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Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Light" Chapter 2: Brightness

Chapter 2: Brighter

I should have known something was wrong when I started getting brighter. As a guy who had scraped into a uni Arts programme, I knew I was no Einstein. Then it all started to change.
The truth was that light was always there. It has always been there. I just couldn’t see it. Couldn’t feel it. Couldn’t’  know it. Not back then. The light though is patient. It is willing to wait.
When it all started I was interested in other things. It’s not like at twenty one years of age you are wandering around university campus seeking the answer to God, the universe and everything. There were day to day matters that needed taking care of; more mundane questions that needed answering. How does one get through an Arts degree with minimal expenditure of time and mental energy? Where are the cheapest places to buy beer? Why do girls run away screaming when I try to talk to them?

That day ten years ago, my concern was finishing my essay for Professor Mitchell Wright of the History Department.
I poured myself a cup of horrible, 3-in-1 coffee and sat there at my desk. The rooms at Edwards Hall, the University of Newcastle residence facility, were about as bland as you can imagine. The desk spanned one end of the room. There was a single bed on the right-hand side, and a built-in cupboard beside the door. All in subtle hues of vomit brown.
SMy mind was stark, cold and blank as I stared out the window at the slightly spooky big gum tree right in front of my window. Dry. This had been my standard cognitive state for the entire two years and three months of my university enrolment. It was like my brain was as freeze-dried as my coffee, as bland as the entirety of room C218.
 To my left were five books, total weight heavy enough to sink a small ship. On my right was a pile of journal papers dry enough to qualify as part of the Outback. I stared dumbly at Professor Wright’s question.

Ghandi’s theory of peaceful resistance was an unworldly delusion which created more suffering than success. Discuss.

There was a deadline, of course. I mean, what point would there be for having a university if they couldn’t push around the students? I was a bare pass student, and all I wanted to do was hand in something that wouldn’t look like it had been scribbled by a retarded monkey having a seizure. My desk clock told me that there were there were twenty-seven hours till the Friday 5pm deadline, and I had not written a damn thing. I had, however, sleep-read a few of the papers and skimmed chapters of a couple of the books.
I looked at the photo of Mohandes Karamchand Gandhi on the cover of My Experiments with Truth. Mahatma. Great Soul? He looked like he was so strapped for cash that he had to wrap himself in his bed linen. The poor little guy could have done with a good meal.
Yet as I stared at the eyes of the Mahatma behind his small glasses, something moved inside me. Something quiet, soft, but forceful was trying to work its way out, from inside me.
“That’s strange”, I mumbled. I stopped, quiet, feeling and hearing my breath moving in and out of my chest. It was almost like a gurgling within my mind, but coming from my stomach.
I began to write. And as I did I experienced a peculiarity. My breathing became deep and relaxed. A slight tension entered my mind, that peculiar something trying to force its way to the surface. Then the words came, flowing from mind to keyboard and then the computer screen as if of their own volition. The ideas and words came from within me, and I just went with it.
Two hours later and I was on a roll. Even then, in those days of deep unconsciousness, I could feel something there beyond the veil of my perception. I just didn’t have the words, the thoughts or the experience to understand it. Ideas, references, and web pages all fell into my mind effortlessly, like apples falling off a tree. I barely noticed the cramping in my hands as my fingers flashed across the keyboard on my bulky laptop. At 3.45 a.m. it was done.
 I was buzzing. I flicked off the light, lay down on my bed, and closed my eyes. Naturally I expected to fall to sleep. But it didn’t happen. I felt as light as a feather and even with eyes closed and in the darkness of my tiny room, I felt wide awake.
 That was when I noticed it. There was a light, a small light shining right before me. Or was it inside me? It felt like it was right in the middle of my forehead, behind and in between my eyes. But that was impossible, because human eyes can’t see backwards. Can they? Besides, my eyes were closed. I opened my eyelids and the light disappeared. But only for a moment. Then it reappeared. I blinked. It remained. I stared into the blackness of the room, and the light that shone. I began to focus upon it, and a deep stillness fell upon me. The light seemed to expand. I noticed that it had a slight bluish tinge to it. And there was something else. It was as if it were somehow alive, somehow vibrant. Was it within me or beyond me?
Eventfully I fell to sleep. When I awoke the next day I put it all down to the coffee.

Professor Mitchell Wright reached a thin hand into the file drawer and pulled out a brown manila envelope.
“Well, I have to say I’m impressed, Greg. This is certainly your best work to date. I loved the way you link Gandhi’s ideology to the Indic tradition, and I agree it’s the only way to really appreciate it.”
“Thanks, Dr Wright”, is about all I could get out. It was two weeks after I’d written the paper, and the whole weird experience of writing it had been rendered a distant memory.
“A great range of references too. How long did it take you to write this?”
“Um… a couple of weeks”, I lied.
He scratched the back of his head a with a wry smile, as if hiding something slightly amusing. “Like you, I admit to being sympathetic towards Gandhi. There are far too many trigger happy cowboys in the world today.”
“Yes. Yes, that’s true” I stuttered. My mind had gone cold. There were ideas in there. Somewhere. But I just couldn’t put words to them.
“I feel a little embarrassed actually”, Professor Wright said, slightly furrowed of brow. “I don’t like giving out high distinctions willy nilly, let alone grades of ninety-five per cent. But on this occasion I’ll have to make an exception.” He smiled broadly and handed the envelope to me.
I tried to look relaxed, but I suspect my rapid blinking gave away my sense of disbelief.
I stood up, said goodbye, and started making my way to the door.
“Ah, one more thing Greg”, Professor Wright said. “What are your plans for next year? We have an Honours programme, and we are really looking for some bright students. Would you be interested?”

I made my way back to my dorm floating, as if my shoes were barely touching the earth. Me, and honours student?
Or something even more impossible. Me smart? I was the one they had teased and called “Dope”. Many a childhood day had been spent warding off the cruel insults of my older brother, John. And that is not mentioning the stones and spitballs hurled my way on the road to school.
My father was a plumber, who accurately described himself as “rough as guts”. His father, in turn, had worked on the railway. When I developed an interest in reading at around the age of ten, he didn’t seem too pleased about it. Not that he ever said anything. Talking to his kids wasn’t exactly a priority for him. There was always the sense that real boys weren’t meant to think. They were meant to work and struggle and be tough. But I was always the quiet and reflective type.
 My mother, was well, a drinker. If that was a profession she would have been the star employee.
I got back to my room, sat at my desk and stared at the books and papers before me. My next tutorial was in two days. I looked up and out of the open window in front of me, to find the soft light of evening beginning to fall. There was a large gum tree just ten metres or so from my window on the second floor of Edwards Hall. The twitter of birds could be heard aloft a gentle breeze. My mind fell silent for a moment. I looked at the tree, and as the moments passed its somber, silent mood began to seep slowly into me. There was stillness, just the tree and I, together like lovers in a soft embrace. And there it was again. The small blue light behind my eyes.  There was the tree, and there was the light within me, and it was as if they merged into oneness. A deep relaxation fell upon me, as my gaze softened, a gentle white light began to pour from the tree. It was like a white fire, yet soft and murmuring, like a mothers kiss. It surrounded the tree like a soft silk sheath.
What was that?
With the question I was suddenly jerked back into my mundane reality. I looked down at the books and papers before me, and I remembered the task ahead of me.
 I looked at the tree again. The white flame was gone. Once again it was a just a tree, out there beyond my window.
The tree, the books and papers. The dimly lighted room was exactly what it had been since I had moved there more than two years earlier.
The same, as always.

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