I received a signal from Spirit telling me that signals, by their nature, serve the material. After a period of silence over my day-to-day concerns, Spirit seemed to be suggesting that silence was going to be the way to address them going forward.
Immediately I wanted to counter this. If mind and pure consciousness are one, and all we need to do is recognise it, some kind of communication is still a good idea. We may as well be Godless. I looked at the candle for more, until I realised that there was, at least, consistency in this new, more intended silence.
What were the works of Liszt or Bach? Spoilers, red herring, a reach where there was no distance. An attempt on the side of the sidewalk for origin. I sat back against my pillow. Seeking had long been over. After finding, we’re here, in intended silence. Wait a minute, I’m here and the homeless and the hungry and the suicidal are still somebody’s slapstick. Pain talks, or it seems to.
I watched and I listened. Eventually Spirit told me that I needed religion. Which is open to a sense of community and can give me right and wrong and collective singing once a week. Great things, it reiterated, on the material side. You’re a dance on one side, Spirit told me.
I knew this was the final signal from Spirit. I closed the candle. I say closed because I still believed in communication even if Spirit did not and I should point out that Spirit didn’t sound radically convinced by these suggestions. Somewhat begrudging, I’d say, like a few last gasps had been goaded out of It.
After wholeness, the dance on one side. For no other reason than pain walks and while we’re here we might as well be here.
I raised my knees in bed and opened a screen to research religion. Centuries of pilgrimage, slow cathedrals and superhuman saints. On the good side, selflessness and giving. On the bad, forced conversion and fighting. It made prayer seem retreating and neutral. Hasn’t politics replaced the best and the worst of this? I wondered which painters painted angels because that’s what one did. Who sung ‘In Excelsis’ as a shorthand for high society in the absence of literacy? I wanted to ask but did not. There was a terminal atmosphere telling me that I’d passed on to an important place.
“You must be sick of sandwiches.” I bought him a fruit soup. I wanted to help someone, and my boss was ill, so I took a longer lunchbreak. I wondered if a schism with Spirit could somehow bring on sickness. I thought that soup was a better metaphor for succour than a midriff of baguette.
“Yeah” was what the bearded kid on the pavement said. I thought he’d claim that wheat intolerance was the least of his worries, and I would ask “What is? I mean what are the worst?” and he’d pause and say “Time. The thought that I’m here forever or there’s no way out and nothing will change except major misfortune and not being able to attend funerals I was never told about.”
I backed off across Váci Street, but I returned quickly, having forgot the spoon. I had a napkin too but thought that it might be rude. The silence after “Yeah” said everything and fruit soup was not enough, but it was something.
And that night I looked at the unopened candle and I researched how people help others and it was food and volunteering and active listening and asking what you can do to help and being prepared to follow through. And I thought about politics again and work and taxes, and how everything helps, in a way, but knew that the dance on one side needs purpose and the rhythm of conscience.
An article about active listening concluded that boundaries are just as important as authenticity and closeness with other people. “Boundaries not only serve to protect you from the turmoil of others but help guide that person in a better direction”. I turned on my side and wondered about homeless people and boundaries. Did they subconsciously gravitate to vulnerability because an unusual boundary had been transgressed? Can a soup guide? My questions made me tired, but I knew that the unopened candle was there in the dark and that this was how things would be.
The following day I bought horse sausage and chocolate liqueurs for a slot at the supermarket aimed at a food bank, and I knew that it wasn’t enough. It was mostly a symbolic act of selflessness but was anonymous and had boundaries and was something.
“This is bliss.” Zsuzsanna said. I’d run back to the office to eat at my desk. I was considering volunteering for a crisis textline, which has a lot of boundaries and would teach me collaborative problem solving and safety planning and, again, active listening with an emphasis on open-ended questions.
“What makes you believe that?” Zsuzsanna is a fellow account manager and wasn’t missing supervision. We’d both been getting more done. “You give good bliss face, by the way.”
“That was near-bliss face. This is bliss face.” She rolled her head back until slack-jawed and gawking at the roof. Behind her, thin white winter clouds veiled the sky in wrinkles. I was transfixed.
If you get good at crisis texting and can talk self-harmers down they let you handle multiple texters at the same time. The training is thorough, which leads some to complain that all volunteers speak to them in exactly the same way, and it might as well be an algorithm.
“How can you be sure of that?” Zsuzsanna gurgled like a school radiator. I’d been telling her about my ambition.
After work on Friday, I didn’t see anyone needing help on Váci Street until I saw a woman selling photocopies of art at an underpass. Some, I hear, live up in caves on the Gellért Hill. The woman had an accent and told me her name was Mónika and she apologised for the sores on her face. I presumed these to be drug-related but I’m no doctor. I asked her to sign one of the photocopies which seemed to surprise her more than the two hundred forints I paid for it. She didn’t have a pen, but I did. It was a pencil drawing of a supernatural being on coiling black and white squares representing infinity or another realm of space-time, I assume.
“That’s my pen.” I reminded her, as I was leaving.
“I know.” She sounded pissed off, like I was accusing her of something. And I knew that I wasn’t, but it was enough to say nothing.
