When the ancestors came, I was in Ubud. It was the festive day of Galungan and the Balinese were awaiting the arrival of their long-departed ones. The locals, in sarongs and smiles, ferried themselves and their loved ones to temples, relatives’ and friends’ homes. I stayed put.
When the ancestors left, I was in Seminyak. It was Kuningan and the Balinese were marking the departure of their long-lost familial spirits. The locals (I assume, from past experience) returned to temples, prayed, gifted offerings and ate.
The day after the ancestors left, and presumably had already returned to the heavens or other worlds wherein they reside, I participated in a historical milestone; most likely the first ever of its kind on the island of the gods.
A holy book, filled with lines of foreign script – not entirely unlike those that are to be found in ancient texts of the Balinese, often preserved for reading and studying on lontar (dried palm sections) – was consecrated on ground far from its native land.
Its journey began many months ago, in the hands of a professional scribe who painstakingly inked line after line, column by column, comprised of thousands of words and biblical terms in a calligraphic style – until the very last ink blot had dried.
Then a South American businessman and philanthropist got wind of a glaring need; and bequeathed the finished scroll to a community so remote it barely registers a blip. From that moment, the holy book may have passed through dozens of hands; it may have been carried and transported down highways and city streets; it may have been blessed by dozens along its way – until it reached the arms of a couple who were visiting New York and became vested with the obligation to deliver that piece of precious carry-on cargo to its new home.
When the holy cargo arrived – a meeting of old and new, borrowed and… ruby velvet – it was cause for celebration. Hoisted in the air, carried ’round and ’round. There were prayers and blessings, flowers and light, an abundance of music, song, drink, food and dance.
And then the visitors left. The candles burned out. The children went to bed. And a community was left feeling even more enriched and blessed than it had before.