The Woman Who Weeps

I wake in the morning and pray for gratitude. In the darkness alone I feel only sorrow, even the birds songs, delicate and joyful, pierce me with their nearness, and the delicate nature of their singers, who hang now by a thread, species collapsing each day, the losses staggering. I can barely breath. I wake in the morning and the birds sing, and I weep.

Could my tears be a libation? An offering to the earth and her many children, an offering to my own broken heart, and to yours? I offer them as such, I of many tears, a woman who weeps, my lamentation pours forth in this time of trouble. I am witness and I will not look away. I hold a steady gaze through my tears.

How can a heart hold it all? This world we walk is so out of balance. Every which way lies a new disaster, a new ending, a new possible apocalypse. I try to remember the world never ends, she only begins again and again. I try to remember the transient nature of being, no-thing ever stays the same. I try to remember that the world has already ended for so many people, all across time. It ended for someone today, I am sure of it. How could it not? All over the world, individual and collective endings, sometimes it feels like it is all about to collapse. I try to remember to just take the next breath.

My name is Marianna. Mary from the Hebrew Miriam meaning something akin to, sea of sorrow, sea of bitterness. Or in some interpretations, longed for child. And Anna, from the Hebrew Hanna, meaning graceful one, of full of grace.  I am the bitter grace of the sea. I am the sea of sorrow. I cry salt tears for the whole world. As it all burns around me all I have left to offer is my mournful grace, my heart of sorrow.

Do not discount the power of weeping. It is said in some religions that the power of prayer is more potent when tears are shed. The sincerity of heart and the humbleness of weeping makes the Gods take notice, turn an ear to us.  The earth needs my tears, needs our tears, hell, you, reading this now may need my tears. I weep for you, wherever you are and whatever sorrow is lodged in your heart. In the words of the great Bob Dylan, “go on and give it me, I’ll keep it with mine.”  I will, I’ll keep it next to mine. Your sorrow nesting in my heart will cause no harm, the cult of happiness failed us long ago anyway and I walked away. Tears streaming down my face and my hair flying wild as a banshee.

I wake in the morning and the birds still sing, they seem to be saying “just do” – “just do”
And so I do, do. I climb out of bed and turn my face to the sky. I remember that I am a living emissary of my family line, and even if I can’t see the purpose, I have to show up for duty. I remember that my heart, broken as it may be is also broken open, and that means it is fertile ground for something beautiful to grow again. I wake in the morning and the birds sing, and I weep. And then I go to work. In the seeming impossibility of continuing this life as I know it, I go on, and the birds sing me to my car. I think ” I do not know if birds can cry, but am so grateful that I can.”
So the gratitude I prayed for in the dawn arrives, gratitude for the tears, my gift to life, my offering of one heart, broken open to the divine.

Mary_Magdalene_Crying_Statue

Finding my Dead~Bones Reclaimed

I have never been a gamer, you know, those who delight in hours down the rabbit hole of an alternate reality created by the enticing electronic stimulus a video game system can provide. I have however known and loved, many who have the obsession. I can now, after weeks obsessing over Ancestry.com, honestly say that I think I understand how they feel. The critic in me would of course say that the mystery I am uncovering is real… not some illusion or story, but my real and true past. But that would be to split hairs, and not serve my story here in any way. I make the comparison to gaming as that activity seems to me unique in its ability to hook and transfix a player into an almost hypnotic state of obsession, willing to forgo many other things in order to be in the game. I know how this feels now.

Beginning with a whim and a trial month for free, I logged on to Ancestry and began entering the names and dates of those dead I know of enough to be able to parse together some actual data about their lives. As these numbers and letters settles in to my digital family tree, the website began to pop up useful tips, data I could then click on and review to see if it matched any one in my own tree…fascinating!
I found birth and death records, military information, lines of kin all the way back to the 1700’s when my people were still living in Scotland, Ireland, England, and Norway. Each time a new hint came up a flush of excitement surged through me. I rarely spend days on my computer, but this feels different. This is an investigation into my people, where I am from, and who I belong to, as well as who belongs to me.

Belong- the prefix “be” is an intensifier, creating a more powerful sense of what is precedes. “Long” to yearn after, grieve for, to anticipate, have eager desire. When we look at even this rudimentary analysis of what belong  really means, quickly it becomes apparent that it does not mean to be accepted by, or part of, as it is commonly used, but it means to long for and be longed for. In a deep, true, lasting and solid way.
This is how I am longing for the kin I never met, the ones whose bones were in the ground long before I arrived here. And you know what? They are longing for me too, across time and space, loving and hoping for me. Not in a passive angelic way, in a way that demands attention and intention. This is the heart of the longing, my dead, want to be remembered, reclaimed, restored into the web of being of all that has come before to make me now what and who I am. Remembered- to gather together and make whole again that which was once torn asunder. Just think of what Dismembered means, and you will get a feeling for Remembered. 

