There is a sound so high it could shatter a person.
“Allah, Allah, Allah”
The room is heavy with sweat, buzzing; reverberating like teeth after screaming or the body after a moment of shock. We are not shocked, we are entranced. To travel across boundaries of identity, to reach for the language of no self. Open your mouth and follow me, “ul-luh”- pause between syllables as voice slides into another, deeper pitch. Use your whole breath. “Ul-luh,” then sharp inhale to come back. The in breath provides the “ah.” Say it under your breath, over & over. In a room full of murmuring people the sound consumes you. We are sweaty palms and unified movement. We are in so deep, our entire skeleton is an eardrum refracting sound.
Third culture kids. Children who are raised in a culture or cultures that are not their own; missionary’s children, military brats & so on. Children like these fit in anywhere and equally never belong. This strange subset of people can only be understood by others who fit under this subgroup, but can rarely find another person who shares their individual exposure.
A man stands in the middle of the circle we form, one hand on heart, one in the air praising God. He had a stroke early in his life and his left hand stays stiff and swollen over his heart. Makes this moment seem even more holy. Drummers circle us, each beat on drumhead feels like they are striking our own skin, beautifully. Adds to live wire of the heart. Even the word “drum” is sensed somewhere deep in the body. So does even thinking the word. Some elusive thing, a nerve that has never been felt longs for sensation. Something deep inside of you is wanting to move. What do you call third religion kids- children raised with a religion that is not in their blood’s history? Families disown and society cringes. Nothing in our genes has prepared us for this, but it feels more honest and our parents can’t let go. Sufism- the mystical branch of Islam. Whirling dervishes, poets Rumi and Hafiz. We are dragged into empty rug shops and late night churches. We come in and make a mockery of it all with our seriousness. “Ashk,” a feeling of love so deep, so complete it encompasses everything. Almost synonymous with God. The light in me honors the light in you becomes the light we are all a part of; no separation of self. The light in me is the same light in you. This word I am told I can never understand because my first language is English. But I know. We all know, even without the word.
In this room the drumming comes dangerously close to shattering us. But we are together, we are community. We are whole. We are here to hold each other up if we begin to lose form. Our heartstrings vibrate to the low steady hum of chant. There is a woman in the corner bruising her own thighs in prayer. We are covered & glistening, can’t tell tear from sweat. We are breathing each other in, outside of ourselves at last. The man beside me is screaming, but our chanting is so loud that the scream disappears into the sound, swallowed by it. His mouth is wide open in unified sound, halting silence.
What was once common practice is now looked down upon, called cult. We wear red and black, floor length skirts and long sleeved shirts. Some nights we dance around fires in our bare feet. Others we are asked to wear scarves to cover our long long hair from God. Some nights we feel what it is to be animal, some nights what it is to be shame. There are no colors, just light. Maybe there is no sound either, only vibration. Here we are substance of sound, we are the mirror light bounces off of.
Many sounds can shatter. Depth can shatter too. If the muscles aren’t strong enough, if the word carries too much weight, “goodbye” can break your heart. The idea that emotions are all in our head is a modern notion- in ancient tradition all feeling came from body, from soul. “Tugging at your heartstrings,” & there is truth behind this. After too deep a trauma the literal strings of your heart can snap, causing it to lose form. Black marks on soft tissue, pieces enlarge while the rest struggles to function properly. There are so many ways to break. Echo starts when the noise stops; sound’s shadow. It starts where a person ends & voice trails off. What began us is left in too broad a space, evaporates in time. Culture stays strong without us, but we have been separated from it by our own roots. We are displaced from even the blood we have adopted, we are third culture squared and shattered. There is no name for us, but our bones are still singing.
Music can hold enormous power in memories and experiences, transporting us instantly to an age, location, or person. What sonic joys, mysteries, disbelief, and clarity have you experienced? Identify songs of influence in your life and explore them like variations on a theme, melding syntax and song structure, recalling the seriousness or levity that accompanies. Whether it’s an account of when a specific song first entered your life, the process of learning to play a song, teaching someone a song, experiencing the same song in different places as it weaves through your life, unbelievable radio timing, sharing songs with those in need, tracking the passing down of songs, creative song analysis, music as politics, etc, I am interested in those ineffable moments and welcoming submissions of your own variations on a theme, as drawn from your life’s soundtrack. Please email submissions to email@example.com and keep an eye out for others’ Variations.
**(“song” is a broad phrase: could be a pop song, a traditional tune, a symphony, commercial jingles, a hummed lullaby, 2nd grade recorder class horror stories, etc)**
Tessa Nayowith is a North Carolina based writer with a degree in Literature. She is currently studying massage therapy and writes body based poetry as well as creative nonfiction.