We have made an agreement: I will pray to him every day without fail. It is part of the price of my healing. It is also part of the healing itself. So each morning I imagine myself in his hall, standing before him as he lays like a languid lion on his throne. Sometimes what I see and experience I have no control over, as though someone else were controlling the experience, or as though it were occurring in some shared, intersubjective space…just like normal waking life.
This morning I find myself outside the palisade that wards his hall. This is new, and I cannot seem to make it otherwise. The gate is locked. No one answers to my knocking. It is cold and dark in the predawn. Resigned, I set to clambering, haul myself with difficulty up over the timbers of the wall, carefully lift over the sharpened tops of the posts, then drop to the other side.
The courtyard is bare but for sheets of morning frost that crackle beneath my feet. I find the door to the hall. Smoke belches sullenly from near-spent fires, wafting from the building in desultory manner. The door creaks open at my touch.
Inside, the bodies of the einheriar are strewn about wildly. Laid low by drink and revelry, not battle. I recall that this is the 11th of November, a day of commemoration. Of course, therefore, they’ve had an especially big party last night. I pick my way through their sluggard forms, negotiate scattered furniture, feet scratching on hay-strewn floor.
There he is, sprawled, sleeping, on his throne. He has appeared in various forms to me recently, but today it is as his younger self, when he still had color in his beard; when he still had two eyes. One side of his mouth raises into a grin when he senses my approach.
“You again. Good that you’re here. We had some fun last night. More important, I have something to show you.”
He rises unsteadily from his repose, smells of sweat and swill. Shuffles across the floor, and I follow a safe distance behind. We come to a spiral of stone-cut stairs that drills down into the earth. He climbs down into the darkness and I follow.
The staircase winds in a wide radius. We descend, and descend, and descend into a vast chasm, totally black. It could be inside…or outside. There is no way of knowing. The stairs are wrapped around a massive column, its surface rough. I steady myself on it as I negotiate the treacherous stairs, and I realize that it is the trunk of a massive, almighty tree. I know which tree this is.
Our descent continues into infinity and darkness. Until our destination finds us. The staircase deposits us in a clearing in a forest. Even here, at the bottom of the great chasm, I cannot tell if I am inside or outside. Insects and birds make an eerie chorus.
In the center of the clearing he stands, leaning on his proverbial spear. And at the edge of the clearing I also see another of his clan, a warrior who stands, impassive, a tremendous horn slung over one shoulder as if ready to be blown in the face of the faintest glimmer of emergency.
Beside my guide there is a well, set in the heart of this grove. No, a spring, for it gently weeps liquid that pours out over the grass and soil and seeps down into the earth. The water has a strange clarity and motility. I know that it is living.
At his gesture I approach, stare at him from across the well. He dips a ladle into the waters.
“This water is the stuff of life. It is the essence of memory. Memory, the heart and meaning of all that is. This is the gushing source of time, and tide, history and anticipation. It heals all wounds. It can heal you. It can help you live in the present moment, in your own flesh, in your own breath. It can reveal to you the philosophical stone, the inner self inviolate, that none can harm or touch or weary. But you need to drink, and drink often, else, parched and lost, you’ll become isolated, dehydrated, lost in misery. You know this already.”
He raises the ladle to my lips. “What you need to know is this. Despite all your doubt, fear, resentment, distrust, hatred, pettiness, weakness, hypocrisy – I am always holding this ladle, filled with the waters of memory, to your lips. It is always there for you, a draught of memory perpetually hangs before your lips. You need but open your mouth and solace, healing, strength, hope are waiting for you. You are never alone.”
We stand there, the water before my open mouth. We both know the power of this message. For all beings are vessels for the flow of the waters. We live to give their irrepressible essence form and flushing life. The illusion of my isolation, my cold rejection and ejection from the world, is refuted by these waters. And here I stand, at their source, and he is telling me that the water is always right there for me to drink, no matter how determined I am to convince myself of my self-pitying separation.
When I open my eyes, finish my observances, I know that I have been given a powerful, powerful gift and reminder. One that must be renewed every day through prayer and dedication. Through reverence and memorialization of the sacred in all things. Through remembrance, all things are preserved in their beauty and immortality. Only the arbitrary, transient human consciousness forgets. Forgets, yes. But therefore, also: remembers.
My heart brims with shining water. I hail the lord of the hall that lies beyond. And I feel just the slightest intimation of knowing the essence of this and all days of remembrance, beyond even the ledgers of tragedy that fill the history books to bursting: Lest We Forget.