Sleepless musings of a wandering heart…
They were going to a ball, but I did not know it. I had come from a ball, but they did not know it. St. Stephan’s Square was filled with a train of whistle-blowing, sign-wielding ball-goers, but to me they looked like nothing more than demonstrators. I did not know that they were going to protest the ball, and as I ambled into their gentle current, they did not know that I was not. My drunken legs unrested for more than a day, my merger with that crowd was less an act of will and more a factor of gravity, pulling my weak and stumbling self (a stubborn self that had insisted on wandering further) deep into the ranks of the Antifascistas. As I had streamed alongside them moments before, awash in the might of the oncoming deluge, I had noticed the signs. ‘Nazis Out of Parliament!’ read most of them, and I nodded, for who could disagree?
And the way they were going seemed to be mine after all, so I angled my rudder, turned my little ship, and met their course. Then slowly, diagonally, I was pulled in, became a part of the river that wound its way through the square, cutting a wide path through banks of cobblestone. And I walked, and I stumbled, and I smiled, and I wondered. I looked at the signs, at the faces of their carriers. I heard the voices shouting and those murmuring confidentially. They broke over me in waves, raining torrents of consonants and vowels upon my weary brain. The words crashed over me, dripping their tickling echoes as they went. They drove through me, electric, pulsating, and continued on, like specters through a wall, leaving their ache within me though the words themselves did not remain. ‘Erde’ crumbled into dust as soon as it hit. ‘Gelegenheit’ vanished before being recognized. ‘Wolken’ dissipated beyond my grasp.
I stumbled on, the cadence of my sways quiet remnants of half-remembered dance steps, the loop of a Viennese waltz still running uncontested in my thoughts and chasing toe with heel. I danced to a dead-man’s tune on feet barely fit to belong to the living. My smile was a remnant of events set into motion nearly 24 hours earlier, as I had journeyed toward a night of time travel and magic that would keep me ever-stepping into the current moment, now the current of the crowd, the crowd on its way to a ball, but not to dance. But these were things that I did not know.
The dragon chain leapt forward and spat its flames of polemic and vitriol, blew its smoke and reared its head, and I, a scale on its back, a link in that armor, was indistinguishable from the rest. Those that stood to the side would count me among them, would imagine my voice carrying with the rest when the time came to make them heard once and for all. We were being filmed and photographed by passersby, assessed and profiled by the rank and file of Vienna’s finest, secured behind their badges and their billy clubs.
I swayed, and with my legs went my body and even my conscious mind, and somehow, when my feet next came to rest, though it was only for a moment, I returned to myself and I knew where I was. I was an infiltrator, I was an imposter, and I alone knew it. The outsiders would not see me as one of their own, for I walked with the dragon, I flowed with the river. They could not have known that I understood nothing of the cause for which I inadvertently marched. And my perceived compatriots were none the wiser, eyes and minds focused on the might of mass that they were busy assembling. The police gloomed on my countenance as much as on those of the rest, and they waited for the moment when intervention would be necessary, fearing it, desiring it, or both. But I alone knew that I was not who they thought me to be. I was merely a traveler, trading the slow/quick steps of the tango for the rhythm of a makeshift drum beat somewhere in the distance ahead.
And I wondered at this fact, at this notion that all believed me to be known. For a moment I was ashamed and felt like a true imposter, one who would walk with these demonstrators, these dear creatures of activism, in hopes of being perceived as equally great and deserving of pride. How could I accept the praise in the eyes of those looking on, and how could I reject the scorn on the faces of some others? The reverence and the revulsion, they were not mine to own, not even the curiosity of children who had turned to look, a parent’s finger still clutched in one tiny hand.
And I despised my treachery, meant to leave and join a stream of my own, but a feeling had awoken within me, a memory of some lost emotion perceived only out of the corner of my heart, a knowledge that I was not who I appeared to be, that I had never been. The crowd that covered me, concealed my true nature, it was no different than any other guise worn before, although so many were donned without my knowledge or will. And the purpose of my rambling path itself grew clearer. That stroll beyond all reason, when body and mind beg for rest, but spirit wanders heedless of their wants or their needs. It is searching. It has always been searching. For Meaning, for Truth, for Life. For none of these things, perhaps. For a feeling only, for a moment itself, for a glimpse of true beauty, for that trembling glance that falls unexpectedly upon the pure and terrifying face of God, the piercing of recognition that catches the heart, that would pull it from my chest and send me tumbling into the end of all, though not in fear, no longer, but in bliss. It is the end of an aching, a longing silenced. The unwitting search over, to collapse from ecstasy, to die having touched the Universe and known, for that one brave instant, that every dream taken by surprise in waking, every glimpse and glimmer of something other, every cloud-whispered notion that filled my soul with the profound certainty that the hint of the beyond is truly just a hint, the harbinger of some greater force and destiny…and yet in that all-suspending blink, where death seems small price to pay for such life, to be restored, to fall back behind the veil and find the ground still solid and the sky still full of air-that is the blessed tragedy, for I live on and search again, not hopeless and not in vain, but secure in the knowledge that I have been there and have seen it, that I have died a thousand times, if only for a moment, and I have lived a thousand years in each slowed heartbeat.
What was the crowd around me then but a reminder? A catalyst that set my mind reeling? I emerged from the roaring waters confidently and happily, a faceless one after all, but only to those around me, for if one can lose oneself in a crowd, then surely one can find oneself there as well. And so I wandered on, the streets of Vienna sturdy underneath my sleeping feet, and the city held me up and told me where to go. It showed me beauty and darkness, grime and lights, and although I must say goodbye to this dear friend once again, I know that it will only be for a time, and that my search will bring me back here, and to many more wondrous places, to relive and reimagine and reawaken.