Halfway up the mountain I discovered love. I don’t mean that I fell in love. More like I fell into love.
I’d been fighting off a fever for a few days. And for greater background, I was in South Africa, where I’d been hired to write a guidebook to South Africa . The year was 1993, just as Apartheid was falling, Nelson Mandela was about to take power, and the country was about to open up massively to tourism. I was also working as a freelance journalist driving all over the southern African sub-continent covering stories on the political shenanigans of the various competing political factions all vying to get the biggest share they could of the new power structures to come. Fascinating stuff. Also dangerous. I’d logged many thousands of miles, had had several violent, directly life-threatening encounters, and – almost a year in – was exhausted. I’d felt a fever coming on for a week or so but had been fighting it off as one does when one has a mission to accomplish, knowing all the while that there will be a collapse at some point.
It came halfway up Table Mountain. Like a storm on the mountainside itself. We’ve all felt this, the sudden onset where a fever can no longer be resisted, when it overtakes you like the ocean. I and my two friends Priya and David– both medical students as it turned out – were perhaps two miles from the car, just at the point where the tree line became open fynbos heath– a thousand shades of silver, purple, shiny grey green and yellow. These tough, moorland plants – which by themselves comprise one of the world’s seven botanical Floral Kingdoms – grow all over the mountains of the Cape. One moment I was admiring them and watching a group of three little klipsringer antelope who, perched on rocks, were watching us back. Next moment, the three antelope, the colours of the upland shrubs, the mountainside itself broke suddenly apart and swirled into a vortex in shards and pieces before my bewildered eyes. My head was suddenly soft and porous, spinning with vertigo, I needed to get off this mountain. Now. But to get back down to where we had parked the car was steep, rocky, sometimes slick and muddily treacherous underfoot. Car, bed, please…I heard myself starting to mumble incoherently, trying not to shut my eyes, let my knees buckle and give in right there to the gathering storm.
My body, suddenly weightless, seemed to float, kite-like, on the wind, my legs like strings or guy ropes anchoring me to the ground. But for how long? Fortuitously, that was the exact moment when my friends, still unaware of my sudden condition, despite my inane mumblings, suggested we turn back, there not being enough daylight left to make the summit.
So we turned around and began the descent, me following them zombie-like mute.
The power of speech left me. But my legs still worked. Borrowed time, I could feel, but I would get down the mountain. Whatever happened after that would be, well, whatever happened.
And that was when I saw it.
Everything was love.
Everything around me. The rocks under my hands and feet. The trunks of the shrubs and trees. The flowers and grasses. The very air.
All composed of one element and one alone.
God is Love, said a voice in my head And Love is God.
I got it.
If God created everything, and God is love, then everything, all matter, all non-matter even, must therefore be composed of love. Every molecule of everything, every molecule of nothing, every atom within those molecules, every proton, neutron and buzzing, vibrating, dancing electron. Every quark and neutrino and all the other tiny micro-somethings that the physicists keep discovering as they go ever deeper into what is. The very clothes I was wearing, made from plant fibres and the oily fossilized remains of pre-Dinosaur forests – love. The mud slipping under my increasingly unsteady feet – love. My flesh, bone, organs, skin, hands, thoughts – all love. Just love.
But hold on, I thought, hovering above my body and watching myself stagger behind Priya and David as the trail levelled put to the lower slopes and we re-entered the deeper part of the forest, its hushed green stillness enveloping us in a cloak of peace, no – of, yes, love: What about evil, what about hate?
Ah yes, answered the same other voice as before, All those are just love too – love twisted by fear of some kind, love perverted from its true course, but love all the same, and eventually these tortured forms of love always unravel, un-knot themselves and return once more to their pure form,their source – love.
Once at the car, whose metal, the paint covering the metal itself, were composed, I realised of this same primal, original substance, love, Priya and David both looked at me as I swayed and tried to keep from falling. *Wow,” said David, “You really look like shit,”.
“I love you,” I answered, handing him the keys.
Nine days I lay, head swirling, then gradually clearing as the antibiotics – pure love in a pill – did their work on my body, itself composed of love, in the bed and room, also composed of love, nurtured by the loving care of my two medical student friends. I was only twenty-five. I realized that this was young to be given such a gift.
It never left me.
Ever since, everywhere, everything that passes across my experience, my attention, sustaining like the chicken soup my friend fed me as the fever gradually loosened its hold (yes, yes, chicken soup of the soul, the books of that title do indeed point at a fundamental truth); no matter what else, happy or otherwise, is going on in my life; all of it love,
Did I understand it exactly, then or now?
I’m comfortable in the mystery. Grateful for my lack of understanding. For with that comes wonder. And what ais wonder, what is mystery? Just another form of love.