So here we are way up high in India where centuries of history buzz like bees. One day, when the sun has just risen over the peaks opposite, the birds crazy with joy, I am drinking coffee, which grows right on this farm by the way, hot and up high both. So happy in a chair on the porch, my wife too here with her hot drink. Our daughter with us, four and three-quarters years old. She is quiet a long time, perched on the stone wall above the misty big valley. Finally she says, “The world can’t go on forever because I can’t count forever. One, two, three, four, five, six. See . . . I would die first.”
She is quiet again. Then she turns to me and asks, “What is nothing?” I am, of course, dumbfounded. I have said nothing helpful yet, and she adds, “There can’t be nothing because,” she shrugs, “there would always be something.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. So there’s the problem, isn’t it? The world can’t go on forever, nor can it stop. We can’t wrap our minds around either of these. We are quiet some more this misty morning. I have a Ph.D. in philosophy, but I am of no use to my young daughter. Unless perhaps my awe can serve as raw fuel for her process. She is looking over the valley. I am looking at her.
Before long, she turns to us grinning. “Oh, I know,” she says. “The world goes in a circle. When it comes to an end, a new one appears.” She jumps down from the wall, “Write it down, Baba! Let’s put it in a newspaper and show the whole neighborhood.” She runs inside. She wants toast now, milk.
We can’t conceive forever in a straight line. But round and round, okay. And why not? In a circle there’s nowhere to get off. The sun rises and sets every day. We sleep wake sleep wake and for all we know when we are very young, this is how it will always be. Indeed, even all grown up, we are hard pressed, most of us, to believe, really, that we will die. I am still stunned that my mother actually did take her last breath, that there can be such a thing. It’s as miraclous as the baby’s first, isn’t it?
Ring around the rosy. Pocket full of posies. Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down! This song is about the plague in Europe. Children of Vashon Island taught us to add this verse: Cows are in the meadow, eating buttercups. Raindrops, raindrops, we all jump up! Round and round and round in a circle holding hands. Down and up again, down and up, down and up in the grass. We never tire. No wonder my daughter has Hindu sensibilities.
So. India Blue (for that is her name) has solved her morning problem, she has come to terms with eternity and taken her Daddy along for the ride. I may never claim to be a professor again, and our water has stopped running. I am off to find Prakash for help. Though I like to think I’m important, I am perhaps mostly an errand boy. I find Chitendra who he says he will go fix the water, so I steal a moment to explore the forest above the cows. We are desperate for rain these days, I was told just yesterday by the old sage who owns this land. He was talking to me of eternal recurrence, as a matter of fact, of this age of darkness, this Kaliyuga, and how it will, like every age, like every season, like every life, end and give way to another. Today, though, there is danger of fire.
I hike above the trees and there sure enough is a burnt field. Crisp dead ferns and charred stumps. The ground is black. I feel sad but self-conscious about it. For all I know this fire is exactly right and there is nothing to be sad about. India has always had a humbling effect on me. You know the story the Buddha tells of the farmer whose son broke his leg? So there I am by myself on the charred mountaintop. I scan the sky for clouds, squat down to rest for a moment. There! And there and there. Everywhere I look, little caps of charred soil pushed aside by the coiled green heads of new ferns.
T Thomas Elliott lives on Vashon and teaches in Seattle. Everything Thomas has to say can be found on The Book of Storms.