Slowing Down-Breaking the Spell of Constant Doing

Tonight I am writing, cup of tea already finished and the house is quite. I’ve been off work most of the day, had a lovely lunch with my Mama, cleaned the hen house and pulled some weeds. Sun was shining today and though cold wind whipped and gusted being out of doors and not damp was a delight.

As I settle in to my study, letting the day settle around me I am just quietly content. My body tired, my heart full from love and laughter, an easeful feeling in my bones. Such a simple day, fulfilling for me one of my needs, unstructured, unscheduled time.

In my pursuit of a simpler and more spacious life I have been actually creating some of that space, working less, saying no to functions or requests, making simpler food. It all feels quite radical. And I am learning how much I need this- down time- see? we even have a phrase to name this, uncommitted, self directed time. It’s a rarity in our culture and must be guarded fiercely.

I am not a huge new years person, not reveler nor resolution maker, yet I found myself early last month, thinking about my life, my time, joy, commitments, mortality and what the fuck I am doing here…you know the everyday existential  dilemma. In response to all this swirling around in me it seemed the only solution I could find was to slow down. Slow down my schedule, my commitments, spending, consuming in all forms.

I said earlier that this feels quite radical, and you know it really is. Our whole society is telling us constantly in everyway to hurry up, do more, be more productive, spend more, earn more. Madness. Absolute madness. It is no great wonder why so many of us are sick, stressed, spiritually bankrupt and exhausted. How could we not be??

I want to take a moment here, to acknowledge that me having the space to consider such things and the implications in my life, is inherently a sign of my privileged life. There are so many women who’s lives do not bare space for such questioning. Let alone for working less and spending more time with their families. I bow in gratitude for the space and the safety I have in this life.

What does it mean to live a life of simple purpose? What does it mean to give up the pursuit of “becoming” something, anything…wealthier, more lovely, as long as it is something you have to work towards, something that makes you not actually – here.
I don’t actually know yet, because you see I am just beginning to discover, one choice at a time. And its easy to get distracted, and thrown off course. For me it is starting with paying attention, choosing rather than reacting, looking at what actually brings joy, and what resilience means… this is enough for now. It is an awful lot actually.

It’s winter, and my mind is tumbling around all sorts of things, my body snuggling in warm wraps, a hot cup of tea in hand and a good pile of books. I let myself enjoy some space, some time to rest. A period of calm before roots and shoots start clamoring for my attention and the evenings are filled again with birdsong and muddy boots. I just want to enjoy this thing called life, trust in the goodness of it all. Another day will come, and God willing I will greet that dawn, humble and quite, no words are needed when the chickadee speaks so well…
I’ll just feed the birds and go muck the hen house, simple work is good enough for me.

 

 

Solstice Prayer

The sky is dark- clear and cold,
dawn did not come until 8 oclock this morn.
Frozen ground firm beneath my feet
the first sun of this shortest day
reflects off diamond dusted boughs of cedar
leafy holly, hardy grasses
All ablaze with light.

In days gone by when winter crept into our homes
and cold claimed penance of the skins of those like you and I.
When darkness came at dusk and lasted all night long – all long night,
with only glow of candles flame to keep the dark away and cold away
in those days, this day, this shortest day- had meaning
had power.

The longest night- rabbit, underground
lies buried deep, warm bodies of her kin beside her.
Goose has flown south by now, warmer climes await
Squirrel, now nested, acorns stored in plenty,
even worm is tucked away, slumbering.
Until soil warms and springs good work begins again.

Human builds a fire- to drive the dark away
to welcome visions of spring
call warm days back
recall the smell of sweet grasses
the taste of May’s first strawberry
remembering the living world will bloom again….

the dance now calls our feet to dance, our bones to move, our voices chant
to pound our feet upon the earth- voices raised in sacred laughter
faces ruddy in the firelight
Call back the sun! Sing back the sun!
Pound hard on frozen earth with joy!
We have survived this longest night, to see
a new years morn arise again.

The sky brightens with the dawn
we greet the day, alive and well and grateful
For all that has come before
and all that will come after
the magic of surviving
of belonging – here- on this land and in this time
New years sun above us once again
and kinships bonds to keep us warm.

 

 

Solstice Blessings to Your Home and Hearth.
Marianna

 

 

 

In Defense of a Simple Life

I can’t sleep. Up too late with thoughts running circles round my mind. It seems that life is moving faster all the time, each year, no, each month, swifter than the last. I can’t catch up. Here, in this culture where woman wear busyness like a badge of honor, I just want it all to slow down.

I an eternal optimist, I can’t help it, I try to be surly at times but to no avail. I always optimistically believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that I will have more “free” time, sometime in the near future…but sometime is never here. It looms, ever in the future, just out of reach, I could almost touch it if I just reach a little bit farther.

