he did the sign of the cross with his hands once again. I opened my arms, as if saying I had not understood the gesture. He turned to tend to the hawk.

“When one walks through the desert, one must be concerned with walking to the stars. At the same time.” It was the beautiful blue-eyed woman. This time, not only her voice, but herself. Without asking permission, she sat next to me. I asked if she had seen the caravanner making the sign of the cross to me. The woman nodded. I said he had repeated that gesture many times during the day, since we spoke in the morning. She explained: “The cross is a symbol that exists since time immemorial. It was used in Sumer, Ancient Egypt, India, Persia, and later in Jerusalem. It carries many meanings, all of them precious and intertwined. The better known, and perhaps the most important, is the meaning of liberation through the virtues applied to life, taught by the most important master ever to walk on this world. There are, however, other mysteries; they all require clarification.”

I said I have seen, in my studies, different types of cross, with small variations, such as the Egyptian cross, the ankh, with an oval loop in place of an upper bar, or the Indian cross with a twist. There is also the famous Celtic cross with a circle, which represents eternity, with no beginning and no end, and other Christian ones, such as the Francis of Assisi’s T-shaped cross or Peter, the apostle’s inverted cross. The woman nodded again and said: “They all carry in them hidden knowledge that must be brought to light.”

“I believe the symmetric cross, the one which the horizontal and the vertical bars are of the same size displays an important lesson. One does not go up without going to the sides; one does not reach Heaven if one is not engaged with the world.”

I asked her to go further in her explanation. The woman was generous: “See the histories of Julius and Nahim. They are both good men. One has always led his life according to his business, the survival of the body, his ego-related interests. A man of the world, the horizontal bar of the cross. The other lives according to the intangible, the elevation of the spirit consistent with the wishes of the soul. A man of Heaven, the vertical bar of the cross. Each one with their priorities. However, to help the same refugees, to save the same lives, they were both equally necessary. Without the medication Julius had arranged, the bacterial epidemics would have claimed the lives of many refugees; without Nahim’s spiritual healing, a rampage based on rage would have inflicted on the refugees a similar outcome. They met in the central point of the cross, where the bars cross. This point is called love.”

“Julius is the desert; Nahim, the stars. Together, they complement and expand one another; longitude and latitude, the perfect shape of the cross.”

“When one walks through the desert without looking at the stars, he will reach nowhere.  If one only looks at the stars without walking through the desert, the same.” She paused and added: “Existence in the world is strengthened in the test field. Life needs the stars to illuminate these trials. Breadth and depth. The desert is not separated from the stars. Julius and Nahim forming one man. In fact, the crossing is only complete if made according to the shape of a cross.”

The beautiful woman with lapis-lazuli eyes stood up and left. I followed her steps. She passed by the caravanner and greeted him; he gave her a thankful smile. Then, she disappeared behind the dunes. It was twilight. I waited for the sun to set while I contemplated those ideas and thought about the changes required for me to have a cross-shaped life. When the stars of the sky touched the sands of the desert in the infinite of my gaze, I stood up and went to look for Julius and Nahim. I wanted to introduce one to the other. I would see the light burst out when the two bars of the cross met.

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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