Category Archives: Unpacking the Gifts of Egypt

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-Six

Following the Ritual of Blessing and Anointing by each goddess, Ellyn speaks in her role as Hathor: “We will now give bodily expression to the joy within us as we dance to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. Our dance will be an awakening to new life.”

As the last chords of the magnificent music fade, the dancers, like graceful glass figures adorning music boxes, slowly swirl down to stillness, each standing alone, scattered across the room.

A new voice speaks. She does not identify herself as a goddess.There is no need. The women in the room know this voice, a voice that has guided them through many deep journeys.

Jean Houston speaks: “I invite you now to join with your essence self, your own higher patterning, that dynamic purposive self to whom you are connected. Raise your hands, palms outwards, to connect with that essential self, who loves you, who honours you, who charges you, who cherishes you, and in whose presence you are utterly known, deeply loved, empowered, affirmed, enhanced. Let the connection be so close that you and the entelechy become one.

“Now, breathing from the heart space with this enhanced self, think of two people in this room. From your heart space make a bonding with them. Now ask those two people to make a connection with two people who are not in this room, and at the same time, you make a connection with two people who are not in this room, perhaps people back home, and you ask them, through the heart space, to make a connection to two others and they to two others and they to two others and they to two others and in a few moments, it is true, literally everyone in this world is now connected through your heart space.

“Now think of two creatures, two animals that you know and love, and because it’s heart space, it transcends language but the intention to them is to connect with two others and they to two others and they to two others until finally all sentient creatures are connected.

“Now connect with two plants or trees from the heart space, and know that they are connected to two others, and they to two others and they to two others and in a moment all of earth and all its creatures are connected.

“Now speak to our beautiful planet and ask her to connect with two other planets and they to two others, all from the heart space, and they to two others and they to two others until all the planets in this part of the galaxy are connected.

“Now speak to our sun, our sun who has a deep relationship with all the other suns, and invite it to connect with two other suns, and they to two others and they to two others. Now the 100 to 200 billion suns are connected.

“Speak to our galaxy, from your heart space, and ask our galaxy to connect with two other galaxies, and they to two others and they to two others and soon what is now known to be about 190 billion galaxies in our universe are connecting.

“Now ask our universe to connect to two other universes, in your heart space, and they to two others and they to two others and very soon all known and unknown universes including their multiple dimensions are connecting.

“And now you find that you are connected to what some call God or the cosmos, and you are connected to the mind and heart of all being and the mind and heart of all being is connected back to you in your heart space, and the mind and heart of all being is sending this loving resonance to you and through you to all the creatures and beings and planets and dimensions in all the universe, and they are flowing back to you with love and affirmation and deep knowing. And you can feel your own head and heart and beingness in this great expansion, so that you are now from this moment forth hyper-connected in the great hologrammatic universe. You are ubiquitous through the stars. All of reality shines back in and through you and from your heart space to all of reality and from all of reality back to you. And you are bonded in this deep empathy, in this exchange of essence with all others.

“In the future when you need to connect at a deeper level, do so in this manner, connect with the universe through your heart space and then with a particular human person, one with whom your soul requires to connect. This connection is now amplified through your entelechy to their entelechy, through that which transcends any negativity or any difficulty or alienation. From this day forward, whenever you need to, you may connect in this way, through your entelechy to their entelechy, to a particular life, to all of life.”

And now another loved voice speaks, one that evokes memories of many rituals in Egypt. Peg says, “I offer you, as a blessing and as a summons, the words of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. I give them to you as though they are coming to you from the great Goddess, the Holy One to whom our lives are now given. This is her blessing as you go forth from here, with your life-made-new.”

You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Embody Me.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand.

This concludes the series of excerpts I have shared with you from my book,
Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind. To order your own copy, simply contact:
http://borealispress.com

Thank you for sharing the Mysteries of Egypt with me. Next week, on this blog, we begin a new series of reflections: “Sophia in Ireland”. We will be exploring the Sacred Feminine as she was known and honoured in Ancient Ireland, as she is known and honoured today.

