reading the universe (esquire philippines, september 2014)

I did not mention Jammi by name here, because at the time she wasn’t doing a lot of readings and I did not want to bombard her with eager clients. But now, with the lovely Stone & Moon up and about, and the new year coming, I thought it’s time to share this story online, as a way of expressing my gratitude to Jammi.

This essay first appeared in an issue of Esquire Philippines, the one with the Eraserheads on the cover. You know the one.

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Photo credit: Stone & Moon

A friend of mine does Tarot card readings and past life readings. As a catastrophist whose main instinct is to think the worst possible future in any given situation, I found the past life reading more appealing than a reading about my future. What’s up ahead? Probably something fun and rosy, but if the Tower (which signifies sudden change, chaos, disruption) shows up in the spread, it’ll just add more stress and despair in my already stressful and despondent brainspace, so no thank you. Let’s just look back and see if once upon a time I were a princess. Or a serial killer. Or a serial killer princess.

So there we were one rainy Sunday, sitting at a small table in her and her husband’s apartment. “Which of these decks would you like me to use?” she asked. One deck was old and already turning brown on the edges. Her first deck, she said. Another deck was bigger than the average deck, almost as large as a notebook, and had bolder colors. The third deck was a beautiful lavender. The lavender cards complemented the purple scarf covering the table. We just needed a reed diffuser and a bead curtain and we were all set.

Kidding aside though, I came to her with an open, very curious mind. I had just one other reading, years ago, care of a housemate in college who only used the Major Arcana (the 22 main cards of a Tarot deck) and read the cards with a guidebook opened on her lap, like a doctor glancing at a medical textbook during a surgical operation. Is this the appendix or the spleen?

The cards said Yes to my specific question then, but having forgotten what I had actually asked, I couldn’t test her reading’s accuracy. But then, it’s not about accuracy, or proving that the cards told “the truth”. The future is not set in stone, my friend said, which I wholeheartedly agreed with. The Universe might say Yes, but if you didn’t act to achieve this Yes, the opportunity would just dissipate. As is the case with elusive taxicabs, the last cupcake on the table, that one moment when you could have expressed your gratitude to a now-estranged friend.

The most popular reading request, unsurprisingly, was a reading for love. My friend said clients would come to her and ask, When will I find a boyfriend? It was not the right question to ask, my friend said. Instead of demanding When, why not ask, What I can do to invite love into my life? All you needed was a little shift in your thinking. A more proactive stance before the Universe.

I was pretty secure with my love life, so I didn’t request a reading for that. (Also, if the cards screamed BREAK-UP IMMINENT, it would just ruin my Sunday.) I chose the lavender deck, because it looked pretty. While I shuffled the deck, my friend said she once did a past life reading for another friend, on that friend’s birthday during a full moon, at midnight. Birthday, full moon, midnight. As a fantasy writer, and as someone who belonged to a family that believed in the supernatural, this sounded to me like a (very interesting) recipe for disaster. “I wasn’t ready for it,” she said. After the reading she was so drained and thirsty she had to drink more than ten pitchers of water.

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Photo credit: Esquire Philippines

It wasn’t a full moon that Sunday, so we should be okay. She told me the reading would present just one past life (“Because we have several”) that most likely affected an aspect of my present.

I wouldn’t bore you with the details, but the past life reading required a large spread consisting of several sections. In the section for love, she said I was patient.

“Really?” I said. Me? Patient?

“You should give yourself some credit,” she said. “The things you simply find annoying is probably the last straw for other people.”

She said this was because I was secure in the belief that my partner and I would go through life together. “You look at the big picture,” she said, pointing at a Major Arcana that said The World, “instead of focusing on the little details that annoy you or trouble you.”

She paused at a new section. “I think this refers to your writing,” she said. She said my stories dealt with dualities, and truths, and uniting two meanings to reach an understanding, even if in the end this didn’t always happen, or even if the meaning reached was not always acceptable. “This is interesting,” she said, after another excited pause. She said the inspiration for my stories came from past lives. I was not creating stories. I was remembering them. “And whenever you get stuck,” she said, “that’s your soul telling yourself, ‘Wait, that’s not how it happened.'”

Wasn’t that beautiful? Of course, my initial reaction was Story idea! because I was shameless and considered everything and everyone fodder for fiction. But it was a beautiful thought.

She turned over the final cards one by one.

In the past, she said, I was a boy. The son of a member of the royal family and a female servant. I lived in Russia, somewhere cold and dreary. The narrative was predictably as dark and melodramatic as a telenovela (or a Russian novel): boy’s family is slaughtered, boy escapes, boy becomes a man, man becomes a leader, man believes life is just a series of trials until he meets a younger man (Ooh!) and falls in love and realizes that life is beautiful and it is worth believing in something. Politics leads to the man’s lover’s death, but the man bears no ill will toward his lover’s murderers, believing that he and his lover will meet again. On his deathbed, the man makes a deal with God.

All he asks is the chance to meet his one true love in every lifetime hence.

“And that’s why you’re so patient,” my friend said, pointing at The World again, miming a tear falling down her cheek.

The most distant galaxy ever discovered was 13 billion light years away, born just 700 million years after the Big Bang, its light expanding with the expanding Universe. Our own Sun is nothing but a dot, hardly visible, next to the red hypergiant VY Canis Majoris. We are a speck of dust in the eye of a galaxy. It is impossible not to be awestruck and humbled, whatever belief system you adhere to.

And yet there is nothing wondrous about the children being bombed to pieces in Gaza, nothing magical about the 729 people that have bled to death due to the Ebola virus. Nothing small about any of these things.

I have been writing about dualities, come to think of it; about how life, compared to the bright expanse of the Universe, could be both insignificant and immense. I couldn’t unite these two truths, and maybe I never could. Maybe that was not the point.

There was no way to prove or disprove the existence of a former me, of the tragic man in Russia who had made a deal with the Universe. Who knows. Maybe our consciousness could survive death and time, and travel through the centuries and back again. It was an interesting idea, and I’ve always been partial to interesting ideas.

On the ride home, my boyfriend got caught up in the semantics of it. “All he asked was a chance to meet his lover,” he said. “Meet, not necessarily be with. Maybe you’ve already met your true love before and –”

“Oh, it’s you,” I said, cutting him off.

The speck of dust, being stubborn, as always.

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