By Douglas McElheny
Having finished, he turned to her and took her in his arms kissing her deeply. And though most of him was lost in that moment of sweetness, part of his mind could still marvel and reflect on the mystery of love. And what a miracle it was that he was holding in his arms! She was perfect. From her seductive brown eyes to her dainty little toes, physically she was everything he’d ever dreamed of in a woman—slim and petite with long curly black hair and a generous mouth he never tired of kissing.
Had he really only met her a month ago? It seemed hardly possible as he remembered all that they’d shared in that short time, not just physically and emotionally but mentally as well. He’d shared himself with her in a way he never had before with another person, and she with him as well. Yeah, she was the one. There was no doubt about it.
Finally their lips parted and their eyes met for a moment in a look that said more than any words could. Then smiling they turned to admire his work. It hardly seemed to do justice to the way they felt about each other, but there it was carved in stone for all to see on the wall of the Shiva temple in Tiruvannamalai. It read: Justin and Lucille Forever. Sure it had been a stupid and adolescent thing to do, but somehow it just felt right to do it. Especially considering what he was going to ask her.
He was nervous of course, but he knew he better get on with it. It had taken him longer than he’d anticipated to do the carving; so he only had about five minutes until the guards he’d paid to look the other way came to escort them out.
So without further ado he turned to her and spoke. “Lucille,” he said, “I don’t think I have to tell you that this last month has been the happiest of my entire life. I think you feel the same.”
She smiled and nodded.
“Gosh Lucille, I never thought in my life that I could feel this way—so complete. When I came to India I was hoping I would hook up with a nice girl to travel with, but I never expected to be plunged into a bliss like this. I know it seems crazy to ask you this after just one month, but I know you’re the one for me Lucille. I know you’re the love of my life.”
Then he got down on one knee and pulled out a small box from his hip pack. He opened it to reveal the modest engagement ring he had purchased and asked her, “Lucille, will you marry me?”
And without a moments hesitation she said, “Yes.”
Then with fumbling fingers—from joy now not nervousness—he placed the ring on her finger and kissed her hand. Then he rose and taking her tenderly into his arms he kissed her again and just let himself go completely into that moment. Then after a while their lips parted and smiling he took her hand and they walked out of the temple.
One month later the happy couple returned to the United States and, while still riding on the crest of their romantic infatuation, Justin and Lucille were married. And for Justin it was the happiest day of his life.
The second happiest day of his life was the day he got divorced. In fact, after the divorce was declared final he was filled with such a sense of joyous peace and liberation that he wondered if he was experiencing what the Indians called samadhi. Fortunately, it had been in many ways an uncomplicated affair. They had never had children or bought a house. It had just been a matter of deciding who got the furniture and the dog. It was a clean break and he was glad of it because in all honesty he hoped that he would never see her again.
Strangely though, he couldn’t resist the impulse to take one last look at his now ex-wife as she was leaving the courtroom. When he did his joyous state was eclipsed by feelings of profound disgust and revulsion, not just with her, but with himself as well. Looking back he could scarcely believe the ugliness and immaturity that had come out of them both during the course of their seven-year marriage. Sure it had been like heaven on earth at first during what he called the ‘honeymoon phase’ of their married life, but as the ardor of their narcissistic attraction waned, they discovered that they really didn’t have that much in common, and that they really didn’t know each other at all. Thus began what he called the ‘love/hate roller coaster’ phase of their marriage, which went on for years and was a mixture of good times and bad. But as time went on, and despite many hours in marriage counseling, the good times got shorter and the bad times got longer until there weren’t any good times any more; there was only the ugliness. Then one day he came home from work to find that she had moved out. A few days later she filed for divorce.
Lucille passed out of the courtroom without so much as a glance in his direction, and he was quite grateful for that. All he wanted to do now was to shove the ugliness away into the deepest darkest corner of his being so that he could try and forget that two human beings had ever behaved so poorly or heaped such abuses onto one another. Breathing a sigh of relief Justin rose slowly from his chair. The negative feelings dispersed and the joy returned as he realized once again that it was over. He was free and by God it was time to celebrate! So with a lightness in his step and whistling a happy tune Justin walked out of the courtroom. He would never see Lucille again.
Shortly after the divorce Justin had a vasectomy and proceeded to have numerous romantic relationships. He would always end them though once he could see that the ‘honeymoon phase’ was over. He also had a close relationship with his sister and her family, so he never felt any want for not having his own children or grandchildren. In short, he had a happy and relatively uneventful life and at the ripe old age of 92 he had the good fortune to pass away peacefully and painlessly in his sleep.
After a time he found himself on the summit of a beautiful snow covered mountain. He was naked except for a loincloth, and his body looked the way it had when he was about thirty. He wasn’t cold however and found that he was filled with a deep peace and detachment. As his mind marveled at this astonishing chain of events he suddenly realized that he wasn’t alone. There seated on a boulder in meditative posture was an old man with a long beard who was also only clothed in a loincloth. The old man smiled at Justin who asked him, “Is this a dream?”
“No,” said the old man, “Actually, symbolically speaking you are on the mental plane. That’s why you feel so calm. Given that you passed away peacefully in your sleep and that you were more or less at peace with your life, your consciousness was able to rise here initially.”
“Passed away? You mean I’m dead?”
“Yes my son, you are dead.”
“So, is this heaven?”
“That depends on what you mean by heaven. As I said this is the mental plane. However, now that your vital being is free of the shackles of your old and frail physical body, it will soon feel the pull to gratify its old desires and habits. So you will have to go down to the vital plane where you will go through the process of letting go of your desires as well as working off some of your karma. Once you’ve gone through both of these processes your consciousness will be able to rise to the mental plane again and beyond.
