So many people, they own islands. Those who can’t afford it, property. What these people don’t know is that the island is as solid as a piece of driftwood, and that nice house with the immaculate lawn and the mailbox stenciled with your name? It doesn’t belong to you. Not to me, the government, the country, the world. You can scrawl your initials on tree trunks, pee on fertile land, erect flags and fences, and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
One fine day—and it’s always a fine day—the earth opens up and consumes it whole in one unrepentant swallow. They took pictures as proof. For days we lived in tents.
The first night I started thinking, about my mother mainly, who’d already been dead for a number of years. I remembered her face so clearly. She hadn’t been a bright woman, but happy. A flower could make her face light up. I started to cry in silence. What can you do when the walls were made out of canvas? Internally, I howled, my stomach burned. Here I was, a middle-aged man crying for mommy—a more common occurrence than you think. It wasn’t just for her I cried, but for all the things I’d lost. It was easier to focus on her, since it was a grief I had already been accustomed to.
I read studies later on that a baby can die when the attachment to the mother is broken. Why cry for mothers and not fathers? It all goes back to the womb. A womb is enclosed, safe and you are directly connected to the creator. Nothing is expected of you except to eat, sleep, and wallow in comfort. Why would you ever want to leave, except maybe to experience pain? My mother told me that halfway through my birth, I decided I didn’t like it out in the open air and that I struggled to climb back up, causing her excruciating pain. Of course, if I stayed, I would’ve died and she would’ve died.
There’s no such thing as attachment and no such thing as no strings attached. These were the sample nuggets of wisdom that came to me back in my tent days, which helped me and didn’t help me whatsoever as the kind people started coming in trucks packed with cases of water and boxes of canned food to nurture us back to sanity. Sanity is only at the bottom of insanity. I know a little something about being at the bottom of everything. Did I find sanity? Well, at the bottom of everything, there is nothing. Nothing tangible at least, no extended hand, no rope. At the bottom of everything, there is nothing to do except to pray. The first night, I cried and prayed, cried and prayed. I have nothing, I kept saying to Him, Her, or nothing. Please help me please help me please help me. What can you do when you have nothing left to lose? Who has the time or cynicism to question things? You just pray for the hand or rope to come. You are already soft inside. You breathe and the fire inside is fueled by the oxygen, turning your innards to rubber. The tears and the prayers, I think, form a kind of elixir. In short, only at the bottom of everything will prayers work. It was especially potent in tent city, where I’m sure almost everyone cried. I heard them. Women, mainly. God bless them, the women. God bless them for their open tears.
At the time, it truly felt like I had nothing. I’d been robbed. My friends had died, my wife had died, our baby. Swallowed, all of them. I was only left with acquaintances, neighbours whose only ties to me were their propinquity.
After a while, we all had to get friendly with each other. Sooner or later you get tired of sitting by yourself in pity. I forced myself to talk to them. Well, who were they? They were not family. They were not my home. But I had to expand my definition of home in order to have one. I used to think of a home as a place with at least four walls and a roof containing at least one person who loved you so you wouldn’t get so lonely.
That’s why, when you have nothing left, God is a nice idea, isn’t it? That there is someone out there who is very organized, making order out of chaos when you ask for it.
Knowing everything I know, being through everything I’d been through, I’m no better or wiser than anyone else: I would still like to own a piece of land. If it’s security I want, it’s better to believe the illusion, even if it’s not built on something solid. Is faith built on something solid? I don’t know. Is the mind solid? A body? A temple? A house? No. Nothing is. But does it matter?