The Elder

Zahreddine

From the Flower of Asour Series

There is a sad truth today to the statement that the Baran street does not care for Jerusalem. For the cause of the Righteous, the elect. The people who have lived and guarded this place, for centuries. Who have lost what they have been gifted.

My understanding of this city has changed. Over time, I have changed. When I first came, I was in love with the Republic, even with those facets I had nothing to do with. I found it interesting how history is so obsolete. Everyone you meet is an immigrant, painting their cultures second or third story. The same as it was for me. Things change. People change. Old wounds fester. Grudges become ordinary. A lifetime of difficulties is hard to breach. But the amazing thing, is the way the new blood continues to enter, fighting for that system to breach.

Zahreddine used to say, after giving a speech, Whoever you are, know my generation is worthless. We sold for luxury the possibility of peace. Cool hands waver where hotheads press forward, cascading through darkness. Am I alone in that I think of them? Where is the enigma in Zahreddine’s dream? People often forget the original idea of Bara as energy, as a movement toward peace. To understand him, and to understand his actions, you have to see the city of their dreams. How do we enter the dreams of another, if not by their wisdom or poetic streams? The Republic is a house of visions. Some of them pacifying, others extreme. When you enter into the plane of darkness, where everything and nothing is clearly seen, you find an opening access, open to the manifest of all prophetic dreams. Where does this leave Zahreddine, who dreamt of traveling by foot to Jerusalem?
         At some point, we have all had to confront the essence of this question. If Jerusalem was built by the ancient kings, do the monarchs inhabit the world they suffer? If so, why are we here? We are awake, where everything stutters. Facing the enigma, that all of us fear.

“Do you know where we go, when we enter Jerusalem?” I asked them.
“We go into the wild, where the garden is clear. We have come by one way and return by another. We come and we return into the city of kings.”

In the evening, while preparing for prayers, I revisited some old books in my library. When I was young, I liked to read biographies. Long, annotated bodies of individual work, drawing a portrait of a life. In it there’s a little known story of Zahreddine, the one they call the butterfly. They had been living in a small apartment in an anti fascist bunker in Ras Shahid, before they had gone back into exile. It was the first time they had been seen inside the city, maybe in years. Walking around, entertaining some drifters, finding themselves a little place of peace. That night, a butterfly entered their apartment. It was the middle of autumn. Winter was near. The butterfly must have been seeking shelter. For four days, she refused to leave, having found her winter shelter. The effect was such on Zahreddine, that they felt akin to the insect. For four days, she came to rest on his shoulder, sleeping in their hair. When she died, their neighbors remember, they came out onto the busy street, holding the little insect in their palm. Coming upon a small streetside garden, they buried the insect therein. They say, soon after, Zahreddine disappeared, never to be seen again in the body.

The pilgrims are misunderstood, but I understand them. Branded fanatics, they have had to live as outsiders. I am one of them, so I know what they mean. When I came to this island, I was not a pilgrim. But I was a Baran. Without knowing, my brother and I were students of the five sacred arts. Now, when I think of how all this is applied, whether by students at the Conservatory, or us, me and my tribe, I can understand why to some people we seem to have lost our way. And I respect the mystics, and I have grown to love them. So many of them turned when they were young. Still managing the expectations of youth, they look at our world and see the deficiencies, the violence. Are these things hidden from us, from those of us who are not disgusted at reality? I would have to say that they are not. And I would have to make the argument to the mystics, that the fanatics are just like them, only lost. So if we came from the same set of boundaries, how can we make sense of our differences, to align ourselves to a single cause. Barring the uproar of the establishment, this would benefit all. In a sense, my brother, and many like him, tried this. Only he forgot along the way a simple lesson, taught to me in Elot. The gifts we receive are heavier on the heart than all those things we have lost.
                   Of course it begins like this. There is a dream, and a vision. Like so many of our contemporaries, my brother was very quick with his decisions. I did not know him well in that time. We had changed so quickly, so abruptly. This happens, when you come to a place so magical, so particular, so powerful in so many ways. When I was doing my training, I thought a lot about him. I knew, only partially, what he was doing. Naturally, I worried about him. It’s really very basic. He is my brother. We both have our faults. I chose to give myself away, to the lessons. But what do the lessons say? Your people are yet to read them. You would not know. There was a palm, at the foot of the sky. And underneath it, a lilac rose, from whose wilting fingers the Barans rose, one by one, by verdicts of the genus. You cannot recreate this. When you try, you stutter, the world suffers.

The fanatics have been given a terrible name. Much of it is deserving. But I see something similar in them, that I find true of our greatest dignitaries, women and men. The fantastic calls to them. Tranquility, what we learned in Elot, in Anon, and in the residences of the stoics, all of this eludes them. But they are so awake in the mysteries, and they are so powerful, so pregnant with rage, there must be some goodness to them that can be harnessed. If we turn to imprisoning the most passionate of our young, who will be left to represent them? If we banish them from our hearts, who will be left to mourn them? At the Hermitage, we are taught to stifle those things which so powerfully quicken the heart. The heart is not made ignorant to those things. They live in the memory. That is where I take my bows, accepting to stand against the common thread of thinking. If there is a tool, a place in the heart, it must be used for something. Zahreddine says, of similar things, These are the tools of history. To which I add, these are the tools of the heart.
              I grappled with my return for a long time. And I know, regardless of the work I am doing, a student of Ra, that I am yet to deal with my relationships, with the fallout, with everything that has happened to the Ayoubi name. I spent so much of my time reading, thinking, praying, digressing, hoping for an answer. My own personal grievances, I still do not know what became of my brother. And all this time, I have failed to mention the Daughter, Sareh, the Magnificent. I have tried to make amends, but nothing could be done from afar. Until now.

