I forgot to take a photo. I’m kicking myself. I had an actual Maasai elder in my home, staying here, sharing his wisdom and worldview, and I forgot to take a photograph of him in his resplendent native dress, the familiar red fabric pieces wrapped around his body.
This morning we all got up at sunrise—me, my son, the Maasai elder, and Tanya, a friend from college who is the reason he is here—so Sululu could bless our home, ourselves. As he reached his hands down to place them on my son’s head, I had the sensation of eternity opening up in front of me: centuries of men lifting boys to men, the rich connection of generation to generation, a line drawn from here to there and all the way to beyond.
Zack was sitting on a piece of the red fabric that makes up Sululu’s clothes, and after the prayer, Sululu gave the fabric to Zack, and told him to carry it with him and let it bring him strength and support. Zack nodded, paying attention very hard, listening with his most serious ears. He knew Sululu was telling him something that mattered.
“Your son, he is very spiritual,” said Sululu to me the night before. Yes, yes, he is, I agreed. And shared with Sululu some of the stories of Zack’s “hotline to God,” as I call it, the moments when he was clearly seeing something big and divine in the room with us, as I made dinner or paid the bills or some other quotidian task.
Once, I was showing Zack YouTube videos of the Sufi dancers, explaining that the “whirling dervishes” spin and spin to fall into a trance, doing a dance called the fare, or “the perfect,” and that they do this in order to get close to god, to become one with all of mankind and be nothing but love.
“But I already am that,” he said, staring me plain in the face. And goosebumps lit a trail up my arms and met at the back of my neck.
“I know honey,” I said. “But the hard part is that we forget. We have distractions like work and video games, and we get pulled away from knowing this.”
“Like when you are yelling at me?” he asked, back to just a regular kid, his glimpse into eternity shuttered momentarily as I take him into my arms, laughing.
It’s been a few weeks of these kinds of moments for me, the unknowable unfolding. Sitting on the bus in India, with my head pressed against the window, people zooming by on motorcycles, clutching their saris or goats as they go. I suddenly hear so clearly in my own head, “You are fine. How could you ever think otherwise? You are lucky, and strong and true. Everything is as it should be, all the time.”
Standing in the kitchen talking to my friend, Tanya, a sociologist and anthropologist, a Ph.D. who found herself in Africa—and then found herself in Africa. We were close friends in college and walked off into different worlds—as I built a big, sparkly career for myself in the city, the city where her father had made his name as a big ad man, part of the reason she was moved to choose another venue. In the kitchen it becomes again so clear our work has shared goals: to heal, to understand, to connect people to the divine in themselves, in others, to be able to carry pain with grace, to get better at finding the love and the communities that will heal us. It feels amazing to be standing in the same river with her, though we’ve been halfway around the world from each other for decades.
Sululu’s stories of the Maasai community are mesmerizing to me, the ways in which no one is ever alone, and each person is given a mentor with whom to share the secrets and pains that could not be shared with parents. Uncles are also your fathers; the community elders sit and ponder problems that are pulling on one or more in their tribe. No one is expected to do or solve anything alone.
I moved to Garrison out of an urge to be part of a community. Ironic given the fact that I am surrounded by woods, my nearest neighbor a few acres away. But the intention I find here is magnificent. I intentionally run into and talk to and invite over friends and guests and visitors, rather than being constantly surrounded by people who are hurrying by me. I have open gates and open doors, dogs and people streaming in and out on the busiest days, which happened when Sululu was here.
“Your house, it is open,” he said. And he wasn’t referring to the doors. “Yes,” I said. “It was important to me to be this way.” He nodded and said, “This is good.” And I felt blessed.
When Tanya and Sululu were here, we talked about villages and traditional life and the pull of modernity and what it is we lose when we separate ourselves from others. This is all part of Tanya’s book, Time is Cows, wherein she shares all the Maasai taught her and showed her, because she wanted to know them, live like them.
It’s been a big couple of weeks here, with the world knocking on my door and taking me by the hand and leading me places.
But the most interesting sensation of all is that it’s all felt like I’m heading home.
India wasn’t “life-changing” because I have been living a life where I’ve been trying to get to the quiet truth at the center of our busybusybusy lives filled with want and regret. It was “life-affirming” because it showed me all the work I’ve been doing to find my quiet and certain center is in fact leading me toward my own wisdom and my peace.
Faith. Such a wisp of a word to capture something so impossibly huge.
Thank you Tanya, and Sululu, for bringing to us what you live and know. It’s always an honor to stand in someone’s heartspace, shake hands and say, ‘Yes, this, it is precious. All of it.’