I Woke Up Lightning on the Other Side of the Mirror

I remember my mother walking all around the house, in a hurry. She was carrying a bundle of blankets and towels. Outside, the rain was hitting the rooftop and streets hard. The noise of the rain is harder in the tropics. The cloud forests of El Salvador makes condensation of water stronger, producing thicker drops and more abundant rain falls. Against the symphonic canon of tropical rain, the dissonant thunder would strike to the core, evoking a primal fear that left at its wake religious women crossing their chests and clutching rosary beads.

For some of us, the flash of lightning that traveled like rivers of light through the night sky did more than evoke fear. It announced the shattering sunder of the ordinary. This night, like so many tropical nights outpouring water, light and stentor, I sat in the living room watching my mother going to all the mirrors in the house, covering them with cloth, to keep us safe. She was convinced that mirrors had the power to attract lightning. It was a simple and obvious matter of sympathetic magic: the reflection of lightning has the same properties as the emanation from a lightning bolt, and so the destructive power of one could be felt in the mirror. Transitive properties clearly applied.

I just sat there and watched the family dance. My mother covering mirrors, and the rest either securing all windows, doors, and leaks against the invasion of water, or unplugging electrical cables to protect us against the invasion of electrical surges. And so, protected against water, light, and magic, the night went on. The supernatural fear and awe, however, seemed unaffected by any barrier. As used as we were to tropical storms, we had not yet become rational enough to disregard the raw power of the gods of nature. The power of light and thunder still managed to reach us, even through all the protective barriers of glass windows, towels and rosary beads. Each thunder still made our core tremble, and something that had listened to the storm since before civilization, and reason, seemed to awaken little by little with each tremor.

Each lightning and thunder, a soul-quake.

That night, I overheard my sister tell my brother that she had heard from mama Juana that if you look at yourself in a mirror for too long, you will go insane. Was this the maddening power my mom was keeping at bay? Would a primordial spirit from the abyss awaken if the lightning struck? Would it also awake after being watched for too long?

I must have already had been mad. Why else would I do what I did? With the heart girthed tight by a panic fear, like a serpent around its pray, I slipped unnoticed to a remote room, one of the ones my mother had already protected with towels in the mirror. I told myself, I really did, out loud, that this was crazy and to go back to the safety of the blankets and the stories of the family. But I didn’t.

I went into the room, and opened the veil between me and my image. Removing the white blanket covering it, I saw myself. I stared into my image. I stayed there beyond the fluttering of heart and the crawling of skin. I stayed there, watching attentively, after I recognized the one looking back. After I saw the changes of the face, the demons and angels peeking back at me, I stared longer. I even stayed there after I clearly felt that I was the one behind the mirror staring out into a world of light and thunder, tearing apart all forms and worlds.

I felt as if I had just woken up from a long, long dream in which I had been many, many beings: man, woman, criminal, judge; where I had been a saint and a sinner.
A fish.
I had seen myself as daughter and mother.
Lover.
I was the betraying one and the one who cried in desperation, betrayed.
I had had many dreams and I had seen myself lost in all those dreams.
I got lost in all those worlds. Using myself in the dream. Identifying with the drama.

I remember myself collecting pieces of me, calling them my companions. Members of a group that searched for an idea, an illusion called reality. Futile enterprise. For nothing in that dream could be called reality.

There is only this room.
Only this mirror.
Only me and no other.

I am where I have always been and there is nothing else.
I have always remained in the here and now, even throughout all those changes of form and vision. Immersing myself into the hellish vistas of pain and unending suffering with the hope of forgetting the real world. Searching for heavenly spheres of life and peace and happiness; eternal happiness. Only…

Only to briefly be able to forget the stark reality of the here and now.
That here I was again, all alone.
Nowhere to go in this room called Reality.

 

The prayer of an atheist

I must have been seven years old when I received from my beloved father the first memory of the idea of God. It was my first religious teaching. Who knows from what recess of the soul came out this disquieting hunger to know about God, to find out if he was real and if I could talk with him?

My father did not respond with conclusions or definitions. He had been a born again Christian before I was born, on his way to be a preacher. Something must have happened to him, because by the time I was born, he didn’t let me be baptized. He didn’t baptize me Catholic, as the rest of my family would have done by default, nor raised me evangelical as the chosen religion of his early adulthood would have dictated. He decided that it had to be up to me to decide, whether or not to be baptized, whether or not I followed any kind of religious or spiritual path. Giving the soul true freedom, he never influenced me at all regarding any path or religion. But at this point in my life, when I had heard of God somewhere lost in the shadows of memory, I came to him to ask him if he knew about God; if He was real; and if it was possible to see him and talk to him.

I don’t think I ever met my father the Christian. I met the agnostic. I met the seeker. I met the communist. I met the drunk. I met the sweet story teller. In his later years, I also met the atheist.

When I came to him with that question, however, he didn’t respond as any of those things. Instead of a definitive answer, he proposed to me to teach me to pray. He taught me the Our Father. He had me sit up in bed, after I brushed my teeth and put on my pajamas. He clasped his hands, and I imitated. I lowered my head with my eyes closed, listening to something silent inside.

Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos–Our Father, who art in Heaven.” 

That was enough for the night. That was the first teaching, and then time to sleep. I asked for the rest, but he refused to give it to me. He smiled, and tucking me in, said, “Tomorrow, I will give you the second line.” I drifted to sleep with that sensation of having initiated a dialogue with God, and that he was in the heavens. The following night would bring the second phrase, and the declaration of my desire to sanctify His name. The third night, I asked for His kingdom to come to us, and the next night for his Will to be done here, where I prayed from, as it is already done in the higher planes.

Just like that, each night I went into the arms of Morpheus with a new verse on my lips, and with the gentle presence of my father. At the end of the prayer, after siglos y siglos and Amén, I asked him what this prayer was for, and what exactly happened when I declared it. With an amused smile, and before the obligatory wrestling match between Tarzan and Ultraman––or him and me if you were watching from the outside, he admonished me not to expect anything from this, neither to expect an answer or even to be heard.

“Let us just offer the prayer as a poem,” he said.