In Islam, believers are obliged to complete the Hajj, the annual mass pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in their lives. As I now try and insinuate myself back into my "normal" life as the final echoes of this year's Austin Screenwriter's Conference still roll into the near distance, I'm struck by the similarities between the two experiences. Both represent a sort of purifying ordeal where one's devotion is at once both questioned and validated, where you find yourself in the company of like-minded travelers from around the globe, where the stratifying differences of class and wealth and nationality are stripped away and you are simply in the company of Fellow Believers, where you might well encounter visions and revelations which make no sense at all to any literal minded person who has never made that long pilgrimage.
This was my third pilgrimage to Austin. The first time, I was at once terrified and exhilarated on the eve of the trip as I was not at all sure what to expect: was my belief strong enough? Was it pure enough? I came back from that first year a wild-eyed fresh convert, a zealot of sorts, suddenly preaching a new-found gospel to any friends for whom such news might be useful.
"Go. Just go. If you have the faith -- if you truly wish to become a professional screenwriter -- there is nothing else like it. Go."
Some folks inevitably look at you with that look zealots often receive: that slight furrowing of the eyebrows signaling an internal debate over your sanity. "Is this guy serious, or just nuts?" From the perspective of the zealot, there is never doubt, and it is perhaps this odd absence of doubt which gives pause to the unconverted.
Subsequent yearly treks have been no less religious in terms of impact. Yes, that sounds hyperbolic, likely somehow quaint and possibly even frightening, but it is the simple truth. I've felt a similar emotional moment at the birth of each of my children, when it seems I've been given a peeking glimpse behind the curtain to see the normally hidden and obscured Truths of my own existence. At each childbirth, I experienced a moment of clarity which was simultaneously humbling and elevating, when suddenly I simply knew something with unshakable conviction.
This is now your purpose. All which preceded was merely preparation for this new task.
That now familiar sense of newly re-consecrated purpose and determination overwhelmed me as I drove home after my annual trek to Austin. I schedule my entire year around this odd week of mystical rededication and affirmation. I accept that in coming months I will find myself tied to events and obligations that require some degree of my attention, but I also know that some things are bigger than my own petty sense of responsibility. Some things are required by that which made and continues to make me.
Thus I know where I will be October 10–15, 2007.