I was five years old. My mother and a friend I was expected to address as “Aunt” had taken us children to a modest little tea garden with swings and seesaws on the edge of our small town on the Dutch-Belgian border. It sported the elegant French name of “Les Champs Elysees”: the Elysian Fields — Celestial Fields of Bliss … I can still see and hear the trio that was playing on the rickety bandstand: the thin, sorrowful violinist in his patent leather shoes, the bald, rotund pianist, the bosomy lady in white tulle, a moaning cello clamped between her short, plump thighs.
The other children were still swinging and seesawing when I got bored, and as mother and the pseudo-aunt, with her long nose, were absorbed in the music — which did not prevent them from chattering rapturously in whispers — I saw my chance to escape across a narrow stream, and found myself in a sun-drenched meadow. I lay down in the fragrant, swaying grass, tall enough to make me unfindable, and listened to the trio far away. Then, suddenly there was a loud zooming close to my ear and I was terrified: a velvety bee circled around my head, almost touching it.
But ignoring me, it sat down on a hairy purple flower that was so close to my head that it looked huge and vague, and started to suck … At that moment something happened: all my fear evaporated, but so did bee and sun and grass . .. and I.
For at that instant sunlight and sky, grasses, bee and I merged, fused, became one, and still: remained sun and sky and grass and bee and I. It lasted for a heartbeat, an hour, a year … Then, as abruptly, I was I again, but filled with an indescribable bliss — were they not Elysian Fields?
The trio was still playing the tune that I remember to this day, and I can whistle it for you anytime you wish … I had probably come as close to reality as I ever was to come in this life. ♦
Excerpted from The Awakened Eye ( a companion volume to The Zen of Seeing), published by Alfred A. Knopf in September, 1979. Copyright© 1979 by Frederick Franck. By permission of Joan Daves.