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Sophia in Egypt Thirty-Five

Epilogue of Called to Egypt on the Back of the Wind

It is night. It is always night when a story is told. But this night is part of the story, envelops and transforms it, embraces the ending.

The room holds the darkness gently, the darkness holds the women. The room watches as they take their places. To the east, near the altar where the gold statue of the Buddha sits smiling, unconcerned, the woman stands who is to portray Isis, goddess of new beginnings. To the south against the high windows that receive the morning sun, stands the one who will speak for Sekhmet, the goddess with the fire of the south in her belly. To the west, just at the entrance doors, stands the one who will portray Nephthys, the goddess of the in-between times, of the subtle energies that weave in and out of dream time, connecting our sleeping and waking. To the north, beneath the tall windows, stands the woman who is to play Ma’at, the goddess who envisions our lives from beginning to end, who will at death weigh our hearts on a scale against the weight of the ostrich feather which adorns her hair, Ma’at who portrays honesty, integrity and balance. And in the centre, at the heart of the circle, stands Hathor, the goddess of love and joy. An inner circle of women surrounds Hathor, facing outward, towards the four directions. In darkness, in utter silence, they stand, waiting.

The room does not see goddesses. It sees only women. In seventy-five years, it has seen so many others come and go. First, all the men, then women and men together, now only women in a circle. The room sighs, feeling bored, unaware of the story, unimpressed with its quiet ending.

A light flares in the centre of the room, and in moment a tall candle is illumined. A voice speaks. “Tonight, I am Hathor, goddess of love and joy. I welcome you here to celebrate the gifts of our time in Egypt. Tonight we remember with joy all that we have received. We open our hearts to the gifts, to the promise, and to what may be asked of us in return. I invite you now to look towards the east, to the place of beginnings.”

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The Goddess Hathor

A second flare of light and a second tall candle is illumined. A voice speaks. “Tonight, I am Isis, goddess of beginnings. I am the divine power in the womb of my mother Nut. The day of my birth is called the Child Who Is in Her Nest. I am she who finds fruit in the field. I am the mother of Horus. I am she who rises with Sothis, the star that heralds the flood. I am Queen of river, wind and sea. As goddess of beginnings, I call upon you now to dedicate to me your womb, in readiness to receive the seed of new life that the world hungers for.

image of goddess Isis

The Goddess Isis

Will you open yourself to be filled with the life that is needed for your time in history? If you are willing, come forward now, and I shall anoint your hands with the sacred oil of cedar for spiritual strengthening.”

When the anointing is completed, another light flares, another tall candle is illumined, this one beneath the windows on the south side of the room. A voice speaks. “Tonight I am Sekhmet, ruler of the element of fire. I stand in the south where the sun’s fire is strongest. My name means mighty, powerful one. My heart burns with the courage of conviction. I represent the strength of will power. My ennobled passions are best used for healing and preserving others. As goddess of fire, I call upon you now to dedicate to me your belly and back, source of spiritual fire and power.

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The Goddess Sekhmet

Will you open yourself to be filled with the courage and strength required to heal and preserve life on this planet at this potent time in history? If you are willing, come forward and I shall anoint you with the lotus, drawn from the water lilies of Egypt, offered for protection in the heart.”

Now a fourth light flares, and a fourth tall candle is illumined, this one on the west side of the room. “I am Nephthys, and I stand in the west, the place of the sunset, the place of what is passing away into other realms, for I am mistress of the in-between, the subtle energies. My creativity arises from the unconscious, for I represent dreams, ideals, psychic receptivity and the unknowable. I stand at the end of the finite world, the bridge to infinity. I am the one who illumines the dream time, who draws together the invisible threads that unite the seen and the unseen worlds. I am goddess of sympathy and self-sacrifice, opening my life to embrace the sufferings of others, and to ease their pain with the light of what I see. My ears hear the messages of the divine, and my throat speaks the words I hear in gentle songs of hope.

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The Goddess Nepthys

 

Are you willing to open your ears to hear the sounds from deep within you, and to speak what you hear to give hope to the people of the planet? If you are willing, come forward and I shall anoint you with the oil of the bay leaf for purification and psychic awareness.”