I have written before about this loss and longing that lives so deep inside of me, here on this blog and in poems, some shared, some as of yet still privately tucked away on pages of real paper in fine black ink, the birth place of all my best work. I will link here to a post that will, if read or reread bring greater significance to where I am now heading in  this piece. My Ancestors

The process of discovery that has taken place over this last month has been such a rich exploration, and one I will, I am sure, be sharing about much more as time goes by and I learn more and more. This history is fascinating, like a treasure hunt, I feel like an explorer uncovering lost truths. When I learn a new ancestors name and say it aloud, picture in my own small way what their life could have been like, there is an audible sigh inside of me, a settling, a calling home. They all belong here, and are longed for here, in me.

One of the discoveries that took my breath away was the fact that on my Mothers side of the family, on both her maternal and paternal lines we have kin who are buried here, in the Pacific Northwest. My great grandparents, Alys Mitchell( who in a a round about way my own daughter is named after, as my Alice is named for my aunt Alice who is named for her her grandmother, Alys.), and her Husband Ross St John McClelland are buried in Tacoma WA. My third great grandparents, my mama’s great grandparents on her mothers side, Newton and Amyetta Kirk,  are buried here, in Newberg OR, less than an hours drive from my home, in the Quaker Friends Cemetery.

No one in my family knew this! We knew that ancestors on that line of the family had come west, had homesteaded and built a life. My mom even has stories of them. How each child had to knit there own socks, and they would gather around the hearth at night and knit on the round, a few rows each day so that warm socks could be had for long winter days and nights. No knitting meant no socks for winter. Where there are stories, there is life.
So, these ones were not completely lost to time, but the finding of where their bones lie felt like a small miracle, a piece of who I am that I can claim and physically acquire, tangibly know as my own. I knew the moment I found this out, I would go see them, and soon.

Tuesday one month ago, I woke to clear skies, frost on the ground, a chill in the air, but also a brightness that comes only when cold and clear meet. Not a common occurrence here in Portland. A perfect day to make the drive to Newberg. My Mother and I drove together, enjoying the scenery and the conversation. As close as we live to one another, and as close as we are emotionally, time alone, just the two of us does not happen frequently. A pleasure indeed to undertake this pilgrimage together. Make no mistake, I do not choose the word Pilgrimage lightly. This trip had the flavor of seeking, of travelling with purpose and supplication. We were seeking the bones of our ancestors, no small or slight endeavor.

The night before, I was in conversation with my husband, expressing my joy at the opportunity to visit the graves of my relations, how moving this was for me, and in a sense how I was puzzled by how much it was effecting me. I was as excited as a seven year old on Christmas eve, the burbling feeling in my belly, joy in my throat. He paused and said to me ” when do you think the last time someone visited these graves was?” I of course, had no idea. Having no relations living here from that side of my line I can’t imagine it was recent. His question planted in me a seed of even deeper knowing that my going to visit them was of utmost importance, we are beholden to each other, tied in an invisible but very real bond of kinship that exists through time and space, eternal, tangible, alive.

Arriving at the cemetery, made our way to the office, where a kind man greeted us and walked us to the block where the graves were listed as located. He shared information about the cemetery and the area, and as we came to the graves, kindly left us there to be with our kin. We stood mama and me, and then began to talk, to clean leaves off the graves and the plates in the earth that said “Mother” and “Father”, these stones where placed at their feet, and we saw this throughout the cemetery, simple markings of parental status, claiming of the ones who bore us into this life. More powerful words there may not be, when we get down to it.

I had brought some greens to make an offering, red cedar, rosemary, and some lovely dried red berries from our yard. We set these on the headstone making a rough altar, and lit candles, in small glass votive holders. Then we, holding hands, sang to our beloved ancestors. “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free….”  the only Quaker hymn I know,  every line or two Mama’s voice, or mine would break with a soft sob or shuddering breath. My whole life long I will remember this, this day, being with Mom in the cold bright morning, singing and speaking to our long dead kin. This is closing the loop, this is caring for the bones of our dead, this is solid action to bring this longing for them to light in my life. This is family.

After our prayers and song, we left the candles burning and walked the grounds of the cemetery. Beautiful old trees, headstones of all shapes and sizes. Stopping here and there to read names and sorrow over the death of babies young children, so many dead, so many women suffer that pain of the death of a young one. So much suffering in our past. We talked as we walked, about death and life, what it means to be human and how we can change the death phobia of our culture. I reflect here as I sit to write this, how conversations such as the one I am sharing of now, are a rare gift among mothers and daughters. To talk openly of what our dying will mean when it comes and what we want to have happen to our bodies when we no longer occupy them. This conversation will, God willing, be the first of many on this topic, as we make our way through this life together.

