“I rule over the whole world! I am a queen! I am beautiful! I rule over the whole world!”
The little girl prances into the hallway outside the doctor’s office where I stand. Her long ponytail swings energetically from its high perch on the top of her head. Circling the ponytail, as if it naturally belongs there, is a crown of plastic triangles glued to a ribbon.
“I am a queen!”
Seeing her father, who is waiting for her, the girl twirls on the toes of her sneakers and bows graciously.
“I am beautiful!” She spreads her arms wide, embracing all of existence.
The funny thing is, I believe her
“I rule over the whole world!” Her chin is pointed into the air, and her ponytail swishes from side to side, exuding supreme confidence.
The funny thing is, I realize later, I believe her. It’s not that I support this sneaker-clad, pink-sweatshirt-sporting, exuberant young girl in a despotic vision of absolute control. And it’s not only that I am thinking: Yes, reach for the stars, dream big, or that I am smiling down on her indulgently from the complacently jaded distance of adulthood.
It’s just that her claim is simply true.
As I walk home I wonder, why? Where does this literally inaccurate initial reaction come from? Certainly, her claims to authority are not true.
A week later, I am sitting on the edge of a cloud in Tzfat. First of all, it’s nothing I would ever have imagined sitting on a cloud would be. It isn’t at all soft or fluffy—cloudy comforts, I discover, that are more closely comparable to sitting on a down quilt than on a cloud. What this cloud is, is a chilling and enveloping mist that passes around me and through me, like I am not there. It curls close, catching in its web of water droplets first my thoughts, then my bones, then my being, leaving a small pile of dew in its wake.
I sense the energy in the world that is larger than me
And then, suddenly, I am not in it. I am standing on the side of the mountain that holds the city of Tzfat up to the sky, and the cloud is moving past me, bearing away like a ship across the spread of the horizon. It is chased by a beam of light that illuminates the landscape, the newly blossomed almond trees, the lush green of the grass, the sprinkling of red poppies, as if it is all glowing from inside. And I think, I have nothing.
Another cloud will come. There is one already brushing the top of the mountain opposite. And it will move around me and through me, and then on, disintegrate, fall to the ground in rain, become part of a lake, reabsorb into the atmosphere and start the cycle again, while I stand here on the side of the mountain, a small mote of life. What is there to do but be; allow something bigger than me, the force of the wind and the water to move through, obliterate me, and leave someone new standing in my place?
Standing on this hillside, I sense the energy in the world that is so much larger than me. Larger than I can fathom. I can fight it, or I can let myself be silent, let it move through me and make something happen that I could never do on my own. In having nothing, I have the possibility for everything.
I recently heard an author talk about the creative process and the capriciousness of creative work. Sometimes the artist is visited by “inspiration,” and sometimes she shows up to work, sits at her desk, or her drawing board, or wherever, and . . . nothing. Blank. Zilch. There is a tremendous frustration that comes with having a desire to create—even supposing you know that this is your life’s work—and facing a blank wall, an impassable moat of non-energy. One thing to do is to simply show up, again and again. Persistently, stubbornly. Another is to acknowledge that birth starts in darkness, that your presence is merely the incubator for something greater to be born.
Royalty is the great incubator. According to the Kabbalistic conception, the power of a queen, and her mastery, is in her ability to faithfully and fully receive. Queen Esther was queen not because of any ability to rule or dominate, but because she allowed a greater force, the force of history and divine providence, to work through her. Mordechai tells her that she must go see the king, risking her life. If you don’t do this, if you don’t take the action necessary, salvation will come from elsewhere. In this ultimate decision, Esther chooses to participate in moving forward the great spiritual triumph of her people, solidifying her decision in those unforgettable words, “If I am lost, I am lost.”
Perhaps Esther’s choice is the choice we all have at any given time. Will we choose life in the broadest and most inclusive sense, making space for a wider existence that pushes toward revelation and rebirth? Or will we allow our worlds to shrink into the tiny parameter of self, where safety is in any case a sham?
When I think about the little girl with the plastic crown, and her grand claim, what I think I hear her saying is: I have nothing of my own; the contours of my being are transparent, ever-shifting, renewable lenses through which to magnify Your infinite light into this world. It is my poverty that makes me a queen. And what a queen I am . . .