Sunday, June 5, 2011

A little story for a Sunday... Short story #19

This story is three years old already. It's one I like, because I believe that the sacred isn't as present in temples and cathedrals as it is in those we love...

The Most Sacred Place

In the remotest of villages, in the remotest of lands, there lived a young boy named Soong. Soong’s life was simple. He looked after his family’s goats, worked in his family’s fields, and worshipped at his family’s shrine. He grew into a fine, strong, responsible young man, and was much admired by the young women of his village. But there was only one girl who caught Soong’s eye. Her name was Lai-tah, and while she was not the most beautiful girl in the locale, she was the most kind-hearted. According to custom, Soong asked Lai-tah’s mother for her hand in marriage, and all was arranged.

Village tradition dictated that the bride and groom were to spend their honeymoon in the nearest large city. It was a huge metropolis, filled with noise and chaos very unlike the serenity of village life that Soong and Lai-tah were used to. Lai-tah wanted nothing more than to escape the city and have a honeymoon in their new hut on the land Soong had inherited as wedding gift from his parents, but Soong was fascinated by the glamour and allure of the urban landscape. He was most enthralled by the city’s huge temple and the monks who lived there.

“It is such a sacred place,” Soong said to Lai-tah. “My soul is pulled to it as to a magnet. I wish to spend more time there, to know the secrets that make the monks’ faces so serene.”

When the honeymoon ended, Soong and Lai-tah returned to their hut, their garden plot, and the male and female goat that were their wedding gifts from the villagers.

Soong was a changed man, however. He had returned from the city with a picture book of the sacred places of the world. He continued to look after the goats, work in the fields, and worship at the shrine, but his mind was elsewhere. Every evening, he would spend hours looking at the pictures of the world’s sacred places, dreaming of making pilgrimage to each one. Even Lai-tah’s feminine charms paled against his desire to travel to the holy shrines.

Fortunately, Lai-tah possessed a wisdom beyond her years. “Go see the Holy Man,” she urged her young husband. “He will tell you of the Holy places, for he has seen many.”

So Soong visited the Holy Man, who lived in a small hut in the high hills a few miles from the village. “Holy One,” Soong said, “I long to know what you know, to see what you have seen, to visit the most sacred place in the world.”

The Holy Man looked long and deep at Soong. He saw himself, years before. “Young man,” he said, “There is a Doctor Jones who came to visit me yesterday. He is traveling the world to visit some Holy shrines. He gave me his address in the city. If you hurry, perhaps you can catch him, and he will take you along as one of his porters.”

Soong took the address, ran all the way home, packed his few belongings, said farewell to Lai-tah, and went to the city in time to join Doctor Jones and his convoy. The doctor agreed that Soong’s passage would be paid by his labour.

For eight long months, Soong worked and traveled with Doctor Jones from one sacred place to another. They visited Buddhist sites in Bhutan, India, and China, Shinto shrines in Japan, Healing Circles in North America, Incan and Mayan sites to the south, Christian Cathedrals in Europe, Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe, the Pyramids, Mecca, and many places that seemed to have little if any religious significance. At first, Soong was awed by the magnificence of the shrines, temples and churches, and the beauty of their locations, but after a few months, novelty wore thin, and even if they visited a Holy place that appeared in his picture book, it held little fascination for Soong. He was homesick, and yearning for Lai-tah.

At the end of the eighth month, Doctor Jones returned to the city where Soong found him, and Soong took his leave of the good doctor. As Soong walked back to his village, to his home, the sights, sounds, and smells that greeted him along his journey seemed to him the most blessed things of all that he had seen.

When Soong arrived at his hut, he found many women, and much excitement. The women scarcely noticed his presence at first, but when they realized he was among them, a hush fell, and the eldest woman of the village came out of the hut. Seeing Soong, she bowed, and motioned for him to enter.

When Soong’s eyes adjusted to the dimness of his home, he fell to his knees. Lai-tah lay serenely on her mat, with their newborn daughter at her breast. With deep joy, she reached her free arm out to her husband. Soong came to her, tears running down his cheeks, saying, “I have traveled the world, seeing its most sacred places, only to learn that the most sacred place is here, with you.”

Lai-tah’s tears mingled with her husband’s, as she gave the baby into Soong’s hands. “We shall call her Nau,” she said.

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