Empty Plates ~ Full Spirits

by Dawn Lamond

Listen to the story read by the author:

She stood in the doorway, taking in the rows of long, low slung tables that filled the large hall, and the cushions that flanked them. The same orange, reddish hued cloth with a faintly golden metallic sheen covered the tables and cushions alike. The lights had been turned down low and the air was heavy with the scent of life.

A ceremonial hush blanketed the space. Surprising, considering the number of people that were now filing in behind her. Each, she noticed, carried a full plate of food in their hands. And as she saw this, she realized that she did as well.

Everyone seemed to be naturally gravitating toward particular tables, homing in on their seat of choice. As she realized this the air parted before her, gently beckoning her forward in what felt like the next logical step, though there was no apparent logic to it. It just felt like the thing to do. The thing that was hers to do.

She took one step, and then another, following her own rhythm. And then she wondered where she was going? When she cast her gaze outward to find out, she realized she actually had no idea. On top of that, the impulse faded…no guidance, nothing. Just her, wondering where she was going, standing in a hall full of people moving all around her, focused on their own individual paths.

Only when she focused, once again curious about her own particular next step, did she know what it was. And so she took that step, and then the next that naturally followed. Quickly she discovered that she could just relax and go with the flow without worry about the final destination. Everything she needed to know for the now moment filled the now moment, and her with it. As long as she stayed there, both in body and in consciousness.

Shortly she found herself coming to a stop before a particular table. A particular cushion. Her cushion, she realized, of course! This was her seat! And so, she sat, and placed her plate in the space before her just as the man across the table from her did the same.

She did not know him, though in that moment she discovered she wanted to. He felt familiar somehow. Something about the way he carried himself, calm and assured yet boyishly handsome at the same time. His rhythm made her smile, and as she did, their eyes met.

No words were spoken – they were unnecessary. They sat that way for a long time, looking into each others eyes. And then he did something that surprised her. He reached over, took something from her plate, then placed it in his mouth and began to chew with obvious relish.

Her breath caught in her throat, and suddenly she felt very protective. It had all happened so fast! How dare he take from her! This was all she had. And yet, his eyes drew her in like golden lamplights, asking something of her. And, she now realized, offering the same.

Tentative, unsure but compelled all the same, she reached out and chose what looked to be a genuine treasure from his plate.

She paused, and her eyes flicked upward to his. She had half expected a stern look, or for her hand to be smacked away, but neither came. Instead, he calmly returned her gaze, and then smiled into her. A deep, beautiful smile that reached all the way to her heart.

Still unsure, but strengthened, wanting to see what would happen next, she withdrew her hand, his treasure gently held between her fingers. She raised the food to her lips, and closed her eyes as the smell of it took her.

Exotic was her first thought. This was new. This was unlike anything she had ever experienced, and yet familiar all at once. As she tasted and then ate, she became absorbed by the subtle layers of flavor the nuance of texture, so rich and delicate and new and right, now becoming a part of her.

When she finished, licking her fingers to get every last perfect little crumb, she suddenly felt self conscious at just how absorbed she had become in the experience. The whole world could have turned in the meantime.

Blushing, nervous, she looked up at the man and found him contentedly waiting for her, a warm smile coming to his lips. As their eyes met, she again felt herself drawn into the moment. Her boundaries, so carefully guarded all her life, lifted to allow this person to really know her, as she was coming to know him.

When he reached to her plate, it was her turn to smile at him. She felt no fear, she realized…just a warm, growing sense of kinship, an intimate sharing of self. She allowed him free access to experience of her whatever it was he desired. And as she did so, she realized that he had done the same for her, all along.

There were so many items on his plate she wanted to know, to become. All so precious. She gave herself over to the moment and ate, moving from one experience to the next, becoming richer by the second.

And then it came time to move. She hadn’t expected this. Surprise, then anger flashed through her. This was her seat, and she was sitting across from her partner. Copper fear filled her mouth, an undercurrent to the anger. This was all she knew!

Everyone was moving though. All around her, people were in motion. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she closed her eyes and checked inside. Her brow creased in a curious frown as she took stock and realized that her seat felt boring. And her partner, rich and wonderful as this experience had been, held nothing more on his plate of interest to her.

