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Friday, August 25, 2006

the diary

[written at mystique cafe in a country far, far away on a lonely, gray day]

Gretchen and I were traveling through the Holland countryside on our way to Amsterdam when our rental car's heater hose ruptured. I hailed a passing car and had the good fortune the gentleman stopped and spoke enough English for us to communicate. He called from his mobile for help, and a half hour later we were towed to a village not far from the thoroughfare. With one call to the rental agency the village mechanic was authorized to repair the broken hose. Gretchen and I decided to explore the shops while we waited. She went to a craft shop, while I was drawn to the bookshop next door.

I entered to meet a young woman coming from the back room who could tell from my poorly spoken French greeting I was a Brit. 'You are British, monsieur?' 'I am.' Playfully, she replied, 'Then let us speak English.' After small chatter about the village and shop, she explained that I was the first 'Englishman' to be in the shop since 1915. Indifferent, I awkwardly thanked her for bringing it to my attention.

After brief silence, she continued, explaining that her family four generations earlier had been deeply affected by a young British officer badly wounded near the beginning of the war. From what she described, in spite of his severe wounds, he exhibited extraordinary character and had a quiescent, peaceful presence - an inner certainty and dignity that seemed to overtake any who came to his bedside.

My curiosity roused, I rattled off some questions. Smiling, she raised her right hand up slowly to me and said, 'Wait! I will show you our family's greatest treasure.' She left for the back room. Flushed with mild irritation, I thought, 'How I hate non sequiturs.'

She returned with an old untitled leather cover book with a dark stain on its lower spine and front cover. Running her hand slowly across the front of the book, she said, 'This was the Englishman's blood.' Placing the book in my hands, she said, 'Open.'

Opening the book, I saw what looked like a diary entry at the top of the page dated 21 August 1914. The young lady laughed gently with pleasure. I looked up and only saw bright eyes. 'You are a blessed man!' 'Why?' I asked. Leaning forward, she spoke softly, 'You have begun well, monsieur.' Then moving her hands as if shooing me away, she continued, 'Now read!' And so I did.

21 August 1914 Calcutta

Our final overture to sense and reason failed. Father's will has prevailed. Cogshall and I must return to England forthwith. Such a father and patron exasperates. Our studies end before begun. One more son from the family for another war? We leave tomorrow.

22 August 1914 Calcutta

Arrived at the railway station to a most singular event. One of our trunks was so heavy that two porters had difficulty removing it carefully from the cart. Impatient, the station master yelled at them with resounding ferocity. The usually reticent Dr Cogshall, annoyed by the ill mannered station master, sternly retorted in Hindi, 'Leave them be!' The station master stood astonished, then slowly turned his back and walked away. The two porters continued with conspicuous equanimity. When they finished, I asked Cogshall to ask them from whence they acquired such extraordinary dispositions. Cogshall spoke to them in Hindi. With subtle smiles, they both turned from Cogshall to me, peered into my eyes, and answered as if in song as one man. From his extraordinary memory and wit, Cogshall has given me this translation.

porter 1 ~ be still in movement
porter 2 ~ move in stillness
porter 1 ~ seeing all destinies
porter 2 ~ be not in nor out
porter 1 ~ be here and there now
porter 2 ~ there is rest in movement
porter 1 ~ when you are still
porter 2 ~ this stillness is clarity
porter 1 ~ murmuring shadows
porter 2 ~ banished from self
porter 1 ~ is translucence
porter 2 ~ stillness - no commotion
porter 1 ~ silence - no dissent
porter 2 ~ then perception clear
porter 1 ~ then thought timeless
porter 2 ~ then action grace
porter 1 ~ then speech true
porter 2 ~ this is called
porter 1 ~ life without a shell
porter 2 ~ this is called
porter 1 ~ indefectible peace
porter 2 ~ this is called
porter 1 ~ extensible existence
porter 2 ~ this is called
porter 1 ~ the atom of being
porter 2 ~ this is called
porter 1 ~ the power of power
porter 2 ~ we call it
porter 1 ~ living
porter 1 & 2 ~ in the origination of existence

I am captivated. Ready to pay the cost for Father's certain anger, I have decided to delay our travels, to meet with these two men tomorrow. I must learn what they know.

23 August 1914 Calcutta
. . . . .

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