On the north side of the room, a fifth light flares, and another woman speaks. “I am Ma’at, goddess of justice, honesty, integrity. I stand in the north, the place of transformation, for I represent the divine principles of cosmic order and law. I offer the gifts of harmony and balance, a life on this planet that will be transformed when it is lived in truth. On my head, I wear the ostrich feather of truth that is placed in the balance of the scales of justice when the heart is weighed in the Underworld.

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The Goddess Ma’at

Are you willing to open your heart to me that it might become the heart of Ma’at, by living in truth and keeping your life in balance? If you are willing, come forward and I shall anoint you with the oil of the rose for the gift of an enlightened heart.”

Now Hathor speaks once more. “We have opened ourselves tonight to be bearers of new life in our wombs, fire in our backs and bellies, wisdom in our ears and throats, the light of justice in our hearts. As goddess of joy and love, I invite you now to open your eyes to be the eyes of Hathor, eyes that shine in the darkness and see love and joy in all things. Come forward to receive the blessing of the sacred oil of freesia, for love, peace and gentleness.”
(to be continued)

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-Four

The four of us respond enthusiastically to Ellyn’s suggestion for a ritual.

“Let’s ask Jean and Peggy now, before we break for lunch,” Rosemary suggests, as she gestures to our teachers, inviting them to join us.

When Ellyn tells them her idea, Jean groans theatrically. “I don’t have a single song, dance, poem or prayer left in me, but maybe Peggy does.”

I look at Peg, see her fatigue, mingled with her wish to help us. “No need,” I say quickly. “We’ll plan it ourselves. The two of you only need to show up, at, let’s say, 7:30?”

“Over lunch, we’ll talk to the rest of the group,” Ellyn says. “We’ll invite them to work with us on this.”

“I have something you may wish to use in your preparations,” Peg tells us. “Normandi Ellis has a book of Rituals based on the Egyptian Mysteries. It’s called Feasts of Light.”

Towards the end of lunch, Ellyn makes an announcement about the ritual, inviting everybody who wants to take part in the planning to gather in the Meditation Room at four o’clock, bringing their Egyptian robes, the galabiyyas given us by Mohamed, as well as any perfumed oils, jewellery and small statues from Egypt that could be used in the ritual. Then the five of us agree to meet around three o’clock to look through the Normandi Ellis book, and do some pre-planning.

There is something I must do first. I find a pair of thin cotton socks to wear inside my sandals, put on my long cotton coat, and venture out into the wintry universe. The sun by now has melted the snow on the roadway so that, with care, I can make my way to the parking lot. My car is still buried under a foot of fresh soft snow, which I sweep off the trunk with the sleeves of my coat. I open the trunk and reach inside, fumbling around until I locate the heavy fleece-lined boots I’ve brought from home. With a graceless, one-footed dance I manage to step out of my sandals, into the boots.

I feel around again in the depths of the trunk, pull out a cloak of thick cotton fleece. Grateful for its weight, though the fabric is ice-cold to the touch, I pull it on.

The Garrison Institute sits on a height of land that rolls downwards in a gentle sweep from the driveway at its front entrance to the cliff atop the Hudson River. On Mystery School weekends, in spring, summer and early autumn, my companions and I often walked here on the grass, among the flowers, beside trees so ancient that they still hold memories of Benedict Arnold’s famous flight. On a stroll one spring morning, I had discovered an empty stone grotto, tucked in under the stones that support the driveway, hidden by a richly verdant vine of three-lobed leaves. The Capuchin Monastery was named in honour of Mary Immaculate. The monks must have built this grotto. Her statue must once have graced it.

Today, I make my careful way down the snowy stairs to find the grotto. Its vines are barren of leaves, brittle, yet blossoming! Snow has settled on the tiny twigs in soft puff balls, creating an illusion of branches budding with May flowers. A hymn from my childhood, one I’ve not sung in decades, comes back to me: Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today . . . Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May . . .

Mary

I stand here for a long while, thinking, wondering. The love I’d known both for and from the spiritual presence whom I called Mary found me and touched me in Egypt under names that were strange to me. But I do not now doubt that the love I experienced there had the same source. Nor do I now doubt that my life has been transformed by that love. This mystery seems to me now so deep, so vast, that I can’t begin to comprehend its ramifications for my life, for my faith, for the planet, for the universe. But a mystery does not ask for understanding. It asks only for trust. And trust is the gift I carry home from Egypt.

