I have been in Cluj, Romania for 5 days now. I have walked 31 miles so far. I have taken 188 photos. I have had conversations lasting more than 2 minutes with 5 people: A Hungarian, An Austrian, A Polish person, one Romanian, and another who considers themselves Transylvanian. I have spent a lot of time alone surrounded by strangers speaking in languages I do not understand. I feel a bit like I am underwater, yet able to breathe.
In most ways I do not know what is actually happening. I don’t know what’s behind many of the doors I stroll by, I don’t know how to ride the public transport, I don’t know the caste system, because whether you want to believe it or not that’s how humans always work it out (or don’t), I don’t even know what I’m eating sometimes.
This morning I am getting just a slight handle on where I am. I have walked through the areas where tourism thrives, I’ve walked through the ghetto where I went to an AA meeting where only Romanian was spoken. I’ve been to two plays that considered an internatinal audience, so english was spoken. Many people speak english here in certain sectors, but you can also find folks that only speak Romanian. I wish I could speak a little, but I did not prepare at all in that respect.
I have figured out the train station, where to buy veggies and fruits, where the best bakery is, I have visited the botanical gardens, the central park, second hand stores, small cafes, fancy restaurants, and now I am heading to Brasov tomorrow.
I am in a small cafe right now while it rains like it does back home in the Pacific Northwest. The cafe is called ‘Old School” and it says more about me than it does the cafe that I am here. I am stunted at the age of 17 years old, sipping lattes while writing in my journal feeling awkward but pretending I got it totally together.
Some things are different, though. The biggest change is that I am open and willing to get down on my knees and pray by my bed in the morning, but also in these old churches with statues and pics of jesus bleeding from his feet and hands while his body hangs listlessly on a cross. A year ago I would have said ‘Hell, no! That’ll never happen!”, but here I am with it being the best part of my day.
When I was back in Budapest, I found a church to sneak into when no service was happening inside and I could have a little peace and quiet. I have found one here in Cluj as well. It feels comforting to enter and actually quite straight forward and welcoming. I deeply appreciate that because Eastern Europe is far from that. In general, I have found walls around everyone, yet they’re pushy about what I am doing and very scretive about what they are doing.
I’ve come to this church at the center of the old city square every day. Today I arrived just a quarter of an hour before noon. The church was empty except for the ancient, crumpled man who keeps watch over the sacred space. He sits in the back on the corner of a bench, hand over hand on the knob of his walking stick, thick round glasses that magnify his watering eyes teetering on the tip of his bulbous nose. As I pass him we acknowledge each other. He nods his head without a smile accepting my presence with a tolerance.
I walk up the center aisle and take a seat in the third pew to the front on the right. Jesus is dangling right in front of me on his cross, not quite life size, I’d say half size. His eyes are closed, he’s pale and has straight hair…..hmmm not quite accurate. But at the moment I am letting all that go. I am not here to argue with myself about how fucked up the human race, (un)civilization, and religion is. I am here to pray to the source of my creation which is nobody’s business but my own.
I don’t really know what to do or how to fit in, so I take a best guess and bow my head and look into my clasped hands on my lap. I mean with the only tradition in my family being cocktail hour, I am really flying by the seat of my pants when it comes to a commitment to something like how to pray.
This is how AA has helped me. The teachings of AA tell me that my delusion of being unique, rare, special, a rebel, an edgedweller, a game changer has actually worked to my detriment. If I could just follow the fucking rules, I would gain the independence that I have been falsely claiming my whole life. It’s the wobble that comes with a lack of commitment and faith, how I waver in everything I do that has left me a little bit less. I waver in my yoga practice dabbling in everything, with how I raise my kids laying down the rules and then laying down so they can walk over me. I waver with how to say hello in romanian mumbling it under my breath kinda like how I think it sounds. So I can’t believe it, but I really should, when I waver in half-assedly crossing myself, oh my god, I just wobbled this way and that literally. Hope I passed.
So I don’t know these rules of praying like an orthodox romanian churchgoer in Cluj, but I do know how to pray the AA prayers, so I kneel down in the pew. There’s a padded low bench on the floor for all the knees that drop down. It makes it easy on the shoes, and the knees. I whisper to myself moving my lips because that feels good. I whisper the serenity prayer, the third step prayer, gratitudes, people’s names, I ask for angels, I don’t want to stop, so I repeat the serenity prayer, and ask for angels again.
I’ve been looking around and there are images of winged beings all around me, golden halos ring the mother and son’s bowed heads with angels floating above toes hovering and lifting off behind them like helium baloons, arms open, love in their eyes. They are on the walls, the ceiling, in front of me, behind me, maybe they are with me.
And I have a theory. And I feel like whispering it to you because it might be a secret too: The angels come when the bells ring. The sound that fills the air slices open doorways that connect the realms of earth, atmosphere, and heavens.
It’s almost noon in Cluj and I am in a church on my knees breathing and listening, waiting for the angels to come. The bells begin to chime. I listen so intently that the vibration is coming from within me. This is the sensation of the doors in the atmosphere opening and letting my angels in. Amen.