Heather was wounded in battle. I met her at the Veterans Hospital in La Jolla atop a scenic mountain during my medical school rotation. She was given the diagnosis of Phantom Limb Pain. Since her amputation six years before, she felt rocks crawling up her non-existent leg. She stayed up at nights scratching emptiness. All medical treatments had failed. She was now battling addiction to pain medications as well as an unhealed stump, a dead end constantly reminding her of roads that could have been.
Friendship is born in moments of shared pain. I was experiencing severe depression, in part caused by the exile from Iran, my country of birth, a place once home. I walked a path doctors are told to avoid: I confided in her my own phantom pains. The two of us were scarred soldiers of circumstance, one physical, the other emotional, both unwittingly spiritual.
As a student of Kaballah (Jewish Mysticism,) I knew that a dark panther stalked the valley of our anxieties, reminding us that we were once One, part of something greater, now dislodged. We are separated from our mother, first from her body, then the cord. We spend our lives experiencing unions followed by necessary separations, bitter losses, each time the bird of longing humming a little louder.
No one expresses the yearning for the Beloved more profoundly that Rumi, the great Islamic mystic poet. At the start of his masterpiece he sings “Listen to the reed…” Rumi’s reed is a metaphor for the instrument cut from its bed, a symbol of human separation from the Straightener of the Bent. The reed wails, crying the most beautiful melodies, as it tells tales of tormented separation. The image of the lover madly in search of the Beloved is also vividly and sensually depicted in Solomon’s Song of Songs.
Our limited brains can only see one thing because of its opposite; Light can be seen over darkness, tomorrow known because of yesterday. God created this world with the act of separation, waters from land. On that second day, the Bible does not say “and God saw that it was good.” There is a sense of remorse over this necessary act of segregation so that we mortals can appreciate this garden. Oneness is good, but separation cannot be wholly good! Kaballah teaches that God’s Light shattered over the entire Universe. Then, God said to all of Creation “Let us make man in our image.” We have within us particles of God and star dust from across the universe. Mysticism, both Kaballah (Jewish version) and Sufism (Islamic version) insists that every atom was created by God so that we would understand Truth and Love. The universe is revealed through separation of time and space. But the secret to understanding the Truth is seeing the Light of Love, which unites. Once we disrobe of our ego, we see The Face of God, we are united with the Opener of Blind Eyes. Then, all is Love and Love is all.
Mystics engage in cleansing the soul of the ego by ritualistic fast, dance, prayer and meditation in order to betroth themselves to The Infinite. Once ego’s shell is cleaved, we tap into an inspired state which few of us achieve in peak moments, where prophets reside. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke also felt the connection and wrote for three days unhindered "the whole first part was written down in a single breathless act of obedience…without one word being doubtful or having to be changed."
No circumstance, no matter how difficult, can turn the lover from seeking the "Fashioner of Light,” for the proof is not in science, nor logic, but the phantom limb seeking its Body.
Losing a leg is unfathomable; losing a home, with all its childhood hiding places, traumatic. When we lose, we must strengthen the bind with what limbs remain, to that which we love. When we are one, there is so much love, the whole world seems bright; when we are divided, it seems so dark as if no one exists. Heather’s pain diminished with hug therapy, music, and prayer. I go on finding peace in healing those who have lost their health.
Sometimes, in the depth of dark, quiet nights, I still hear the sounds of the Shofar crying and retelling of the cruel act of separating a child from his mother to offer him as a sacrifice, even commanded by a voice thought to be God’s. On High Holidays, the Shofar reminds me of God’s longing for us, what Heschel called God in search of man.
Regardless of the color of skin or the direction of prayer, we all want the same thing: To reconnect to what is best in us and to The Supporter of the Fallen. In healing, as in all things, when the lover is ready, The Beloved appears.
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