I found My Path this morning; behind a closed, paneled, glass door leading into a church, situated on a nondescript side-road leading off Greenmarket Square.
I took the kids to breakfast at Food Lovers Market, next to Greenmarket Square just after 09:00AM. We picked our way through the hot buffet and sat down to eat. As usual Kai was out of his pram, on his feet on the chair, and taking forkfuls from every plate he could reach. Ryder insisted on adding a chocolate-sprinkled donut to his otherwise healthy breakfast selection.
After we’d finished eating, I took the kids to Clicks to buy toothbrushes and toothpaste; their current ones were looking a bit tattered and worse for wear. We exited Food Lovers Market, turned left up Longmarket Street – the slopes of Signal Head visible in front of us, above Bo Kaap – and instantly found ourselves surrounded by tourists. Walking tours are very popular in Cape Town and there are plenty of old, iconic buildings to gape at and photograph. Pushing Kai’s pram in front of me, I battled through the crowd as they pressed forward to listen to the tour guide lecture them on the significance of the square, and it’s surrounding buildings.
Once clear of all the tourists, we turned left into Burg Street towards Clicks – one block down – and crossed over onto the far side. Halfway down the block, we passed by a small doorway: a side entrance to an old church. The door was closed and a small, printed sign was screwed across the left door at waist level.
‘This entrance to Heaven is closed. For eternal salvation, please use the entrance around the corner.’
A homeless drunk lay asleep on the tiled steps in front of the doorway. His clothes were filthy, his long hair and beard ragged and dirty, and he smelled of stale sweat and urine.
I looked up at the doorway again, and the glass doors started to shine from within. A brilliant golden light washed out through the glass panels, shining over the steps, the drunk and us and illuminating everything with a color and intensity that I hadn’t seen since I’d last dropped acid.
As I shielded my eyes against the glare, and gazed in disbelief at the doorway, beautiful, wondrous, celestial music started to sound from within the building, behind the doors. Harps and trumpets rang with joy and celebration. I’d never before heard any music so powerful and joyful. A shiver of gooseflesh coursed down my body, and every hair on my body stood up and tingled.
I prodded the drunk with my foot. “Excuse me, please move out of the way.”
He opened his eyes slowly. “What do you want?” Turning his head to the side, he coughed several times, deep hacking coughs, and spat through his beard onto the floor.
“I would like you to move so that I can go inside.” I indicated to the doorway behind him.
“Oh there,” he said. “You can see that,” he asked, waving his hands around in the air.
I just nodded.
“Jesus is in there. I’m Levi Biff, his best friend and travelling companion.”
The guy is insane, I thought to myself. Probably why he’s on the street. Most homeless people have psychiatric issues and just can’t function in normal life. I pointed to the door again.
Biff slowly pulled his legs in, sat up and then swung around, leaving space for us to walk up the stairs past him. “Sure, what harm can it do now, so close to the time? The more, the merrier, eh?”
I turned the pram around and pulled it backwards up the steps. Ryder and Zee followed me up. At the top of the stairs, I turned around to try the door handles, expecting them to be locked, but the doors were already swinging open, music swelling outside in crescendos of ecstasy. I pulled the pram inside, and called for Ryder and Zee to come inside with me. The doors gently swung shut behind us when we were all inside, and the music receded until it was just a quiet choral chant coming from somewhere far off.
In front of me stood an old Shaolin monk, shaved head, long, white, wispy beard hanging down to his chest. He wore a traditional, saffron, cotton under-robe with an outer single-armed, deep brown, woolen cloak covering his left shoulder and arm. He held an old, oiled, and gnarled staff in his right hand, one end lightly resting on the floor. His left arm was bent in front of him, waist height, and he gently thumbed a bracelet of Buddhist prayer beads through his fingers.
“Good morning young man.” His voice was soft but firm.
“Good morning Venerable Sir,” I greeted the monk, my head bowed, and the palms of my hands pressed together in front of me. “I saw a bright light shining outside and heard beautiful music. I had to come in.”
The monk smiled at me. “You are welcome inside. Every traveler is welcome, even in these ages.”
“The guy outside said Jesus was inside.” I shrugged my shoulders.
“He is,” the monk replied calmly. “He’s quite busy at the moment though. He’s getting ready for the Second Coming. He’s on the Internet at the moment; Twitter, Facebook, blogging, forums, arranging flash mobs, that sort of social engineering thing. He likes to listen to music while he works.”
I stood there not really knowing what to say. The monk stood calmly in front of me, neither inviting me in further, nor attempting to lead me back outside. He was simply, and patiently, present.
“What is it you seek, young man,” he asked after some time had passed?
“I seek My Path, Venerable Sir. Perhaps you could offer me some assistance in finding it? I seek Heaven, Nirvana, Enlightenment, the Tao.”
He regarded me solemnly. “The Path to the Tao that you seek is not like a path through the forest or through the mountains. It cannot be pointed out.” He must have noticed my dismay at hearing this because he continued talking. “A man sees his Path only by walking it.”
I considered this for a moment. “Does the Venerable Sir have any advice for me, having walked His Path already?”
He answered slowly. “I have walked My Path, true,” he said, “but I have not walked Your Path.” He pointed his staff towards me to empathize his point. “I cannot see through your eyes, and I cannot walk with your feet. Our Paths are not the same and so I cannot advise you on something that I do not know.”
“I feel like I am failing to walk My Path correctly, Venerable Sir.” I felt safe admitting my fears in front of this old monk. “I feel weak and confused. I am always making mistakes.”
When the monk spoke again, his voice was filled with compassion. “Young man, the only way you can fail at walking Your Path is not to walk it at all. That is the only mistake you can make. Be courageous and always place one foot in front of the other. Each step will reveal Your Path to you. You cannot fail if you simply continue to walk it.”
Suddenly, I stood outside again on the pavement, in the warm, early morning sunlight. The glass doors were closed, only shadows visible behind their panels, and the only noise I could hear was the babble of tourists milling around down the road. I wondered if I had imagined everything.
Biff the drunk was still sitting on the steps under the doorway. He was scratching through his dirty beard. “Pretty cool, eh,” he said smiling, tilting his head back upwards to the doorway behind him.
I nodded my head. “But, why are you sleeping outside, and why are you so filthy?”
He looked genuinely surprised. “Filthy? I haven’t looked this good in two thousand years. Your Path goes that way.” He pointed towards Clicks a few meters down the road, and winked as he swung his legs back around and lay down in the sun.