THE DESERT PT. 3: WADI RUM

November 11, 2011

Read the original here

by Alexander Holt

Rum is where God will make his final stand. Those grown too clever and content may have turned their back on Him, but He can point to Rum and say “Look what I have made.”

For when a mortal enters Rum, he is overcome by the sensation that this is a place not built on a human scale, but something much larger than him, eternal and omnipotent. He rides through a valley unending, and all around him the hand of God has pushed through, clawing up through the ground to create monuments to His greatness.  

A half a day passes by camel and one is still in the same valley, steadily aiming towards a hill, which will reveal another valley so sweeping it meets the horizon. Approaching those rocks of God’s hands reveals a once smooth surface worn away by the steady weeping upon it’s face: a dripping edifice, testament to the unrelenting forces that shape our world. Further south the rocks reveal a thousand lines, the patient counting by Him, an etch for each year, and there are millions of lines. 

The only thing ephemeral about this sanctuary is the human being forced to comprehend it. I would rise early and walk off until I could no longer see our camp- a far walk, indeed- and trudge along the desert floor, listening to my own hypnotic crunching steps, heading towards the sun. And then I would stop and hear… nothing. The sound of nothing. Not the sound of silence, for silence implies sound has stopped. No, it was the sound of nothing, and I cannot describe that sound, try as I may. It is something outside of time, a nothingness we shy away from for fear it will engulf us, and engulf it may well do.  

Time is proven merely a concept, a farce of the imaginations of shrewd men. You cannot make Nature bend to time in this place, instead Nature smashes the frail stilts of the pedestal upon which time once proudly stood. 

Time is sunrise in the east, and with it a gaping disparity of temperature between the sand in the sun versus that in the shade. The southern sun is one to hide from, and seek shelter under the shadow of a rock that shields you from the deadly rays. And the western sun is one to race against to reach camp, collect wood, and start a fire before the cold makes the body shiver. The moon, visible in the afternoon light rising in the east creates an epic light of its own after the sun leaves, illuminating the red sand a soft grey, but giving off no heat. In the early hours the moon too would retreat, briefly revealing a million stars, with some shooting across the sky. But soon the sun would engulf the stars with light and start out in the east anew. Time immovable. Time irrelevant. A day in infinity.

Rum is beyond comprehension because it is not of this world. And so our brains reached their limits of imagination and understanding, and we descended into our own minds. Here we faced ourselves without distraction. 

Of course we tried to distract ourselves with chat and singing songs, but purposely we had brought no iPods, no books; we wanted to see what would happen. Nick talked often of the fluffiness of his camel’s ears and I with how the formations of the rocks changed gradually as we headed south. We distracted ourselves to retain a modicum of what we understood, to stay sane in a place where humans are merely guests, but the rest of our minds wandered into deep caverns, those places hidden until a light illuminates. 

There’s nothing new in the desert. Just eternity. Those moments of profundity, which slapped at us like the wind in Rum, coming from nowhere and disappearing the same way, came from our own minds given the space to explore in a boundless refuge. What I found was overwhelming, like Rum itself. I was not overwhelmed by the meaning of what I found, but by its clarity. It was there before I entered Rum, I simply needed to find it.

And as I retreated from the desert, from the humbling austerity of Rum to the mindless splendor of Aqaba, so too did the clarity I so desperately wished to hang onto retreat once again back into a place concealed in my mind.