The days turned cold and the nights colder still. Frost drew its icy hand over the monastery, the forest, and the village. Ari Ara crept with trepidation around Shulen, haunted by what she had seen that night in the ravine. The Stone One stalked the monastery in a dark mood. Ari Ara rose at dawn for their training sessions cautiously and quietly. Shulen did not seem to notice. Perhaps he enjoyed a break from her regular impertinence. She responded to his suggestions attentively and found his explanations offered with patience. The urge to rail against his hard, stern ways subsided. Ari Ara didn’t have the heart for it; she had seen the Stone One cry.
The Old Monk Mountain’s bald head turned white with high altitude snows. One morning, Shulen slid back the door to her closet room and told her to get up quickly.
“Today you learn to dodge snowflakes.”
As the sky greyed over the mountains, he took her to the small field to the east of the monastery. Ari Ara’s breath hung on the air. The clouds thickened. A few flakes tumbled from the sky.
“Watch,” Shulen said gently.
He spread his arms and waited. A tiny snowflake wafted downward. Shulen turned delicately around it as it spiraled to the ground.
Ari Ara couldn’t help but smile. The Great Warrior . . . dodging snowflakes! A peal of delighted laughter rang out across the field as Shulen spun in a slow, languorous circle around the next flake. He grinned back at her and swiveled to move out of the path of another tiny white speck.
“Come, join me,” he invited. “My father taught me this, long ago.”
Ari Ara blinked. She could not imagine Shulen as a boy with a father who would teach him Azar among the swirling snow. The grey-haired Stone One wore a bittersweet expression as he reached out his hand to guide a flake to the frozen earth. He rolled over his left shoulder to avoid the next one.
Ari Ara joined him and soon discovered that it was far more difficult than Shulen made it appear. She could hardly see the tiny flakes – though they glared white against the black wool of her Fanten shepherdess cloak when they landed. The delicate lace of the snow was so lightweight that the back draft of her motions pulled the flakes toward her. They flipped and swooped in the slightest breath of air, catching her off guard. Ari Ara would have given it up for impossible if Shulen hadn’t been demonstrating it beside her.
They spun slowly in the almost silent hush of snow. Shulen spoke only once.
“You must be lighter than air and twice as sensitive. Move slow, even when they fall fast.”
It was strange and exhilarating. It was like the day among the leaves, but softer, subtler. She had to sense the presence of the nearly invisible flakes. At one moment, she felt the lift of the breeze and let it carry her along with the snow.
Then she saw it. The pattern snapped into alignment in her mind. Instead of moving away from the flakes, she tumbled with them, as part of them, maintaining her space within their dance, falling between them.
In the quiet, Shulen began to speak of the legends and myths of the old masters of Azar. There was a time when they spun through the world lighter and thicker than falling snowflakes. There were men and women, both, who could follow the Way Between with such grace and skill that they could fly on the wind and walk through walls. The followers of Azar danced on water and traveled through dreams. They could see into the future, turn invisible, and heal the dying with a single touch.
A true follower of Azar, Shulen murmured as he spun in the snow, could find the Way Between solid rock. In the driest peaks of the desert mountains, he or she could entice water to come singing out of stone.
He glanced at the child, whirling in the beauty of myths and snow, cheeks as red as her hair, blue-grey gaze seeing the masters of Azar in every swirl of wind. Her eyes shone with the stories of ancient times. Ari Ara’s grin curled across her face. A crack split in the Stone One, hair-thin, but irreparable. Without knowing it, she had found the Way Between the hard armor of Shulen’s heart.
The snow thickened. The wind kicked up. In seconds, both she and Shulen were covered with flakes. The temple bell rang out.
“Good work, kitten,” Shulen commented as they walked back down to the monastery. He let his hand fall on her head, giving her a pat of approval. “Even Emir Miresh never mastered the art of dancing the Way Between the Snow.”
Author/Activist Rivera Sun, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of The Way Between, The Dandelion Insurrection, Billionaire Buddha and Steam Drills, Treadmills, and Shooting Stars, the cohost of Love (and Revolution) Radio, and the co-initiator of Live Share Grow: A Movement for the 100%. She is a trainer and social media coordinator for Campaign Nonviolence and Pace e Bene. Sun attended the James Lawson Institute on Strategic Nonviolent Resistance in 2014 and her essays on social justice movements appear in Counterpunch, Truthout and Popular Resistance. www.riverasun.com