It is after three o’clock when I return to the Meditation Room where my friends are gathered, already excitedly making plans. Ellyn waves the Normandi Ellis book at me. “I’ve been reading this ever since Peg gave it to me just after lunch. It’s all here, what we were sharing together about how we were each connected to different aspects of the goddess, the sacred feminine. So here’s what we’ve been thinking. . .”

I listen, growing as excited as my friends. This is truly amazing, a last great gift from Egypt. “So, each of us will portray a face of the goddess, and invite everyone to carry aspects or gifts of the goddess out into the world?”

They nod enthusiastically. “Kathleen has agreed to portray Nephthys, Rosemary will be Ma’at, Suzanne will be Isis, I’ll be Hathor. . .” Ellyn pauses. “And you can represent—”
“. . . Sekhmet!” I am ridiculously pleased.

But there is something missing. “What about music?” I ask. “Shouldn’t there be dancing?”
I wait, and when no one else seems to have a suggestion, I say, “What about Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty? Remember that night at Sharms, watching a film of the ballet under the stars?”

And already others of our companions are arriving, ready to join in the planning.

(to be continued)

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-Three

Remembering the Gifts of Egypt

When I pull open the large door to Garrison’s Meditation room, I see brilliant sunlight making its multi-coloured way through the stained glass windows, caressing the dark wood choir stalls on either side of the long room that was once a Monastic Chapel, echoing with psalmody. The sun spreads light over the toffee-coloured floor. Already our group has formed a circle at the front of the room, under the beatific smile of a golden Buddha, who sits at ease on the altar. I join the circle.

“Egypt was an experience of utter felicity,” Jean begins. “We entered sacred sites: tombs, temples, pyramids, reactivating spiritual energies that may have lain dormant for millennia. We know what we did there together: the rituals, the songs, the dances, the prayers, the promises we made to embrace a joyous fullness of life, a life of deep partnership with the masculine and feminine energies within and outside of us. We entered a sacred partnership with the Beloved for the healing and wholing of the planet.

“How do we strengthen this new story? How do we keep it alive in outrageous conditions? For the first time in human history, we have to think like a planet.

“That is the work for the rest of our lives. But for now, think about what happened for you personally in Egypt. What newness opened within you? What was birthed within you through your encounter with the spiritual energies of Egypt? What sacred places touched you most? I’m going to play Bruch’s first Violin Concerto. I need you to dance the answers to these questions.”

The sound system erupts with Bruch’s wondrous music and we dance, a dancing that takes us back to Egypt, deep inside our hearts and souls. I am again under the night sky at Abu Simbel, watching a shooting star; I am sitting on a rock wall on the Island of Philae as the earth rolls under the sun at the edge of the waters of the Nile; I am inside the tomb of the Pharaoh Queen Tausret, feeling immense tenderness embrace me as I gaze at the wall painting of an ibex. I see once more the glint of light in the eyes of Isis, in the wall painting; I am standing again before the statue of Sekhmet at Karnak, only now she is smiling, pleased I have finally let go of my fears, sent sorrow packing. My dancing is wilder, freer, more joyous, as though all the gifts of Egypt are reweaving themselves into my heart and soul.

As the music ends, Jean invites us to form groups to share what has returned to us during the dance. Suzanne, Rosemary, Kathleen, Ellyn and I gather chairs to form a circle.

Ellyn begins: “It was Hatshepsut who convened the Feasts of Light at Hathor’s temple at Dendera. That place held special meaning for me when we visited it. My name, Ellyn, means light.”

“Dendera,” I say now, remembering. “That’s where you were blowing the motes of light in the air towards Suzanne and me. You were filled with joy that night. ”

“I recognized a deep, energetic connection to Hathor. While we were visiting the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae before dawn, I focused my photography on the round face of Hathor on each pillar’s capital.” I watch Ellyn as she shares this, noticing that her face bears an uncanny resemblance to the carvings of the face of Hathor.

goddess-hathor

Hathor

“At the Temple of Horus in Edfu, there were many images of her in the birthing room,” Ellyn continues.