The prayer that is living in my heart, the one that pounds on the door so fiercely is this. May I remember them and may they remember me. May we belong to each other and claim that longing, that kinship, that hugely messy and strife ridden thing that is family. May I live in a way that is of great honor to the ones who came before, may that my way of living cause them to rejoice and call to me from the great beyond, singing to me my way home. May I be worthy of their songs and worthy of the singing of them. And may I not forget, or be too busy, or distracted, to recall that there are bones in the ground that are mine to attend to, and tending those bones is the greatest honor of my life.
May it be so….IMG_0030IMG_0029IMG_0031IMG_0031 (3)

A Mournful Beauty

I spent last week in Ontario, another session of Orphan Wisdom School complete. I am left with the richness of love and heartbreak that this endeavor of learning has filled me with. I would not want it any other way. Before I stepped onto this path all I had was an aching, painful, grey sense that life was not supposed to be this way. I am now learning to articulate in some small and humble way, why it came to be this way and what we are collectively longing for and grieving. Perhaps I should not say articulating, since as I sit here at this keyboard I feel at a loss to even begin to convey the majesty and wonder of what transpired in Golden Lake last week. I am not yet a master of this mother tongue I wield. So I will simply offer here a poem, some of that which comes from the place in me that is digesting, composting, fermenting the learnings that took place. More will be shared when the gods of time deem it right, for now, just this…

Where do the brokenhearted go?
Carrying on their shoulders the weight
of ten thousand years of sorrow
still tall under the burden
eyes open, there is no place to hide.
Let us walk together now.
Lean your troubles on my troubles
Rest your weight against my shoulder
dark times have come for sure.
As we stand to face,
what was behind us, and before us
all along.
The only place I know to go
calls to me so sweetly,
and then howls in the voice of a wolf.
Turn to the river that flows
mound the troubles deep and wide,
this canoe can hold plenty of weight
push of the shores that are no more
let us trust ourselves now to the river
eddies flow around us,
time and abundance carry us on.
Here is my hand…come-come
I will carry the weight with you.

© Marianna Louise Jones 2017

Soul Food

A few weeks ago, the Fourth day of September. I gathered in some of my closest kin, to my home for a very special dinner. It was a celebration, as well as a declaration of who I am and who I am becoming. I invited my beloveds to come, feast and hear, what I could share, in my  own stumbling way, of the learning that was bestowed on and in me in my first session of Orphan Wisdom School.
I prepared food all day long…
A leg of lamb, to honor my Scottish Kin.
A Potatsalat(Norwegian Potato Salad) to bring in my Norse roots.
Fresh cucumber salad, an ode to the bounty of Oregon summer gardens, my homeland.
Bakewell Tart with a British custard sauce, to honor my English ancestors.
The meal was scrumptious, a victory for me as I was creating foods that I had never cooked before, not my usual when having a dinner party. Everything came out so delicious, the timing was right, the flavors on point. I truly enjoyed treating my loved ones to such a feast, that I prepared with my own hands. I also send a shout out here to my little brother, Gabriel who chopped, diced and supported me throughout the last mad dash to get the foods on the table.

The real beauty was in the people around me and the love shared that night. As the food came to the table and we gathered in. I welcomed them, and lit two beeswax candles. One for all those who came before us, and one for my dear sister Sarah who was working in another state and could not be with us in the flesh. She was invited in through the flickering flames of that small candle. I shared a poem, in the place of a prayer, not that there is much difference… the power, the cadence, the same felt sense of the sacred.

As we joined in a spirit of convivium, I shared some of my learning. Although I must say that it felt like a paltry offering in the face of the immensity of the undertaking of knowledge imparted to me at school. How could I weave a web that even begins to touch the depth, power and sorrow of my studies? I regret that I could not. Years of learning, speaking and grieving will need to pass before I can do anything close to justice to the grandeur of these teaching.

And yet, that is not really the point. My heart is called to this work and I have answered that call. I gathered in my loved ones and welcomed them into this piece of my life which is so sacred to me. I cooked for them with the wood chips saved from a spoon I carved in Ontario, each chip seen as the sacred thread of the web of life it is. I blessed the food with song an prayer. I wove into each mouthful the bit of grace I have to offer, and offer it I did. My ancestors, back and back and back, the good, the bad, and the ugly were all honored on this night. All given a place at the table. That is the point. That I showed up in my life to offer of myself, of my heart. And it was received with deep gratitude.

How blessed I am, to have not only a family of origin that holds me and sings my life back to me, but also one that hears the deep call of my soul, and at least for a time, sits with me as I sing my song. My Parents, my siblings, my husband, my daughter and her partner and some dear friends, all there to hear my voice and offer to me their attention and sincere interest. I could not ask for anything more.

I still have some chips of maple, and somewhere in the garden at Orphan Wisdom School lies the spoon that came from that branch. It was carved by my hands, with  a knife made completely by the hands of my husband. The chips may long to be wedded again to the body of the spoon but they are with me. Saved for a time when I can again light a fire and offer their fragile bodies to the flame that cooks another meal, one I will share with my dear sister, Sarah. I will tell her then the story that I need to tell, and gather her into my heart and the folds of my learning.

This meal, this learning, this sorrow in my heart. It is all part of my becoming. Becoming a woman of consequence. Holding my place in this world. Owning my life and living on purpose and with purpose. I matter. You matter. We matter. As humans we come in with original gifts, our offerings, our destiny. I am on the road of destiny, I cannot call it a happy one. I can only say that this grief soaked time in which we live is all I know and I will walk it faithfully until my end time comes.  And as I walk I will gather my people in, offer a hand and say in my strong clear voice ” welcome home, let us feed our souls together”

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