The ideal of the woman who can do everything is a crock of shit. I know this,I feel it in my bones. I know how marketing works, how swindled we all are. If it isn’t a fashion mag we are comparing ourselves with, its that perfect remodel on HGTV. There is no end to the cascade of false ideals dumped on our doorsteps each day. How can we know what is real amidst this storm of consumerist coercion? It insidiously creeps into our minds, thoughts we thought were our own, when opened for examination have no origin in us. This is madness. This drives us to madness.

I myself, am in a daily struggle. The desire to “produce” more, be it income, social capital, or even beauty. Weighed against the truth that I am tired, and I don’t want to play the game anymore.  I cannot hold it all up, and hold it to the standard that I desire to. Things begin to crumble. I cannot be it all, I cannot do it all. I feel this, and I am in a two income family with one grown child. What must this feel like for my friends with little ones at home and bills piling up on bills? Is this the equality we have been fighting for? Somehow it feels like we have missed the mark. “killin it” seems to be killing us.
And yes, of course this is a grand generalization, and I can only speak from my point of view. Still, I see so many women suffering under the delusion that we can multi-task our way to a picture perfect life, that it is time to pull back the curtain on that lie, expose it’s ugly underbelly and begin to engage in some real revolutionary work.

Could it be that in my relentless pursuit of becoming, I have lost myself? Lost the thread I am meant to hold throughout my life, the thread that William Stafford calls to us to cling tightly to? If this is what matters, and I think it does, what has to be sacrificed? What must I lay down in order to have a hand to hold the thread in?

There is this thing, called “too much” that surrounds us. We are so inundated by the cultural messages of acquisition that we fail to see how deep this patterning is. Peers of mine who eschew the commercialized ideals of the “American Dream” (who knows what that even means anymore) still ascribe to the doctrine of acquisition and hope, through a Hodge podge of progressive spiritual ideals that are in fact selling us the same thing. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. I am not above this, how many weekend courses have I taken trying to become a better version of me? How many crystals and smudges do I have right now in this very room where I write? Spiritual capitalism at its finest.

It seems that the only way to get off this mad train is to turn and face it looming behind me. To stand firmly in my two shoes and say “no more!” I am unwilling to trade growth for depth any longer. I am unwilling to sacrifice the sanctity of my life to meet some ideal that is not even my own. I will no longer be 3 miles wide and 2 inches deep, I want to be a  well, a spring,  dig deep and find sweet water, here.

I am learning to identify barriers to connection in my life, competition is one, perfectionism is right up there as well. What can I reclaim, or claim for the first time to bring sanity back into my life? I’ve been thinking on this and simple as it sounds, and not surprisingly, I think it has something to do with vulnerability and acceptance. If I can learn to see all the ways I am striving towards unreal expectations or doctrines, than maybe I can turn myself around. Connection is the antidote to bullshit, in fact,  I am pretty sure it is the antidote to all the woes of western civilization.

When I allow myself to be vulnerable, to show my multi layered imperfection, I am open to connection. I can have friends at my house that is messy, I can eat with joy and abandon without concern for what others think of my size or shape, I can speak my mind and heart, not tip toe around others. Which in this PC world feels like it is more an more necessary. Truly, it is not. Disagreeing with someone does not mean you don’t love them. In fact, differing opinions are a healthy thing, if we are all the same it is pretty boring out there.

So I am learning to be uncomfortable, to listen when the feelings of ” I need to be….” arise. It takes so many forms, there are so many things and ways I have been taught I need to be to, to  be worthy, to be accepted. It is a lie. I am, and will be, a whole healthy human woman, even if I don’t meet the standards, even if I look a little frazzled at the edges. I am taking a stand. Because you know what? No one else is going to do it for me. I am going deep, holy well deep. I plant my feet on this soil I call home and I will stay here. I will joyfully  grow my food, raise my hens, sleep beside my husband. I will listen to the quite yearning of my own sweet heart, and stay, home. I will, day by day divorce myself from the system that says I must be more. I am enough. I am woman,  I am home, and I am grateful.

Marianna Louise Jones

*image is of St Fumac’s holy well, Canmore Scotland

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

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”

OWS1OWS3

The Age of Lonesome Hearts

I have a confession to make. I am a lonely woman. Surrounded by love and friendship, with work that feeds my heart and creativity that feeds my soul, I am lonely all the same. I have been witnessing in myself and in others for some time now this deep and tender longing for community. Not the fragmented and separate social interactions so many of us call friendship. Not the frenetic busyness of activity and obligation. Not the planned excursions and classes. Though these all have value in their own way, they are a  poor balm for the deep wound of the lost web of a tribe.  No, what I am hungry for, ravenously craving, is the village.