She opened her eyes and looked over to him, to see if he felt similarly. He smiled at her, a tender smile of deep connection of many years, and then stood. She found herself doing the same, plate in hand, faint anxiety still fluttering within her. And then he was gone, blending into the crowd, unhurriedly following his own footsteps to his next destination.

Anger, fear, frustration, a myriad of emotions flashed through her. If she could have stopped time right there, she would have. She needed to figure this out. She didn’t know anything else! What was she supposed to do? She felt naked and wide open and lost…how could she have ever allowed herself to become so vulnerable?

Tears began to course down her cheeks as people moved all around her. “What do I do?” she kept asking herself over and over. “I don’t know what to do. I’m scared. Someone show me, please…someone. Anyone! Please tell me what to do…”

She cast around frantically, dark eyes scanning the calm atmosphere. A dart of self-reproach lanced her heart as she realized she was apparently the only one here who didn’t know what to do. Self-recrimination followed, and tears fell onto her plate one by one.

Giving herself over to the moment, she cried, standing there unmoving with her plate in hand. She cried until there were no tears left to cry, and she felt numb, and empty…blank. Nothing left. And then she felt a brief, feather-soft touch. An impulse to move to the left. She did so…

“Nothing left to lose,” she thought to herself, memories rising of the wonderful place she had been, and the unknown that gaped before her. The impulse faded, and she stopped moving two steps to the left of where she had started.

Irritation welled, sadness, fear, self-loathing, irritation again…all of them vying for a place as she stood there, unmoving, wrestling with herself, stuck trying to figure things out by looking back into the past, and forward into the future.

Again she tired herself out, more quickly this time, until her mind was spinning on neutral and she was just watching, experiencing. And then came the flutter again! So irritatingly soft and quiet she could barely make it out.

Pouncing on it, trying to wrestle it to the ground in her mind, she lost it all together. Silence was the key, she realized… Breathing, staring straight ahead and relaxing as much as she could, she settled into the moment.

And there came the feather light touch again! Joy flashed through her and the signal settled into stronger clarity, then wavered again as she tried to grab hold of it. “Okay,” she thought to herself. “Relaxed silence.”

Taking another breath, relaxing herself, the feather light touch again. And there, again, to the left another few steps. She experienced a quick relearning not to look where she was going, but to just be in the moment. And then there it was again. Her heart thrilled! How could she have missed this? The next step for her to take was so obviously laid out, clear as day!

Wiping her eyes, taking a deep breath, she followed her own path where it led. Another seat. Another table. Another person. Another meal, and then again another friendly parting. She understood much more now, and she continued to visit new seats and new people until her plate was entirely empty – as was everyone elses.

Following the step in front of her, she realized that she could now look around while still keeping a feather light touch of awareness on what came next. She was getting good at this! As she walked to the front of the hall with everyone else, she took in the look of them.

At first glance, everyone looked pretty much the same – the glowing golden softness that she too now possessed, she realized. And yet as she met people’s gazes and they smiled into each others’ eyes in turn, she realized they were all so gloriously different.

Content, feeling warm and satisfied, she followed her steps and made her way to the front of the hall to where the empty plates were being collected. And there, as she handed her plate to a particularly beautiful woman, a woman so bright it was difficult to look at her straight on, she saw the figure crouched to one side of the doorway.

Diminished, was her first thought… Thin, grey, lifeless, terrified, dark, lost, alone, fear came off this person in waves. And yet, she recognized herself in them. The fear that she had felt, not long before. And her heart ached…

“Who is that?” she whispered to the glowing woman who had taken her plate.

“That,” the woman said, in a lilting, tender tone, “is a golem. They have been here for a long time.”

“A golem?” she said, looking at the pitiful grey figure crouched so protectively over a plate of shriveled, rotting food. She shivered, realizing that if she had followed her own fear impulses, she would have been crouched there too…lost in her own hell world.

“Will she ever wake up?” she asked the glowing woman, suddenly needing to know.

“Eventually, yes,” came the reply. “Eventually, everyone does.”

Copyright © 2012. Permission is granted to copy and redistribute this article on the condition that the content remains complete and intact, full credit is given to the author(s), and that it is distributed freely.

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