THE BIRTH OF ABSENCE

By John Thomas Tuft

“It is hard to conceive of a feeling more powerful than that of being absolutely powerless,” said the woman in front of the room. “From it have come religions and messiahs, addictions, tyrants, ghosts, and fantasies of spiritual utopias. It may even explain why in the age of omnipresent social media, so many full-grown adults have retreated into the mindset of adolescence with its magical thinking and easily stoked outrage, ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups, fascination with their own bodies as compared to the bodies of others, and empty pledges of forever allegiances.” A hand shot up in the back of the room. “Who are you to judge?” asked a bright-eyed young man. “If you are feeling judged by these words,” she patiently responded, “then ask yourself if it is the truth of them that offends. If you are offended, so be it.” He persisted. “But how can being powerless have power?” She could feel the room lean forward at this. She smiled. And when Mama Pacita smiles, there’s no telling what might happen next. “In the same way that our lives culminate in the birth of absence,” she said in a whisper that reached the back row.

I leaned back in my seat to enjoy the show. I’ve seen Mama Pacita in action before. “Have you ever heard the legend of the Death Pareidolia?” she asked her interlocutor. He looked more than a little confused. “Through the ages human beings have tried to turn death into something other than the birth of absence. However, that’s all it is. The time that we absent our lives. Our feeling of powerlessness about the fact that our lives end gives birth to the Death Pareidolia.” She pronounced the word slowly, emphasizing each syllable of the word so that it took on its own shape and danced above her head like some Sun Wukong monkey god discovering he is in the hand of the Buddha. The audience immediately reached for their phones to check out Google Search, as are you if you are not familiar with Sun Wukong or pareidolia.

Mama Pacita gathered up the edges of her flowing Chiapaneco dress with flamenco ruffles and twirled about, making it flare outward in a riot of colors. “My wedding dress is a symbol of love, a set of feelings and behaviors we can see and experience,” she trilled in a high singsong voice, “and pay tribute to. But seeing Jesus in the paneling of an old closet door, that is pareidolia. There are no pictures of Jesus, but people swear they see him in burnt toast, cloud formations, cut fruit, in their dreams and near-death experiences. The fear of powerlessness has them structuring their imaginations in a way that they must make sense out of what makes no sense.”  The young man stood this time to speak his mind. “On this day of all days, we can certainly remember death and the experience of fear by everyone around us. All those people who died, they’ve gone somewhere. Their deaths mean something. Don’t they?”

Mama Pacita stood very still, her face growing sad, her voice quite quiet. “In the quoting of the death toll of 9/11, how often do they include the deaths of the 19 men who hijacked the planes? And why is one of the most often heard questions on the anniversary of this day, ‘Where were you?’ Our answers to those questions can tell us about our own Death Pareidolias. The amazing gifts of self-awareness, consciousness, and imagination; they can’t just come to a screeching end. Can they?” The air in the room shuddered in the light of Mama Pacita’s words. “If the most innocent child on one of those planes went to Paradise, didn’t they all go there?” No one sitting there in that room could look away from her as she continued, “If Osama Bin Laden perished from existence by the bullet of an American soldier, didn’t they all come to their end, to their birth of absence, on the occasion of 9/11?”

The young man jumped up again, shaking his fist and shouting, “You’re mad! Absolutely crazy! Unpatriotic! How dare you say such things?” Mama Pacita waited patiently for the uproar that joined him to settle. “Are you saying that your Death Pareidolias are the only ones? The ‘right’ ones? That your own sense of being powerless somehow entitles you to be the owner of what becomes of us at death? That what helps you not to feel so powerless is the only way to help people not feel powerless?” Now her hands were on her hips. “Wouldn’t that make you God?” She stared at him in utter expectation of an answer. “Are you God?” He spit out his petulant response. “You crazy old woman! Who are you?”

And as she wiped her hands on the beautiful colors of her wedding gown as though cleansing them of the stain of the hatred coming at her from those gathered to learn, she whispered two words. I don’t know if they heard them or not. So, if you were there and did not hear, I will repeat them. But only once. “Mother Peace.” She answered, “Mother Peace.”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.