Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bonded by blood.

Humans have long held a certain fascination with the concept of movement between different planes of existence.  Buddhist teachings and philosophical musings butt up against spaceships and looking glasses, but whether it be the fourth dimension or a galaxy far, far away, man wishes to see what he cannot, and be where he has not.

 He still desires the comfort of familiarity, though, which is why time machines and wormholes keep their handy tendency to reach in both directions. I haven't paid nearly enough attention in physics classes (or gotten deep enough into sci-fi) to lend much insight into the various theories surrounding it, but the idea of moving through worlds, like a swimmer gliding out beyond the shoals and into dark water, is one with which I can claim a great deal of familiarity.

This past weekend marked the thirteenth annual Rites of Passage BBQ, an event involving the members of this esteemed suspension crew and their friends. Two friends of mine invited me to join the party, and so, by hook and by crook, I found myself immersed in the biggest gathering of modified people I'd found since the last time I swung by a tattoo convention. It felt good. It felt like home. The personalities I encountered were big and brash, playful and warm, and altogether welcoming to this outside insider. I spoke the language, but I didn't know the inside jokes or the shared stories that these old friends held between them. By the end of the weekend, though, it didn't matter. We'd all been drawn there to practice a ritual that, no matter where we called home or how we came to discover it, held a deep importance in our lives. Its origins lie buried in the ancient past, documented and studied and then altered to fit more easily and respectfully into a secular setting. Some people there had been practicing this rite for over a dozen years; some were there to experience it for their very first time. Some of us were heavily modified, with horns and facial tattoos and scars; some of us were totally unmarked. We all have our pasts, our present, and our futures ahead, traveling down very different paths towards strange and unknown destinations.

We all had one thing in common, though. We were all there to fly.

Body suspension is intensity personified. Pain is overcome, limits are met and then challenged, and gravity is banished in the face of pure will and ecstatic peace. Each individual responds differently to the process, and holds their own reasons for partaking. For me, suspension offers the ultimate catharsis. Working through the pain, pushing myself up the mountain then, once the summit is scaled and there's nowhere to go but down, staring up into the sun and deciding, "I can." Lifting my feet off the ground and surrendering to the pain, the pressure, and ultimately, the euphoria. Once I'm up there, nothing matters but that feeling. The oxygen coursing through my veins and smile stretched across my face are involuntary motions. Spinning, swinging, arms outstretched and head thrown back - flying, above the ground, above everything. Arms outstretched to embrace this fleeting but oh-so-life-affirming feeling of freedom. I am one with all that is around me, weightless and effortless.  Not even gravity can bring me down.

If I believed in any gods, I'd have seen their faces in the trees that day.

Back on terra firma, I was overwhelmed by the kindness and support given to me by the rest of the group. A palpable sense of joy, of love, even, filtered through the sun-dappled leaves and settled around the gathering. Everyone was smiling, hugging, trading jokes and smirks. Everyone looked peaceful and happy, secure in themselves and the events transpiring. The blood seemed natural, stripped of negative connotations and presented as the life-giving liquid we all share. I saw so many people smiling as they were pulled skyward by intricately tied ropes and pulleys. It felt good. It felt like home.

The next day, a group of us went out for breakfast to begin our slow but inevitable goodbyes. We crowded into the tiny cafe, made our orders, and spread out across the small tables, being sure to add that extra ounce of politeness to our every move to reassure the regulars. It didn't work, though; it never works. As I sat there noshing on a waffle and observing the scene unfolding around me, I saw the looks we were drawing from the other patrons. Their expressions ranged from benign curiosity to outright disgust, and as always, it took me a moment to understand their reaction. I looked around at our group, with our long hair and mohawks and facial tattoos and stretched lobes and lip piercings and bandaged limbs. I felt the medical tape shifting around on my back, the dried blood sticking to its gauze. For a moment, I saw us as they saw us.

Then I heard a familiar voice speaking. I looked up to see one of our number engaged in conversation with two elderly women. The snippets I heard conveyed a pleasant if cautious exchange about who we were, what we were doing there, and why we choose to do such things. At the end, they seemed placated, excitedly chattering amongst themselves and sharing their findings with their friends. Our friend looked back at our inquisitive faces, shrugged, and said, "They asked politely, so I gave them a polite answer."

That says it all, really. Moving from the safety of the bay out into open water seems like a frightening prospect to most, but it's got its rewards, too.

Come on in, the water's fine.

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