What has befallen us as a people and a culture that we have arrived here, in this state of abject relational poverty, disconnected from the sense of wholeness that in all times before our own held us together as a single living organism. An interconnected system of reciprocal relationship, a messy, gloriously burdensome and indebted way of being  whole, that at this point in time is nothing but the glimmer of a memory in our blood. The bonds that once held us, in true interdependence have frayed at the ends, fibers worn and giving way, sacrificed to the Gods of independence and autonomy. Words that ring of freedom in this time, yet on a closer examination taste of cold steel and sorrow.

For all the years that humans have lived on this land we call home, this earth, we have walked together, ate together, slept together and raised families together. We find ourselves now in a place of extreme separation, so much so, I would propose, that the idea of living in interdependence with others sounds terrifying to most of us. Myself include. Not only terrifying, but also undesirable. We believe that we need space, privacy, independence. And indeed, living in the times that we do, with the current cultural conditioning that we have been subjected to, we may actually need that space to feel comfortable. What a poverty that is.

The rise of the nuclear family, which I will point out here is a uniquely modern arrangement, has left us separated from the feeling of tribal, communal inter-being and strapped us fully to the wheels of capitalism and all its tyranny. When we have to have an individual family home, two cars, two kids, and a houseful of barely used, foreign made belongings to feel good, we have become slaves to our way of life. Working to simply pay for our home, to pay for our appliances and tools, to pay for childcare, home maintenance, all of it I could go on and on, but you get the picture. The choice to live as single families is a deeply debt ridden and isolating idea, that causes pain and suffering for the individual family as well as the collective.

Humans, being social animals need companionship to thrive. We need support to thrive. The type of support that we can receive only form being in deep relationship with many people, not just a spouse or our children, a living active network of others, with shared values and shared work. I believe this is how we were born to live, and the deep sorrow, depression and addiction that plague our people is tells a story. Our needs are unmet, we are desperately lonely.

So where do we go from here, where do I go from here? Knowing this poverty, holding it in my hands, feeling the ache. How can I, busy, overworked and so time tight that I feel almost paralyzed, create community? Not just online, but right here in my own home. I have no answers and in fact at times I feel hopeless, but I do have some ideas, and I think they may be worth something so I will share them here. In hopes that also they may be of some value to another lonely human out there, perhaps reading this, known to me or unknown to me.

So here it is, my few tender ideas that could perhaps bring more connection and joy to my life and the lives of others. I think in fact I can sum it up into one main vain of thought- To have more – we must have less.
We must have less because in order to have and keep and own and store all that we feel we need is a prison. We must have less in the way of property and perceived material wealth so that we can learn what real wealth is. We must have less so that we can work less and love more. Somehow we must step out of this tyranny of time scarcity and delve into a relational space where we share what we have and create a new way of being. This is our system, we can dismantle it, we are not powerless.

Sacrifice is called for. Vulnerability is called for. Can I learn to break down the walls of perceived safety and connect? Invite the neighbors in, even when the house is messy and I am unsure if they are “my kind if people”. Borrow and lend tools and services, ask for help when I need it, offer help when I see it is needed? Can I extend the invitation that neighbors and friends can come pick from my garden, and ask for help with canning? These may seem small things, In fact I feel some shame that I am not comfortable with these action now, but they are not small for me. I am so conditioned to believe that mine is mine and that I have to, in a sense defend my territory. I did not choose this, I inherited it.

Could there come a day when I could give up my own sense of needing so much space, so many boundaries, that I could live with other families in the way my heart calls, screams and begs for? I don’t know, but I sure as fuck want to believe that. I don’t want to be lonely anymore.

As I tear down the walls of my conditioned beliefs and look into the lies I have agreed to live in and ignore, the social norms, the way things are. I cannot help but feel , mixed inextricably with the anger and despair a sense of purpose and knowing that this is not how things should be. And in that knowing is a strength and power to change. It starts with me, here, today. Putting these words on this page and saying out loud, or in print, that I am longing for something different, and that I am willing to sacrifice to see it come to birth in my life.  If perhaps you who read this feel a tugging in your heart as you read my words I invite you to reach out to me, to let me in. I want to talk about this hunger, and how we can feel full, together.

 

 

 

Simple Gifts

“Tis a gift to be simple tis a gift to be free! Tis a gift to come round where you ought to be…and when you find yourself in the place just right you will be in the valley of love and delight. ”

These words danced from my mothers lips throughout my childhood. The sweet and simple tune, a lilting soft spun sound, like the rhythm of waves lapping at the shore. She sang as she cleaned the house or drove in the car, as we walked through the streets of Northwest Portland. Sweet hymns where her songs and they became mine too. Simple gifts was her mothers song as well,  so it is truly in my blood, my generational memory, my DNA as well as my heart.  A song which now holds the power to make my heart swell to twice its size simply on hearing the first notes of the melody. This song has in fact become one of my own simple gifts. A treasure I carry with me, a comfort, a portable  piece of home I can never misplace.