“The power spot for me at Edfu was the birthing room,” Suzanne adds. “A guard took me aside to show me an image of Isis breast-feeding Horus.”

“Kathleen,” I ask, “which face of the goddess do you identify with most?”

“Isis, I suppose. But also Sekhmet whom I encountered years ago on another trip with Jean. We were in France in the Louvre Museum. When I touched the statue of Sekhmet, I felt energy travelling from her hand and the ankh she held, up my own hand and arm. Why do you ask?”

“I think of you as Nephthys, the goddess of the in-between, of the dream time and of the other worlds, in touch with them, drawing them into our time,” I say. “And I know now that Ellyn relates most to Hathor, and Suzanne, I am guessing, to Isis. What about you, Rosemary?”

“For me, it’s also Isis,” Rosemary says.

“I see you especially as Isis in her role as Ma’at,” I say. “There were times on the trip when you spoke a truth I needed to hear.”

“Which face of the sacred feminine do you relate with?” Suzanne asks me.

“It surprises me to say this now, but it was the fierce Sekhmet who taught me what I most needed to learn,” I tell my friends. “There were times on the journey when I felt caught up in old grief, feelings I thought I’d long ago outgrown. Those were the times when I seemed to hear the voice of Sekhmet saying, Send sorrow packing! When we were in the tiny shrine in Karnak, I stood before the statue of Sekhmet, looked up at her fierce, tender, lion’s face, and prayed for strength to be my godded self. I asked for a fire within me that would become love given freely. And I knew at once that the gift demanded a price . . .” I stop here, wondering if I can share more.

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Statue of the lion-headed goddess Sekhmet, from the Temple of Mut, Karnak, New Kingdom, c.1391-1353 BC (diorite)

“What was the price?” Kathleen asks, as calmly as if she were asking the price of a cup of coffee.

“I knew I had to give up my—” I pause, seeking the words—“my allurement to tragedy.”

I can see puzzled expressions on the faces of my friends. I smile to soften the words, “I’ve always believed more readily in darkness than in light, expected the worst in relationships, doubted love without constant reassurances . . .”

“So what does it mean to give that up?” Ellyn asks.

The answer that leaps to my mind is so clear that I am surprised as I answer. “Trust. Trust in love and joy. Trust that I am loved, that I can be a giver of love and joy to others.”

“That sounds like Hathor,” Ellyn says. “And it’s giving me an idea. What if we celebrated a ritual of gratitude tonight, for all that we’ve received from Egypt?”

This and the previous “Sophia in Egypt” posts are excerpts from Called to Egypt on the Back  of the Wind by Anne Kathleen McLaughlin, Borealis Press, Ottawa, Canada, 2013. To order online go to http://borealispress.com

Sophia in Egypt: Thirty-Two

Unpacking Egypt’s Gifts

With a thump, a rush of speed, a sudden stillness as engines cut, we are in New York. JFK Airport is a different kind of shock, like a dowsing in cold water. Part of me still feels the embrace of Egypt’s warm air, an atmosphere already moving into memory, into mythic time. Here amidst the jostling for position at the luggage carrels, then the locking of trolley wheels, the search for the customs exits, everything feels out of place, out of time, wrong. I am beside Ellyn when a woman in the uniform of security staff rudely orders her to hurry along. I see the look of shock on Ellyn’s face, realize she will not let this pass.

“We are human beings,” Ellyn says with quiet strength. She holds the woman’s gaze, but there is only bored insolence in those official eyes. I whisper calming words to Ellyn, hurrying her past the woman, seeing in memory the security guard in the Cairo Museum who gave me a thumbs up, a joyous smile. In this instant I know the impossibility of bringing our Egyptian experience back into a culture that hasn’t time for courtesy.

Somehow despite exhaustion, despite having flown backwards several hours in time, despite the culture shock of our arrival, our group manages to make its slow, ragged, luggage-burdened way to the transportation area. In the last light of afternoon, we find the bus that will return us to Garrison already waiting. The driver takes our luggage, stows it in the underbelly bins.

