November 26, 2014

First Autumn Rain

"Mitsos," my car, has that rare gift of making familiar things seem new. No matter how many times he's taken the same road home, he negotiates the dirt and gravel with a kind of joy. Like a horse headed back to his barn, he doesn't need anyone to steer him. But today was different, even for him.

This was not going to be an ordinary storm. A legion of small clouds, marshaled from the Peloponnesus, rushed across the eastern sky to reinforce the army of thunderheads massing on the northern horizon. From high in the western mountains of Corinth, a thin, gray mist approached at the run. Suddenly, the wind stood up and roared and lashed the branches of the pines and olive trees. The Lake took on the blue-gray patina of ancient bronze. Then, for a few moments, the world became still - as quiet as the last eight months of this long Greek summer.

Mitsos ambled along the shelf of mountain road, taking it all in stride, raising his nose to enjoy the sweet, fresh smell of the coming rain.

And then the cloud-cavalry charged. The vast black phalanx fell upon us with fire and thunder from the sea. Mitsos trembled with joy, waiting for the wild storm to wash over him and cleanse the months of dust from his body.

The rain came in slow, thick trickles at first. Thunder rumbled through the hills like war chariots and lightning lanced the earth. The clouds flung a torrent of dense, tiny drops that slashed the air and wailed through the trees.

Peering past the wipers, I could see only a vague outline of the path ahead. Mitsos, though, knew the way home. The rain had coaxed a delicious fragrance from the wild flowers, dust, and pinewood, and my steed seemed under the influence. He left the main road and clambered up the rutted path that led to his garage.

As we climbed, the rain ceased and the storm passed, pulling with it the thick gray curtain that had obscured the sun. Everything sparkled in the dazzling sunshine. Mitsos' bonnet gleamed with gemstone raindrops. He was happy to reach the garage, but he is not one to show relief. I got out, shut the car door, and leaned against the fender. My legs felt weak.

"So," said Mitsos, "This is your first big autumn rainstorm? So many years on your back and this is the first time you've been pelted with Greek autumn rain!"

"No," I said. "This is the second autumn rain. I was eight years old when I felt the first."

I lived in Eleusis then. Our family home was only a football field's length away from the Temple of Demeter. In those days the Temple was just a sand lot, unguarded, no boundaries. I used to play in those ancient, blazing, white ruins. I loved to climb the cracked steps, jump from the broken columns, and explore the underground galleries whose corridors led wherever my fantasies desired.

But one Autumn day back then the cloud-armies gathered and the sky began to turn dark. The white marbles turned iron-grey. Thunder roared and the lightning flashed and a sudden blast of wind swept a huge cloud of dust into the air. The tempest terrified me and I ran searching for a safe place to hide. Then the rain fell, striking me hard and sharp as darts. I ran into a cave I had not noticed before. I gulped for air. My heart pounded. Safe, I leaned against the side of the cave and looked out at the storm.

And then I heard a voice. It was clear and distinct, yet it seemed barely a whisper. Neither male nor female - but possibly both - it had a gentle but commanding authority. "Don't be afraid," it said. "Stay. Watch attentively what is going on around you. Watch nature: the wind, the rain, the lightning. Learn what a tempest really is."

I didn't know where the voice came from - whether it was from the depths of the cave, from the broken statues, from the core of my unconscious, or from some ancestor's guiding spirit. Again it spoke:

Gnothi se auton.

Learn who you are.
Where have you come from?
Where are you going?
Gnothi se auton.
What do you want to do?
What makes you happy or unhappy?
Gnothi se auton.
Be a seeker. A believer.
Find the way to enlightenment,
The way to freedom.
Gnothi se auton.
Nothing happens by chance.
For every phenomenon, there is an explanation.
Gnothi se auton."

So, Mitsos, thanks to my "first" autumn rain, the seed of learning that is in everyone was watered and it germinated. Since then, I've been consumed with a passion to learn about the Self. Just like our ancestors used to say: "Gnothi se auton." And now, Mitsos, I have to go into the house. I have work to do. I want to write to a friend who lives in the desert where, she says, there is a strange kind of rain that falls. It evaporates before it reaches the ground. The soil stays dry, as if it is trying to drink from a glass that has a hole in it.

So long, Mitsos. Get dry now. We'll talk again later.