Midnight Stroll

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. 
And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep. –Robert Frost

I remember the poet’s words as the moonlight falls on the path, lighting up the plumes of mist that seem to swallow the trees like pale, ghostly shadows.

Although it’s dark, I feel as if the moon is a giant stage light, set upon this scene, where there are many players, both visible and invisible. I am in good company.

It’s a warm evening, with just a light breeze that makes me pull my shawl more tightly around my shoulders. The grass is slightly wet from the dew of the wee hours of morning, and as my bare feet touch the earth, a thrill goes up my spine: both at the slight electric crackle of the grass and the tense anticipation that builds in my heart as I wind down the path, slowly and deliberately.

I can hear the tinkle of tiny fairy voices, like bells ringing in the near distance, joining forces with the soft whoosh of the wind through the trees. In my peripheral vision I can almost see their lights: wild dancing orbs of pale blue, purple, green…twinkling like miniature stars in the foliage.

“Am I going to recognize her when I see her?” I wonder aloud. What if she is dark and subtle, and she escapes my notice? What if she comes upon me all of a sudden, and I’m so freaked out that I forget my mission and flee in the opposite direction—toward artificial lights, central heating, and my lover’s solid embrace?

I shake my head, resolved then and there. No…I am here for mystery, for uncertainty, for the puzzle I’ve been told that only I can solve. I gave up security eons ago, even though some primal part of me longs for it. But there is a force greater than all of that, and it lulled me out of bed and bade me to walk an unfamiliar path in near darkness…it bade me to relinquish my long-harbored fear of the unknown and to simply give myself over to it.

 “This had better be good,” I mutter to myself.

The sound of the bells gets even louder, and then…there she is. Almost an apparition. Almost hardly here. I see her first as more of an archetype than a solid reality: the shape of a woman not yet brought into full form. Her long, lithe body is wrapped in a cloak of deep violet fire, which also contains blazing ropes of cobalt, vermilion, and emerald.

She is beautiful, and she is terrible.

She holds a truth I have never beheld with my naked eye, and yet I’ve always known she was there. I knew ten years ago, right before the collapse of my marriage and the moment I would come to recognize as the death of my life as I knew it. I was on a beach in Hawaii, and I felt her ancient power across the screaming tides. Pele, who called for ritual sacrifice to sate the thirst of the angry Earth. Pele, whose thirst for transformation asks for nothing and demands everything.

And here she is, in this moonlit forest in upstate New York. A force of oceanic fire that has come to me, after all these years.

I don’t need to say anything. I hear her words, except they can’t be conveyed in actual words or a voice. They are a rumble, a quake, the sound of reality being cleaved from its solid foundations.

“You are not here for yourself, I know. You are here for something that is extraordinary and yet to be written. It is larger than you, or the past, or the present, or the future. it is connected to cosmic upheaval and new beginnings. For even with endings, there are beginnings. You must remember this. Don’t dwell on the fear, or the pain, or the idea that you are at the mercy of forces larger than you. You are in me. I am holding you. Come closer, into the belly of the so-called beast. Be warmed by the fire that never dies. Ask for something much larger than you think you have the courage to bear or to deserve. The old laws were meant to be broken. Enter the spirit of chaos, and within it you will form a new order. There will be much uncertainty, and much guidance. The hallmark of the soul of the old world is that it believes itself to be singular. A tiny flame that once it is snuffed out, is no more. Join your fire to the fire of the world soul. Be willing to express yourself as a dance of many flames. For that is all that the divine is. A oneness that is a many-ness. See yourself as all the flames and your sight will multiply. When you know yourself in all directions, there is nothing left to fear.”

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

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