People are going to ask, brother Rumahn, where have you been? What do you think I will tell them? That I have been in hiding? That I paid a visit to the unseen?

Yes, I have been in hiding, and I paid a visit in that time to the unseen. A place of memory and magic, a place at the heart of the mind. I was spending my days reading, meditating, collecting and discarding. At the Hermitage, my mind was free, but my heart was suffering. All this time, I was watching what was happening. I thought of my friends, of how they were keeping on, how they were doing.
 
I had a friend, where I was staying. Salamuddin. An older man, much older than me. We spent many afternoons walking. He was a shepherd, before retiring, and we used to go to the place of grazing sheep and I would listen to his stories. The kind of allegories you find in your sleep. You know me. I am belligerent, and I am devout, but he was even more devout than me. He told me something I never forgot. We were sitting by the fences, watching over the place of grazing sheep. We were very lucky that day, because a storm was on its way, but it had not yet struck. Still two or three days away. Gold, simmering lights glittered the crimson sky. He turned to me, while we were standing. Some of the sheep had come towards us. He was whistling to them, in the way that they like.

        “Rumahn,” he said. “I want to tell you what I heard about Zahreddine. This is not about me. Nor is it yours to tell, until you are ready.”
        “Tell me, Uncle.” I said to him.
         He looked at me very seriously. His eyes were always bursting open, channeling fire.
        “Do you know the story of Zahreddine, first of the mystics? Do you know what they said about Jerusalem?”
        “What do you mean?” I asked We all know of Zahreddine. They are the speaker of the ecstasies. When I read their verse, I am filled with tears. They pry my heart, my body, they pry them open, because they are so real.
             “What is it?“ I asked again, “What do you know about Zahreddine?"
               As Salamuddin began to speak, the sheep pricked up their soft ears. They huddled over, coming closer to where we stood so that they could hear what was being told.

“Jerusalem,” he said, “was born of the mystics. When a settler enters, he is gifted gold. In his content, he lives lavishly. But there is an unsettling motion on his soul. When the settler enters Jerusalem, he drinks from the well, but by his entrance the well has been poisoned, it is no longer pure, the water is now old. When his body rests, his soul will be blemished. In the age of the afterlife, he will be known. When Zahreddine first spoke to their conquerors, they said to them, I am a guest in your house, and I speak your language. But I am free, you understand? Did I not tell you? While you were asleep, I decided to return the third temple to my tribe. I eat where you eat, sleep where you sleep. I am in your bed, and I am watching you. What will become of you? We will see.”       This stayed with me. The remainder of the day I was caught without motion, paralyzed by thought. Is it true, I thought? Is this how it will happen?

And then the amazing happened. I was in my room, preparing to return outside for an evening service, a prayer under the lilac moon. Everything felt still, and I felt close to the Daughter. I felt, like we had banished time, and I was still in close proximity to her. I felt, probably, as you feel now. shaken from a distant sleep, in the eye of the storm, looking upon a great boulder, caught in the impression of an amazing calm. I could feel, I could hear, my heart racing. When I came outside, into the halls, there was no one around. I found some of the servicemen, eating chocolate, breaking pistachios and tossing them on the ground. They seemed upset. They were frowning.

    “Where is everyone?” I asked.
              “In a gathering. A special viewing.”

I walked through the empty hallways, chambers now empty that are usually so full. I walked faster. When I came to the place of gathering, I stopped. Why had no one told me they were meeting? I asked myself, filling to the brim with fear, is this the final trap, the act of the Republicans? I stopped and I remembered. There is only Ra and the fires, otherwise I am free of all fear. I pushed the immense doors open, pulled back the fabrics drawing the wide room open.
          I had never expected to meet them in person. For all my advances, I have remained very sober, when compared to them. There, at the center of the gathering, in a long lilac robe, with a train held up by their seven daughters, their eyes piercing behind strained eyelashes, painted in gold, stood Zahreddine, a mammoth among children.
          I have always strived to fight for good in my life. In the end, the fight sought me, as it does when things are made unequal and we face a struggle to form equal parts. Now I know I had been living silent, hiding myself from the injuries. The mystics find you, when you are silent. As I walked forward, compelled by some force foreign to me, and the calling gaze of his eyes, the crowded gathering parted, as though they had been waiting for me, expecting my arrival. I came to the mystic they call Zahreddine, both a man and a woman.
            “Rumahn. They tell me you are a decent shepherd, and a man of ease. I have long admired the energy of your brother, but he has not been kind to me. I am sure you are wondering what has become of the Daughter. For this, we will have to wait and see. But I am here on another matter, one that is larger than the two of us, and this room combined. I have decided to return Jerusalem to our tribe. Will you return to the Republic, and do this for me?”

Now I have come to the line of the mystics, having seen the glow in their eyes. Now I understand the meaning of the expression, The mystics are at ease. I have chosen my side, the side of the mystics. And the mystics come in threes.