A Story of Awe
In the autumn of 2002, needing new horizons, my wife and I left Montreal and the mindset of the times for a tiny village in the Pyrenees Mountains of France. Thirty or so houses perch there on a jutting point of land. It is an area of rough, wild hills lying below a mountainside of green oaks, where human days – far from the gravitational centre of the species: cities caught in trance – still unfold tranquilly, in a sort of blissful state of autism.
We lived frugally on our savings, without a car. Our days were spent outside, picking figs, munching on almonds and drinking Maury. We discovered this corner of the world with the same astonishment as our six-year-old son. My wife was pregnant with our second child, a girl. Every day, nature called to us. I often walked alone through the garrigue and the woods. I loved those wordless hours, plunged in the silence of my mind, listening to the voices of the wind and animals. At night, I wrote. Forgetting myself a bit more each day, I breathed in the world with the most delectably carefree spirit imaginable.
One spring night I awoke. Outside, the light of a dying crescent moon made no dent in the thick of night. My head still half-drunk with dreams, I had a sudden urge to take a nocturnal walk. I quickly left the village behind, lengthening my stride to follow a path through the hills. I was familiar with the path, which led to the rocky mountain range dominating the vicinity. I had followed its desultory twists and turns through the forest many time by day.
As I entered the woods, the moon’s glimmer through the leaves was just enough for me to distinguish my hands. A strange and crazy feeling arose in me, the desire to disappear mixed with the urgency of a rendezvous. Without stopping to think, I left the known path and went deep into the forest’s interior. In the darkness, I walked at a speed that now seems incredible. My feet flew, thwarting the impenetrable blackness, avoiding the hazard of stumps, the claws of bushes, the sharp surfaces of stones, threading rocky indentations, leaping over treacherous roots. An invisible force seemed to be directing my steps, guiding my improbable climb to the top of a granite peak.
At the summit, I collapsed, out of breath. Lying on my back, I heard the drumbeat of my heart. In the sky, stars throbbed. On my feet again, I looked to the East and saw the first quivers of day, that instant when the darkness is tinged with a barely visible blue. And out of nowhere and everywhere, a surreal murmur arose, a silent song predating all sound. The sound wave vibrated through everything, enfolding me and running through me before vanishing into the glimmers of dawn.
I let my mind wander, drinking in the joyous mayhem of the birds bathing in the first light of day, the immanent beauty of the sun. The world contains such harmony, such abundance that I could feel all my worries, my yearnings, my dreams and certainties drop away. My mind emptied of thought. I un-learned who I was.
An extraordinary feeling of peace flooded through me. I had touched the forgotten foundation of life itself. In a single instant, I understood everything that words could never convey. For the first time, I saw: I was at the centre of a miracle, connected to it. I knew then that for the rest of my life, nothing could shake this proof, apprehended so clearly on that hilltop.
At the top of that hill as the light broke, I experienced awe. I was born there. My body, my eyes, my mind opened. They would not close up again.