As the old man finished Justin felt himself filled with a nameless gnawing craving and the sky rapidly began to darken.
“It’s begun,” the old man said as he leaped from the boulder as nimbly as a doe. “Stay calm. You’re only making the transition to the vital plane. Just take my hand.”
Justin did so and everything around them became darker and darker until they were in complete blackness. Though he could see nothing, he had a strong sense of moving. It was a bit unsettling but he could feel the old man’s hand and that made him feel better.
Then quite abruptly he found himself with the old man floating in the sky above a quite normal looking middle class suburb.
“This is your first stop on the vital plane,” the old man said, “And that nice white house with the light blue trim over there is your house. Let’s go inside shall we?”
Then they descended and passed through the roof of the house, and then though the first floor to the ground floor. Justin found the whole thing a little disorienting. Feeling a bit giddy he slowly looked around the room until his eyes reached the couch, and his giddiness abruptly changed into horror.
“Oh my God,” he said, “It…it can’t be!”
But it was. There seated on the couch and looking every bit as unenthusiastic about the situation as himself was Lucille.
Anxious for an explanation Justin turned towards the old man and his horror now changed to incredulity as he realized the old man had changed into Shiva. Then in a lightning flash of understanding, his mind put it all together.
Tiruvannamalai. Shiva temple. Justine and Lucille Forever.
“But…but,” he stammered, “We were just kids we didn’t know what we were doing!”
Indeed,” spoke Shiva, “You humans rarely know or understand the consequences of what you do. Unfortunately however this does not exempt you from the fruits of your actions.”
“But…but…you said this was just my first stop.”
“And I spoke the truth,” Shiva said, “But time is different here on the vital plane. So don’t worry. It won’t be forever. It might seem like it though.”
Still reeling, Justin turned to look at Lucille who had started to cry. Speechless he turned back to Shiva who spoke again.
“You see Justin it wasn’t love that failed you, but your inability to overcome your own egoism. When you defaced my temple you two inadvertently called upon yourselves the task of rising above your smallness and finding the secret of eternal love. And since you failed to do it on the physical plane you must now do it here on the vital plane where it will take considerably longer and be exceedingly more difficult. On the physical plane the limitations of your physical bodies served as a check on your vital beings’ behavior. Here you have no such protection. In addition, as you will no doubt discover, you cannot inflict lasting harm on your vital sheathes in the same way that you can on a physical body. So you will find yourselves wallowing in even greater abysms of littleness than those you plumbed on the physical plane.”
Upon hearing this, Lucille started to downright wail and Justin himself felt tears coming to his eyes. With a choked voice he asked Shiva, “But what do you mean by eternal love? How are we supposed to find it?”
“Well,” said Shiva, “Ultimately the secret is to learn to love God only, and to love all things as God and God in all things. So your task is to find and love God in each other. Along the way you will have to overcome the ‘ugliness’ as you call it, and become completely unselfish with one another, always putting the needs of the other’s soul before your own. It’s a difficult task, but you will have my help since your actions at the temple called me into your relationship as well. And I am the destroyer am I not? So my power will be here to help you to crush your egoism. That being so, there is no need to despair. All things serve the One’s great hands, and in truth you two have been granted a great opportunity. Through this process you two will start on the road back to the Divine, and it will help you to eventually find eternal love on the physical plane as well which is where you ultimately need to find it.”
Then Shiva paused, and Justin could hear that Lucille had stopped crying for the most part and was listening as well. Despite Shiva’s encouraging words he felt a sheer animal panic rising up to take possession of him as his mind went back to the horror of the last months of their marriage. During that time the last vestiges of their restraint with one another had vanished leaving them seemingly powerless before the ugliness. The thought of being that powerless again was almost more than he could bear. Pleadingly he looked at Shiva hoping for some consolation and the god again spoke.
“At this moment you most pressing need is to cultivate forgiveness and to let go of the resentments you are harboring for the wrongs that you inflicted upon one another. Once that is accomplished then things will be easier.”
Shiva paused again and Justin felt arise within his breast a burning bitter indignation mixed with a strain of almost pure hatred which adamantly denied any possibility of forgiveness. He clenched his fists and ground his teeth as the intensity of the feelings grew. It took possession of his mind which began to dredge up material from a long list of unpardoned grievances in order to justify its obstinate refusal to forgive. Then Shiva spoke one last time and the sound of his voice brought Justin back to his senses.
“I know that the task of overcoming yourselves seems impossible, but it is not. Before I go I have a parting gift for you which you will no doubt find helpful. I would like to point out however that unlike the characters in this play you two do have a way out.”
Shiva handed Justin a book. The title of the book was No Exit and it had been written by a guy he had never heard of named Jean-Paul Satre. Then with a smile of perfect serenity Shiva vanished and they were alone.
For a few moments there was silence. Inside himself Justin could still feel the smoldering resentment, and he could sense Lucille’s ill will as well. Then he felt her anger suddenly swell and crash into him like a tidal wave accompanied by an outflow of angry words. “You and your bright ideas,” she proclaimed bitterly, “This is all your fault!”
Justin tried not to react, but then seemingly against his will the smoldering embers of resentment ignited in a flame of pure rage that wanted to tear Lucille limb from limb. He had always successfully resisted that impulse, and had never even so much as slapped her during their marriage. But he remembered Shiva’s words and the knowledge that he couldn’t permanently hurt her dispersed all restraint. He turned around and when his eyes met hers Lucille saw immediately what he intended to do, and Justin saw her become afraid. But then something in her rose to the challenge, and her rancor took possession of her as well. For a moment they stared each other down, and then with battle cries of merciless savages they leapt at one another and commenced to vent their long restrained fury.
Meanwhile however, from their deepest within, their souls smiled at each other and chose to lead silently.