Tuesday, July 05, 2005

'The Night Before'

When I arrived at the hotel it was obvious it had been taken over by some special event. There were people everywhere in animated conversation, shopping at makeshift kiosks, and signing up for raffles and contests. A sign explained that it was an Annual Assyrian Convention offering a week of art, music, food and celebration. It was an interesting surprise—I just came for the free taco and half price beer at the hotel bar. And with my wife away on business in New York City, this gala hoop-de-la provided a nice distraction with an interesting assortment of tastes, sights and sounds. The bar had closed early that night anyway, in preparation for a special Assyrian festivity. Assyrians party late, starting at about eleven and ending when the sun rises. At least, that’s what the Assyrian merchant told me—an alluring bearded man who spoke carefully, and with a heavy Arabic accent. A man who had in his possession the most compelling object I had ever seen.

I had little knowledge of Assyrians, but observing them at the hotel revealed a special quality of beauty and strength about them. Etched in their eyes, movements, and mannerisms were a definite purpose and a living history. They had come from all parts of the nation to meet as one, to share a sense of love, tragedy and survival.

The bearded merchant stood in one of the convention halls nicely converted into a small exhibit and bazaar. It was there that I first saw her. The room around me blurred as my eyes devoured her. She had her back to me and the world, but her head tilted down slightly and she looked over her shoulder, her eyes staring deep into mine. I could feel the bearded merchant move closer, his eyes upon me.

“She is not for sale”, he said softly. Did he speak in Arabic? It had to be English, because I don’t understand Arabic. Do I?

I could not answer him. My eyes refused to leave her. My mind and body had already surrendered to her with an instant inseparable bond. It was not her physical beauty that attracted me most. It was the psychic pull she had on me. She knew something important. She had a knowledge that ran deep into the core of my soul. Did she know me?

“I agree”, I said finally, still not looking at him. “But tonight, she will be with me”, I added simply, turning to meet his dark, concerned, unflinching eyes.

The negotiation took over an hour. I was to have her back the next day unharmed. The merchant was a proud Assyrian—a Christian Arab and direct descendent of the people of Mesopotamia, and believer of the Assyrian role in the prophecy of Isaiah — and he talked of his heritage with great respect and excitement. He seemed more excited than I was, maybe it was the money or the thrill of the barter, or maybe he was just happy for her. No one had ever taken an interest in her like I had. But he knew very little about her other than she was a fellow Assyrian Christian found by a minister, and somehow came into his care through the church.

At home that night, I propped her up with the music stand on my grand piano. The frame was intricately carved in an ancient solid mahogany that matched the tone of the painting. She was in the center with a view around her depicting simple trees and what may have been a church or some kind of sanctuary. But the fine detail transported the observer into a beautiful yet uncertain world, underlined with troubled shadows that culminated into a mood of distant unrest. And her eyes told me she wanted to tell me something, and I intended to let her.

I started to play and immediately found a connection with her and my music. Before long the rhythm of the music penetrated the painting and returned with an Arabic melody of hauntingly beautiful sadness. As the tempo increased, the mahogany frame became a portal that joined our two worlds. The sounds filled the room via the acoustic cathedral ceiling and crashed down upon me like deafening thunder. And through the roar of pounding music she became free and alive. The faster I moved my fingers, the faster the notes would end, and it felt as if time slipped further away as each keystroke faded. Until finally I became the past, she became the present and the portal our future.

But what past was I? I was dead to her. And she looked back with no pity, at my world, and me. Why bother to pity the dead? Yet it was my world that engulfed her, that nourished her world. The music grew with intensity as her sons’ future was born from the chaotic sadness of a tragic past. She had no pity to give. She guided my fingers into a turbulent crescendo of epic struggle that forced me to see the future imposed upon her sons, and opened my eyes to the suffering and death that life would bring them…

My cell phone rang—morning already? I flipped open the phone and heard my wife’s trembling voice — “Hi, it’s me... I... I think I’m in trouble, a plane just crashed into the building…”

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