There is a quick headcount, each of us asked to look around, to be sure there is no one missing, and we are on our way. I close my eyes, lean against the headrest, try to sleep, grateful that we shall have time at Garrison to recollect the wonders of Egypt.

Though the journey can’t have been much more than an hour, the early darkness of late November is already enveloping the grounds and buildings of our beloved “Hogwarts” by the time we arrive. There is just enough light to see that the trees, radiant in autumn colours when we left, are now almost bare. But there is no evidence yet of snow, and the faint glint of light remaining on the surface of the Hudson River far below us shows that it has not yet frozen.

Inside, we check the list for our room assignments. Seasoned travellers that we now are, we stow our heavier luggage near the coat racks in the hallway, carry up to our rooms only a small bag with what we need for two nights. I have just made up my bed
with the crisp cotton sheets provided, hung my long cotton coat in the closet, and am making my way towards the washroom when I hear the gong announcing supper.

The long polished wood buffet table offers up a thick creamy mushroom soup, a salad of mixed greens, a steaming hot veggie lasagna. There is, as ever, a basket of homemade bread and wheat rolls, a plate of butter squares, a pitcher of iced peppermint tea. Beside the bread and rolls I see a dessert plate of chocolate brownies.

I call upon just enough energy to serve my plate, take a napkin and cutlery, and seek a place at one of the long wooden dining tables. I slide in along the polished bench
beside Kathleen, across from Ellyn and Rosemary. In a few minutes, Suzanne joins us. Suzanne can at least summon a smile, and say “the sounds of silence.” It’s true, I realize. Our whole group is here now in the dining room, and there is barely enough sound to vibrate the air. I see in my companions’ faces that we are all in a state of non-feeling, tiredness, the shock of arrival.

Slowly, as we are warmed and nourished by the food, life returns. Kathleen asks the question that has been on my mind as well. “What do you suppose we’ll be discussing when we gather with Jean and Peg?”

“I think we’ll need to have some sort of decompression exercise, like the astronauts,” Ellyn says. “A chance to speak about what we’ve learned and experienced.”

“Right now, I don’t think I could form a sentence, let alone say anything profound,” Rosemary says.

Suzanne and I are both agreeing when a voice says, “You won’t need to.” We look up to see Peg beside our table. “Jean is telling the groups at the other tables that it would be best to go to bed and have a good night’s sleep. We’ll gather at nine-thirty, immediately after breakfast.”

That night I fall into a deep sleep, after a brief ragged prayer that I might awaken with a feeling of gratitude. In a dream, I am with my travelling companions, all of us asleep in a sort of dormitory of narrow cots, with our belongings stowed under our beds. Jean wakens us, singing, “We are all made of stardust . . .” When the others have gotten up and gone to take showers, Jean hands me a huge ancient-looking iron key, like something out of a fairy tale.
“Have you written about this?” she asks me.
“You mean, made up a story?” I ask, uncertain.
“NO,” Jean responds with a fierceness that would not shame a fairy tale potentate. “I don’t want TALES. Write about your life as it weaves around this.”

When I do truly awaken, just after sunrise, it is to a world transformed. The light coming into my room from the direction of the Hudson River holds a memory . . . “Snow!” I must have said it out loud, climbing out of bed, moving to the window. Not stardust, but snow dust, a magic carpet, laid with exquisite care over tree and rock, river and roadway. The one magic that Egypt cannot create has fallen as we slept.

“Welcome home,” it whispers. And gratitude swells within me.

The level of sound at breakfast assures me that my companions have slept well. Not pomegranate seeds, but steaming porridge awaits us. I find Kathleen, wanting to share my dream.
“Why a key?” I ask her, “and write about WHAT???” But even as I ask, I think I know the answer.

Kathleen is thinking deeply. This is her milieu, her homeplace, the in-between place of dreams and words in the night, the subtle energies that weave in, around and between our lives. “Keys unlock things. Did Egypt unlock something in your life for you?”

“Yes,” I say, unwilling, unready to say more.

Kathleen smiles, her eyes telling me that she is hearing the more. “Then that’s what you need to write about.”