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There was an overgrown orchard behind the house where I grew up, and a couple of sandy hills. Then one day a bulldozer came in and flattened everything so that Hillside Junior High School could be built there instead. I was in the first class to "graduate" from this new school next door, which wasn't a bad place, as schools go. But I felt that I'd learned more from the hillside when it was covered with weeds and trees.

Wind, by Ruby Li Long
"Wind"
by Ruby Li Long

I spent a lot of time out there, much of it up in the branches of an old apple tree. Besides smelling a lot like heaven in the spring, the tree also provided ready snacks in fall, after I learned to bite around the worms. The best thing about it, though, was that in the summer the leaves were so thick that no one on the ground could see a kid in the top branches. This was important because my parents had a robust attitude toward work. They thought it would be good for me to weed flower beds, wash windows, rake the lawn, water the tomato plants, change kitty litter, and get used to a daily round of chores.

I thought not. I'd take a book and disappear. All I had to do to become invisible was to climb right up to the top of the tree, to a fork in the thinning trunk just strong enough to hold me. I slouched and read in my hidden nest, suspended between earth and sky.

When the wind blew, you can imagine what it felt like—the leaves fluttering and the branches moving, my seat tilting ever so slightly.

I concluded that the wind was God. It was just what everyone said God was—everywhere, but invisible, the unseen force that moved things. A Presence. A Power.

Maybe other children don't think about God much, but my parents were the liberally-religious sort; we debated the nature of God at the dining table. The subject was unavoidable. I never did tell them my Wind is God theory, though. I knew enough to know they'd probably laugh at it. Their beliefs were more respectable. But, for me, attending church, like school and work, was something I had to do, which automatically made most of what I heard seem dull.

As I grew older and presumably wiser, I kept my reverence for Wind. When I took Art History in college, I was lucky enough to be allowed to go into the inner rooms of the Metropolitan Museum, to open and study scrolls of Chinese landscape painting. The curve of the bamboos painted in them, the lift of the leaves, my professor told me, were meant to show the Ch'i, or life force, inside them. What I felt when I looked at them was wind lifting the branches, turning the leaves—wind Ch'i. I dabbled in yoga, and read about praan, the breath that gives all life. But what is that? Air. If the Universe were seen as a cosmos-sized body, according to an old Indian text, the praan of that body would be the wind.

And now I am a Hindu. I meditate on breath sometimes. I go to temples and participate in Vedic rituals with great joy—because they are what I choose to do. Occasionally, I sit on my back veranda and feel the wind, especially during the monsoon. As I sweat in the kitchen, I hear the breeze in the bamboo clump outside the window, soothing. I even have wind chimes strategically placed, so that I can hear them and be reminded that there are forces moving through this world. Larger forces than my annoyance with my family, my doubts over what to make for dinner, or whatever else may be bothering me—even if it's the utter frustration of staring at the computer screen when words just are not coming to me.

In the last few weeks, I've been thinking of Wind more and more because elections are going on in India. What's the connection? Well, it seems that every time I turn on the television or open a newspaper, some windbag is spouting, or a hurricane of hot air comes out. Perhaps Americans share some of that feeling as their country goes to the polls—though neither in the case of India nor America would anyone in their right mind suggest that the democratic process of elections is not a great blessing, despite this.

But elections seem to bring out the differences between people so sharply, especially differences of religion in a diverse society such as India. There are Hindus who claim that the government "panders" to minorities. There are Muslims who say they have been discriminated against. There are fundamentalists of every stripe who want to be heard, even if it means hurling a bomb in the midst of a crowd to make a loud enough noise. Increasingly, this can happen anywhere, anytime.

When that kind of thing happens, I wish they all would stop and go back to nature for a break. I'm reminded of a book that came out years ago. In it James McBride wrote about his remarkable mother, a woman who entered into an inter-racial marriage when such things were unheard of where she lived. Because he was black and she was white, McBride asked his mother what color God was. She told him, "The color of water," which is what he called his book.

The color of water, the shape of wind—if everyone thought of God in those terms and realized how far beyond human senses and ownership God must be, many of the feelings that divide us would be harmlessly blown away. Back to the basics, we should say, the true fundamentals—Earth supports us all; fire lights and warms us all; water sustains and purifies; air . . . air is the life of our life, the wind in our sails, the cool breeze on a summer day. Let's listen.

BIO: Lucinda Nelson Dhavan first went to India on a Fulbright Foundation grant, immediately after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College. Two years later, she married a struggling lawyer in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh. After several years devoted to domestic bliss, child rearing and learning Hindi, she joined the staff of a regional newspaper, where she worked for thirteen years. She feels she may have learned enough by now to write fiction. She is polishing a collection of short stories and working on a novel.
Her email is: ldhavan@yahoo.co.in.


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