I knew I was having, or about to have, a moment of transcendence the second I spotted her braids. I didn't know who she was; all I knew was that she wore an aquamarine muumuu-like dress and had black braids that fell way past her hips, all of this against the backdrop of the ruggedest stretch in the Altay mountains. Her presence was too surreal to be an everyday thing, so it had to be a life-changing event, one of those once-in-a-lifetime awakenings to new possibilities.
She quickened her pace. I quickened mine.
A sense of urgency seized me. I felt it under my skin as I chased her down the Mongolian canyon. This mysterious woman with braids, I thought, will most likely take me to a cave deep in the Altay mountains where she'll make me solve a few riddles before sending me on a quest to find two shiny feathers from long extinct birds. And only after proving myself worthy of her wisdom, will she teach me how to walk on fire, relieve me of my life-long fears and without saying a word, magically and effortlessly, she will set me free and I will walk out of the cave ready to re-create my life anew.
I snapped a few pictures before she disappeared on a bend of the rugged canyon.
"Did you see her?" I asked my husband.
"The woman with long braids," I said.
He gave me a sideways look that said: What in the world are you talking about? I didn't elaborate. I decided this was my spiritual quest. Mine and mine alone. That is why only I see the apparition, I reasoned. Maybe Western men don't have spiritual awakenings while vacationing in Mongolia.
I adopted a light trot.
If it's true that transcendence ranges from that of a spiritual experience to that of a cognitive realization and everything in between, this was my moment of transcendence.
As I negotiated my way forward trying not to sprain my ankles on this wildly rugged terrain, I thought about different words to describe what I was about to experience. Redemption, Grace, Revelation.
I caught up with Mooggie. "Have you seen a woman walk by?" I asked.
"Here?" he asked back pointing at the ground.
"Yes," I said. "Here and here and here." I pointed behind, beside and ahead of me.
"No, no ooman," he said.
Maybe that's how Grace works, I thought. It requires one's complicity; It's only revealed to a willing soul and right there and then my heart was cracked wide open, fractured by the need to be transformed. Why not? Even Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol" has a moment of transcendence. He is given a second chance and when he awakes on Christmas morning his past actions no longer affect future outcomes. Scrooge is free. He is allowed to begin anew.
I chased after the woman with braids hard.
And there she was, sitting by an ovoo shrine, pretending that she had been there all day long. Strewn in front of her, on the gravel, was an array of wooden knickknacks, some misshapen dolls made out of felt, and a few blue khadag (the ceremonial silk scarves symbolic of the open sky and the sky spirit) covered in dust. All for sale.
Was I disappointed? Of course.
Did I feel cheated? No, why? She didn't set me up.
She spotted a tourist; I spotted a soothsayer.
She ran because she had a shop to open for business. I ran because I needed transcendence.
Did either of us get anything out of this? Yes. I got a wooden spoon shaped like the head of a horse, I think. She got ten bucks.
And that is what happens when you live your life waiting to exhale.
If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Oh, where was Maslow when I needed him?