Dancing with Gravity – An Excerpt

They sat in silence as a trainer exercised one of the horses in the field below. Whiting watched as the animal circled its handler, then reversed direction. All at once he realized that both animal and human cast shadows. He looked over his shoulder to find the source of the illumination.

“Oh my God.” He turned to Nikolai with delight. “They’re bathed in moonlight!” He turned back to the scene with new pleasure.

“It is said that Gustav Mahler painted moonlight on his lover’s bedroom floor.”

Nikolai’s words held Whiting like a soft embrace. For a moment, both men were silent. Whiting took another drink and listened to Nikolai’s breathing, took in the smell and texture of his presence.

“The cicadas,” said Nikolai. “Their song is so mournful.”

Whiting listened to the sounds in the darkness that surrounded them. His chest constricted as if his heart was tender, exposed. He pressed two fingers to his chest to test for the soreness he was sure he’d find. “Why do you think it’s sad?”

“We see the world through the lens of our own hearts, Samuel. For me, sadness is never far away.”

Whiting leaned back in his chair and tried to slow his breathing. He was lightheaded, unsure of what was happening.

“You are noticeably silent. Am I being too personal?”

“No. Not at all.” Thousands of fireflies descended upon the field and signaled among the trees, the grass. Whiting had the sensation he was floating among them.

“And you? How do you see the world, Samuel?”

“People come to me when they’re sad, or worried. Outside of that, I am invisible.” He was surprised at his honesty, but once the words were out, he was glad he said them. That’s the first time I’ve ever told anyone how I really feel.

“Ah, the disappearing Shaman. I have heard stories about your tribe.” Nikolai filled their glasses. “High in the mountains of South America is a sect called the Monks of the Transformation. That’s the loose translation, anyway. Knowing about them will support, or undermine your faith.”

“How could they undermine my faith? The Catholic Church recognizes the concept of transformation.” He had meant to say transubstantiation but did not correct himself.

“These monks take disease from people and carry it for them.”

“Healers? Medicine men?”

“Spiritual masters. They remove suffering, take it upon themselves and carry it.”

“If that were true, your monks would be world renowned. There would be no disease.” Whiting felt woozy.

“There are not many of these monks. Only the most gifted among them attain this power. Besides, the magic is not just in taking the burden, but in learning to balance it, in learning not to die under the weight of it.” He glanced over at Whiting. “And at the end of their lives, they disappear.”

“So this is just a story?”

“Not at all. When the monks prepare to die they break up dishes, burn belongings, destroy their meager houses. Finally, when everything that could prove their existence on earth is gone, they go into a remote cave to die alone. They even brush the mouth of the cave with branches so they leave no footprints.”

“Why would they do such a thing?”

“Some say they view death as a failure, a source of shame. I think they do it so they can keep their burdens from escaping, even in death.”

“You see it as an expression of faith?”

“They try to end another’s suffering—as do you. It is heroic.”

Whiting let the silence stretch out between them. At last he spoke, his voice a whisper. “I have never done anything heroic.”

“I do not believe you.”