In 2007 the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing Mahatma Gandhi's birthday (October 2) as the "International Day of Non-Violence." The resolution highlights "the holistic nature and the continued relevance of the Mahatma's message for our times, indeed for all times to come. It encompasses the rejection of violence against oneself, against others, against other groups, against other societies and against nature."
We were in the dream, deeply, all of us abandoned to the dark and nervous landscape of nightmare.
There were so many of us, all strangers, all lost in what might have been a vast forest of ancient trees, their rough bark twisted with vines, or what might have been a great hall of smooth marble pillars, impassive as gods holding up the infinite ceiling of the night sky. Whatever it was, it was grand and tall and sweeping in every confused direction, and we bumped and stumbled together, low and frightened and half-blind. I was panicked, terrified, my heart pounding in my gut and my ears and in the soles of my feet. And in my hands, slick with sweat and fear, I gripped a sword.
The sword was long and thin, curving in to a point like a blade of grass. It shimmered a silvery blue, its hilt and edge etched with curling, spiraling abstract forms. It cast a pale light about it that bit into the night.
This was not the first time I held, in dream, a blade of moonlight in a dark wood. Years ago there had been a cabin on the edge of a forest, casting warm orange shadows long between the trees. And I had left that cabin to walk out into the darkness carrying nothing but a small knife carved, on one side, in the figure of the Christ outstretched on the cross, a sweet sad smile in his eyes, and on the other side, the triumphant, open and upraised arms of a woman strange and wild with leaves and flowers in her hair. The knife had burned with a cool, illuminating fire as I held it aloft to guide the way — not a weapon, but a star.
Now again, I held the blade in my hands, this time no small dagger but a great sword flaming blue and flickering as I turned and whirled at every startling sound. My terror rose as strangers around me floundered in the darkness.
But underneath my inexplicable panic was also the sure knowledge that fear connected all of us — like a current of feral power, weaving through the trembling flesh and white bones of our bodies. Everyone was a stranger, and there was real threat among us — but I could not see it, and surfacing through my own terror was a new fear that I might hurt an innocent by mistake. A snap of a twig behind me could set my reflexes moving in that instinctive flinch, and in a moment I could run the blade right through the meat of some unknowing, frightened being with wide-open eyes as fearful and confused as my own.
I held the sword above my head and closed my eyes against the busy, writhing dark.
"Stay back," I cried out, "I am very afraid, and I do not want to hurt you."
I tried to breathe deeply, listening to the calm unfolding within me, opening up inside the sloshing panic of nightmare and uncertainty. I breathed as I listened to the shuffling footsteps of those around me moving cautiously away. "I am very afraid," I said again, keeping my eyes shut, owning the interior darkness as it washed out in ripples. A noise behind me, and I almost flinched — but reined my body in like a nervous mare balking in the night, muscles bunching and tense beneath skin that was cold with barely-checked terror.
Then words rose up in a mantra from that inner dark. I began repeating them aloud, sword still held above my head. "Love is the law," I murmured, "And the whole of the law is love." My voice grew stronger as the quiet spread out around me and the dark unseen beings slowed their shuffling and scrambling over root and broken stone. "Love is the law, and the whole of the law is love," I said again. And again. "Love is the law, and the whole of the law is love."
A gentle movement behind me, and I felt the press of a warm body against mine — someone standing back against my back, their breath rasping and slowing, circling in on a center like a hawk slowly wheeling closer and closer to home. I continued to call out into the darkness, my eyes still shut: "Love is the law, and the whole of the law is love." Another voice joined mine, barely audible and quaking over every word. "Love is the law, and the whole of the law is love."
It seemed to go on forever, this mantra rolling over itself, tumbling out into the night among the thickly-growing trees. The hush and rustle of movement grew gentler and more cautious. Every once in a while, I thought I heard another voice joining my own. But still I was afraid of what panic might come rushing back to overtake me, and so I kept my eyes closed. I sought the soft and vulnerable interior of my dark, working heart.
And all the while, I held the hard, shimmering sword like a warning and a beacon above my head.
Just as the dream was ending and the dawn was brightening outside my window in the waking world — just as my breath was easing and my courage rising to meet my fear — I finally opened my eyes. All around me, strangers were clustered, arm linked in arm, backs pressed to backs, a warm, gently-swaying mass of bodies in the middle of night. Some of them listened with eyes still closed, others gazed around at one another wondering — the forest was stilled and the dawn was coming. Rippling through the small company was the growing understanding that we were all here, together, and whatever monster or nightmare had stalked the obscurity had finally gone. I saw in my hand the sword, the only weapon among us, faintly glowing and sharp as ever. In the dark, I could have become a monster, lashing out in panic, I could have killed and become the terror that in the confusion would have made these people enemies and killers, too. But the words were still rolling over me in a murmur echoed on the lips of others, "Love is the law, and the whole of the law is love...." I had held my fear as a light, and sought with closed eyes in my black heart the source and center of peace. The nightmare had passed, the war had not come, and I opened my eyes to discover the quiet stillness of the night was giving way to a sunrise among the trees. And the words were still rising, drawn from me like breath, a prayer unceasing.
Love is the law, and the whole of the law is love.
And then, I opened my eyes again.