Friday, June 10, 2011

No Fear

“Old age means that one is close to death. I am in an old body and you are in a young body, but death may come at any moment for either of us. So we are both old.” [paraphrased quote by Srila Prabhupad]

When I was 17, I moved out for the first time to attend the University of Hawaii in Hilo. Sometime that spring, a flash flood hit the city – 11 inches of rain fell within 24 hours. Wainaku River swelled to a furious rage of white water.

A day or two later, the sun emerged with a vengeance. The River calmed and I innocently yearned to go swimming along with my friends.


In the laundromat, I wait for my clothes to finish drying amidst ten other whirring dryers. I feel like I’m IN a dryer - I feel woozy with the waves of heat. Only a couple blocks away, I know that Wainaku River is flowing cool and clean and fresh.

When at last I finish, I walk down the street and spot my friend Kishori. “Hey!” I call out. “Let’s go swim in the river!”

“Let’s!” she calls back. We don our swimsuits and head toward the river, singing, our hair down.

We jump in the crystal clear water with exhilarated shouts. Kishori crosses the river and I follow suit. Despite my strong stroke, the current sweeps me down the river with surprising strength. Panic flutters through my chest, but I quell it when my fingers find purchase on some rock. I climb up on a small rock island in the middle of the river.

Kishori seems miles away. I should swim to the close bank, get on land, and stop the day’s swimming. The river is too wild.

Or I could swim my way up to Kishori.

Come on, what’s adventure without the fear factor?

I choose the latter.

As soon as I slide in, the river clamps around me in a vice and my hands scramble for a hold. I never find it. I still face upstream – I turn my head and realize I am being carried into the jaws of a frothing white rapid.

I am powerless. My scream is cut off when the river thrusts me into the raging chaos, shoving water into my ears, nose, and mouth. I tumble and tumble.

I struggle for air. The current pushes me through a narrow, violent canal of white water. When I gasp for air at last, sheer terror runs through me because I know what’s coming: I see only a void ahead. And I hear an even greater roar than the river.

The Waterfall.

In these moments, I look Death in the face.

Suspended moments… falling… water pounds me from every side and I plunge 15 feet. The power from the falls shove me to the very bottom of the river floor – 15 feet or more – and my knees scrape the rocks.

The river keeps pulling me.

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Anything for air. I shoot for the surface, my lungs burning, my hair wrapped around my head.

I surface, choking.

But it’s not that when I reach the surface I can breathe. I’ve swallowed so much water all I can do is choke. I suck in only a sliver of air before the river pushes me under another side waterfall, which forces me under again, water in my mouth. I fight for the surface. I fight for air. Another waterfall ahead. This time I instinctively swim away from it, choking… can’t breathe…

The river loosens its chokehold and calms, still carrying me in overwhelming currents.

I spot the island that divides the river in two up ahead, and I weakly kick my way towards the massive, steep black rocks. If I don’t make it, I don’t know what will happen to me. I could be carried further down the river, down more waterfalls… into the ocean.

I grasp ahold of the rocks.

I can’t climb out. I can’t think. I can’t respond to Kishori’s screams, “Bhakti! Bhakti!!”

I can only cling to the rocks with my weak grasp. And only one whisper comes out of my mouth, over and over and over again. I don’t know what I’m saying, I don’t know where it comes from, the name just comes: “Krishna. Krishna. Krishna.”

My religion is stripped away from me. I do not think of a blue boy with a flute. I do not think of festivals or saris or temples or scriptures or people or places… nothing.

Even when the current picks up again and plasters me to the rocks, I can’t think, I can only hold on and say that name over and over again: “Krishna. Krishna. Krishna.”

Kishori is in a panic. She jumps into the river and swims to the island. I have climbed out by now and sit in the sun, eyes closed, and the heat of the black rocks warms my shivering skin.

When Kishori reaches me I admit I’m shaken, but I play it off. We warm in the sun awhile longer and I realize I still have to go to work.

Shakily, I swim the short distance to the shore, climb out and walk the rest of the way back. I head back to a friend’s house, get dressed, and hop on my bike. Life goes on.

But life doesn’t go on. At work, I wash my face with water and I realize I feel sick. I clock out. I lay down outside in the peaceful summer afternoon.

I begin to sob and sob. Scenes of water and rocks and feelings and no air flash through my mind and through my body. The fear washes through me in waves.

Why am I still alive? In one moment I could have hit my head, I could have swallowed too much water, I could have been carried further and further down the river, down more waterfalls, into the ocean...

What unnerved me the most was that I was not thinking of God in the midst of all that chaos, and I was definitely not thinking of a blue boy who plays the flute. Survival was my only instinct – just air. And yet if I had died in those moments, what would I have been thinking of?

That afternoon I had a crisis of faith that I have reflected upon for many years. I have come to a conclusion: I may have abandoned the holy name but the holy name never abandoned me.

Krishna is not Hindu or Christian or Muslim or Indian or this or that or this or that… Krishna is God, and He came for me when my mind was shattered.

Someone once asked Srila Prabhupad what he feels when he chants the holy name. Immediately he replied, “I feel no fear.”

I realize that I am old, so very old, because at any moment death may come for me. Yet I have nothing to fear, for the holy name is holding me in His arms.


Tulasi-Priya said...

Love this. Very powerful. Your craft supports the story wonderfully.

Vrndavana Vinodini dd said...

Thank you so much for sharing such a life-altering moment in your life. It certainly does demonstrate how much love the Holy names have for you. :)

Divya-prema Devi dasi said...

Beautiful, touching and divine :) Thank You for sharing Bhakti :)

Campaka said...

*Sob* Wow. My throat is choking up too. Thank for this.

Sharvinee said...

When I read this article, I felt whatever you were mentioning. Your article is so powerful. Making my soul good and touching.

You are a very good writer. I really appreciate your writing Bhaktiji. Thank you.

Vinod said...

Wow !! The writing is very powerful , I can see you bubbling up and down , being carried by the powerful current , and down the rapid as though it were a Hollywood Block Buster ! Regarding the thoughts at that moment .. you were not destined to die there is some great purpose or a calling which God has for you .

Regarding those those thoughts if you were to die ... It is mentioned in the B G that what ever you think of at the time of death that womb you will get .. so which womb would you have Got ? Deer, Frog or any being that lives in fear .Ha ha Ha Just Joking !!!!!!!!! -- Vinod Nair

To write is to dare the soul. So write.