THE BODY DIES BUT THE SPIRIT LIVES FOREVER--EVEN ON THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA.
The first time I heard the voices, I was cuddled in my sleeping bag--the comfort of sleep slowly enveloping my exhausted body. Suddenly awake, I sensed something was wrong. Surrounded--on all sides--by velvety-blackness, I slowly pushed back my covers to sit-up. At first—the night’s heavy silence was all I heard… then… a low-key chatter began. The indistinguishable words...uttered from unseen mouths….cut-through the night’s thick silence like millions of small knives.
Determined to rise above my inner- panic, I kept focusing on the voices, trying to understand the words. Was it the sound of many-voices-- communicating through whispers-- all at the same time or-- was it a large crowd—united in performing the same low-key ritual or chant—together?!?!
The indiscernible sounds, impossible to identify as Chinese, were everywhere. Huddled inside my tent, I was helpless to know their exact location or how many were involved in-- what sounded like-- a lively “group” discussion.
I reached for my flashlight and, as quietly as possible, unzipped the tent’s opening. Expecting to see a number of people standing outside, I bravely prepared for a confrontation. With no means of protection, I decided to use the element of surprise to frighten and confuse “whomever or whatever” I’d be facing. I believed my unusual look and foreign sound would work to my advantage. My presence would surely startle and, hopefully, frighten my night visitors... assuming they were human.
Climbing out of the tent’s opening, I quickly flooded the area—in all directions- with light from my flashlight. Then, I unfolded my body to “Stand Tall” on the Great Wall’s dew-covered surface. It was important for me to look fearless and strong-enough to over-power any unwelcome guests. Looking around, I saw nothing but darkness. The voices had stopped; all I heard was silence. My flashlight searched the awesome darkness and still… nothing. From someplace deep inside, I heard the warning: Searching would be in vain.
Over a period of seven months, I heard the voices seven times. The voices always spoke softly, in almost a whisper, and their undistinguishable words were delivered in unison—like a chorus—but without music.
My Night Voices only visited me when I was alone and sleeping “on top” of The Great Wall. Each time I heard the voices…I left the security of my tent to search the darkness. Sometimes, I shouted greetings in both English and Chinese yet there was never a response….only silence.
During the day, as I moved beside or on top of The Wall, I would remember the voices and rehearse how, the very-next-time I heard them, I would remain calm. Yet, each time the voices awakened me… I responded with fear.
Desperate to make sense of it all, I kept repeating the same pattern, time after time: I would leave the tent to flashlight-search the darkness. And, as always-- there was nothing to see, hear, or find.
After completing my journey of ALL THE WALL, I searched through my many documents to find something I’d read years before--- while researching the Great Wall's history:
“Ancient Chinese writings state that The Great Wall’s indomitable strength is derived from those who built the Wall—by hand; scores of nameless men suffered unbearable hardships while constructing The Great Wall and endless numbers died.
It has been estimated that sixty million Chinese died while erecting more than 10,000 miles (The main wall and its many tributaries) of The Great Wall. According to traditional Chinese Belief, the bodies of all who died while building The Great Wall--were buried inside The Wall, creating the world’s largest cemetery, and--fortifying The Great Wall of China to live--forever."
Remembering the voices I heard--night after night-- I’m honored to have “met” the Wall’s many builders, now buried in The Great Wall. I believe they stayed close by me-- much-like an honor guard-- to demonstrate their support of my first-ever journey of THEIR Great Wall of China.