At night I registered with the crisis textline and needed to provide references. I put down my previous boss and a friend from college who is an associate lecturer. I closed my eyes and, with surprise, imagined being a texter more than a volunteer.
are you going to talk like an algorithm again
what makes you feel that way?
the generic open ended questions. go off grid. i wont tell a soul
im a human being. what is troubling you?
i need to know youre capable of understanding. that youve also been where i am
where are you?
a dark place
my name is edit. i hope that doesn’t break yr protocol. 25 cis keep me out of yr dataset
describe the place, edit
thank you. heavy, locked in, hopeless. life is childhood adulthood is hell
why do you feel that adulthood is hell?
it gets more serious and gets more lonely. it should be the other way round
is loneliness the main thing concerning you?
money work job family love. and loneliness
Sleep arrived and it was not the mystery that it can be, rich with questionable symbolism. It felt like a very natural, pre-birth place of inexhaustible potential and, dare I say it, love. I woke up feeling wonderful.
On Sunday I decided to take the last signal from Spirit literally, and took a tram to the nearest church. I’m neither here nor there, being put off with church-going aunts who were hypocritical and, in one case, a horror. One thing I do know. The difference between a Christian with some Spirit in their faith and holding the bone of tradition is the difference between the empath’s generosity and the narcissist in a void.
“Good morning.” The Szilágyi Dezso Reformed Church near Batthyány Square has been around for a mere hundred years. Someone I’ll call the assistant warden, if they have such things as assistant wardens, black suit and cloak, leant forward with a satisfying formality. He smiled carefully as I checked my watch and asked him if the clocks went back last night. “Indeed.” I thought I was late, but we compared phone times until he began insisting that things were about to start.
“Are you whole?” I asked him suddenly and he begged my pardon, at first in the native tongue and then in English.
Inside, a lady in purple handed me an order of service and a hymnbook. I lowered into the back row but decided against it and moved much further forward.
People stood when the more officialised came in, and one was carrying a bible. There were introductions and an opening hymn, and some scouts showed us badges and then two families who were waiting for a baptism were introduced carefully by name. And we had to repeat something written on the order of service welcoming them to the church, while they were blessed on the forehead with water, which made me feel a fraudulent insider, but this wasn’t a feeling I knew how to push away.
That was until I looked around distractedly and I saw Mónika, the photocopy artist with the sores, about five rows behind and staring straight at me. I should’ve smiled casually but I faced the baptism, a now-crying child being shushed as we repeated the welcome words for a second time. I couldn’t get Mónika’s stare out of my mind. What are you doing here? Are you following me? I wanted to turn again but dreaded a repeat of that stare, enhanced on the double take. I imagined her not being there, or being suddenly right behind me.
A long and intimate prayer of intercession was vulnerable and touching and came as a release after a laboured sermon comparing a blind man’s persistent requests to Jesus in Jericho with the need for persistence in our own lives.
After a closing hymn and blessing, people stood as the bible was carried out, and things were over. I watched the buttoning of coats and a gradual exodus, but I sat and started my phone and folded the order of service into my bag and eventually rose and wrapped my scarf around my neck and moved to the aisle. Deliberately avoiding a look at where Mónika had been sitting, I could sense that she had gone.
I also tried not to look for her in the hallway or on the steps. The assistant warden was exactly where he had been but was now shaking someone’s hand. I walked up the road in the direction of the tram stops wondering if I should go home.
That night I stared at the unopened candle for a while. The weather had gone cold suddenly, and I still had my scarf on indoors and the sound of the kettle coming to a boil beat in cycles, mirroring the pulse of blood in my ears. Whoosh, whoosh whoosh. It changed its pitch and boiled but loosened when the button flicked up. I rubbed my neck.
Gyorgyi Tarr struggled with the keys for East West Business Travel and watched them cascade down onto the tiles. “God fuggit.” Stooping brought her a resurging pain in her lower back, the result of a slip the previous week. A collapse in her socks down some wooden stairs on a dash to the bathroom, during a bottle of Austrian rum, blowing all her monthly minutes on her sister.
She had howled and rocked in a panic from side to side to make sure she had not broken anything while, at the end of the line, her sister was howling and with laughter. Sleeping whilst inebriated and agonised was not easy and she woke a lot. The following day she took so many painkillers that she had to bounce her car towards Emergency, gulping air, concerned that her heart was about to fail. She did not go inside but remained on the bench no-one sits on, in case, researching each ingredient she’d taken. After three hours the spaced-out sensation subsided and the pain in her back returned. The booster caffeine would guarantee more poor sleep. She spent Saturday dozing and most of Sunday in long, warm baths, crying or sucking on scrambled egg and sauce wraps.
Gyorgyi managed to get the office door open. She turned on the lights and slung her bag onto a chair and the keys onto a desk. She filled the coffee maker and turned on her computer and locked the door again, requiring the bathroom. She looked at the tiles between her feet and thought about renal trauma. She looked for something wrong in the bowl.
Emerging from the sounds of flush, she corrected her suit and checked her emails wondering why she had to do everything herself. It was early and quiet outside. Despite repeated training, the account managers still asked the wrong things regarding US eVisa Assistance and made listless bad assumptions. Avoidant and passive, one admitted lying to her therapist, telling her what she wanted to hear. So why did she go? “They asked me.”
Outside on the quay Gyorgyi lit her first cigarette. It spat with rain, but she stayed. Bumpkin hole, after all.
I spent the following evenings reading beside the lit candle. And why not, it was now just a candle.
I wanted to read a novel where the central character was blind, for some reason, and I didn’t have one. I went to the library and Ors could only suggest an autobiography by Helen Keller, which was surprisingly religious and political but not quite what I wanted. Bored, I started to learn Braille. I put words and phrases into an online translator and ran the tip of my finger over the screen, imagining each time.
‘When did you first start feeling this way?’