I was revising a manuscript today, and I was suddenly struck by how well the conversation resonated with my own present, with conversations I’ve had recently. Never mind that this is out of a much (much!) larger context. And if you are curious, you can find out some of the context by investigating what I’ve posted on the Elder Light page. But that’s not important. What is important is what these two people are saying about the bargain we strike with one another to get past the mistakes we all make.
I think I wrote this over a year ago. I could have written it yesterday:
Alexandrik said, “And how are you feeling?”
Galamandria brought her knees up to her chest and hugged her arms around them. “Brittle,” she said. “Right now, I feel fine, but I know the calm is deceptive. It would not take much to shatter me.”
“Broken bones take a long time to heal. Broken souls take much longer. And the process is complicated when the very thing one needs for the healing process is, itself, broken.”
“I think you’ve fixed that,” Galamandria said with a grateful smile. “I do want to get better.”
“Then you will.”
She nodded, slowly, watching a leaf swimming with the currents in the pool. Then she got up. “I’ll see if the bottle has cooled.”
“I hope so! I’m parched!” He leaned over to rinse the cups, letting the water chill the ceramic.
“Here we go.” She removed the cork and poured, then recorked the bottle and returned it to the water to keep cold. They raised their cups to one another.
Alexandrik said, “To figuring things out.”
“I will drink to that!”
He took a long draught, squeezing his eyes closed in pleasure. “Delicious! As good as anything I’ve had in the finest cafés in the Subcity!”
“Mmm. If hunger makes the best sauce, then thirst brews the best tea.”
He laughed. “Indeed!”
Galamandria held the cup up to her face, relishing the delicate scent of mint. “I have so much to figure out. I feel like everything I once anchored myself to has been swept away. And I don’t have forever anymore. None of us does. It’s so frightening.”
“I look at the humans, how they live all their lives knowing they have only these precious few years. They manage to be happy.”
“Death frightens them, too.”
“It isn’t death that frightens me,” Alexandrik said. “It’s regret. It’s running out of time and looking back, feeling like you’ve squandered the time you had.”
“Yes.” She said it softly, barely a whisper.
He looked at her with concern. “One great thing I learned in the Arctic: We must each fight our monsters alone, but we get our weapons from those around us.”
She turned towards him, listening.
“It’s true for us in the South, too. We may not have hasrii, but when we immerse ourselves in the present, not agonizing over the past or future, and involve ourselves in the lives of those around us, sharing joys and burdens, seeking harmony, helping one another, we come as close as we can to hasrii this side of the Wall of Snow.”
She heard him, felt the truth in what he said, but fear stepped in between. “I’ve made so many mistakes.”
“Everyone does! I’ve made some whoppers. That’s part of the bargain we strike with each other, to forgive each other’s mistakes. To let it go and move on, trying to figure out what went wrong so we won’t do it again.” He cocked his head to one side, remembering. “When I was first learning the ways of the Tribe, I’d make mistakes, and they’d laugh at me. Such a thing can easily be misunderstood. We don’t like having people laugh at us. It feels derisive; we feel humiliated. But if you grasp what the Tribe is doing with their laughter, the ill-feeling evaporates. Because, you see, they weren’t laughing at me, they were laughing at my mistake, inviting me to laugh, too. Laughing at your mistake takes away its sting. The laughter doesn’t isolate you from them, just the opposite. It binds you together, all of you laughing at this foolish mistake. Then, with the help of your fellows, you learn and move on.”
“But some mistakes can’t be laughed at,” Galamandria said. Painful examples hovered in the shadows of her memory, ready to jump out and crush Alexandrik’s wisdom. Make them go away, she thought. Please, Alexandrik, tell me how to take away their sting!
“That’s true,” he agreed soberly. “Some mistakes can’t be laughed at. They are tragic, agonizing. There is no proper way to react to them other than with horror. But the principle is the same. You don’t laugh, you weep. And we weep with you. Together we share remorse at the terrible mistake. Then, together, we help each other to learn and move on.”
“But if someone is to blame for something horrible–!”
“Blame doesn’t matter,” Alexandrik said. “That’s part of the agreement. I forgive you for what you did, because next time it could be, in fact likely will be, me who commits the appalling error. And I will need to be forgiven, held close, helped to get beyond the consequences of whatever I did. That is how we poor, fallible beings get through life. Together.”
Sensible, reasonable, wonderful words that held the promise of healing, of letting go. But people weren’t like that. They didn’t forgive. They remembered. They held grudges. They laid blame and demanded punishment. It was a rock inside her and hardened her voice.
“It’s a lovely thought. But it doesn’t really work that way, does it?”
“It can,” Alexandrik said, “and it should. It’s what I’m going to teach, what I’m going to council. Because being a shaman goes beyond what a doctor does. Healing is a much bigger thing than medicine. That’s part of what I’m figuring out. Maybe part of what I’m doing is trying to heal the whole blessed world. But I’ll settle for one person at a time.”
The rock inside her softened. “Starting with me.”
“There, you see?” He grinned. “That’s why it’s so important that you help me succeed. The world depends on it.”
[excerpt from Alexandrik, fifth book of the Elder Light series]