I mostly sing this song in praise and moments of joy, I snuggle up beside it. The familiar feel of its presence so companionable. I sing it for Grandma Marjorie, an audible prayer of remembrance and devotion. It says “I won’t forget where I came from, my home is in your heart and yours in mine.” It is one of the ways I carry the bones of my ancestors with me. I sing it for the girl child I once was. Small sticky hand pressed into my Mama’s larger, less sticky hand. I sing it because I remember the feel of her cheek on mine. How her hair would fall over my face, that long heavy braid engulfing me. A curtain of Mom. Could anything be as beautiful as her hair?

Simple Gifts is a teaching song. Teaching a lesson we desperately need to learn. As life grows faster and faster with each passing generation. Simplicity is losing its place at the table. Being replaced by gadgets and gizmos, social media and netfilx binges. Can this small  song serve as a vessel to reconnect me to what really matters? The simple, free and beautiful blessings that life is made up of? Can I hold the teaching close enough to feel it?

I walk out in the morning. Rain falls softly, of course it does, it is spring in Portland. I do not have much time before the hustle of the day begins. Morning is my time, I make it my own. My thoughts are dark this morning. Life feels hard, how will I make it? How can I ever fulfill my dreams when I work so much and seem to have so little? Seem to save so little, my world feels little. I am a pawn in a system I cannot change, the thoughts begin their downward spiral once again…then I see the bird. Small, so small. A bushtit I believe. A fluttering of brown in the low shrub I am passing. The roundness of the birds body, stark contrast to the long angles of the branches. There is no fear of failure in his bright eye. No self pity in his morning foraging. It looks like joy, the way he moves through the shrub, onto the ground for just a wee moment and then brightly returns to the shrub. Watching me, head cocked just so in greeting.

I remember….Simple gifts. This is the gift to be free. To walk in the morning with an old dog beside me. Now so deaf that he hardly pulls on the leash at all. The bushtits calls do not attract his attention, he just keeps on sauntering, smelling, peeing every few feet. This is the gift, pure and simple. The gift to be in my life. Fully present and aware. To see that sweet bird and let his fearless joy for life swell in my heart. The unspeakable tenderness for this shared experience of the sacredness of life. This connection of being alive on this planet together, us three. Bird, dog and woman. Intrinsically linked in this pursuit we call life.

 

7031_Bushtit_01-03-2010_0

When true simplicity is gained to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed…..

 

My Ancestors

There has been a deep well of  thought swirling around inside of me since my reading of the incredible book Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson. The depth and sincerity of his inquiry in to what makes a good death, and what makes a good life, have unfolded layers of possibility I have not known prior to this time in my life. I am sure I will be unpacking this work for a long time to come. He discusses at length the historical and cultural need of humans to know their ancestors. The terrible poverty of spirit we suffer in the loss of this connection to people, our people, and place. Truly knowing our roots, let alone having any type of tangible connection to the land of our people is a foreign concept to most of us here in the west. This touched a chord deep in me, as sense of loss. I knowing only bits of my family history, nothing past my great grandparents and of them truly not knowing much. There is no blame here. My parents have shared with me much of what they know, and I am blessed to have a family that is quite intact and connected. Yet, I know there is so much more that I do not know than what I do.
I certainly do not know where the bodies of my dead lie. I do not know with any certainty, even in what countries they are buried. This feels like aching loss to me. What were the names of these people before me? What words were native to their tongues? What songs did they sing? These feel like questions of great importance to me in this moment. There is a sense that a part of me is missing ,an integral piece of who I am just not there. If you don’t know your past how can you know your future?
This is the plight of the immigrant, and we are almost all children of children of immigrants to this land, here in North America. We cannot leave our homelands without leaving our homes and without leaving the bones of our ancestors behind. This was their greatest fear, all of our greatest fears..to be forgotten. To be left behind. The hurt of this abandonment runs in my blood and if you look deeply I would imagine that you will find it runs in your as well. Though you may not have seen it  there before and you may not feel its deep ache at this moment. It is there, a rift, a space, a longing for something so old we almost forgot it existed, our history. 

As often happens when I am in process of something that feels big to me, a poem erupted out of the space of this inquiry into ancestry and belonging. Poems are healing balm for my human soul., maybe your soul as well. I leave this one here to share with you and with all my own ancestors, back and back and back. May they know my gratitude.

BONES

I have lost my ancestors.
Their bones lie buried in the ground
many miles from here,
many miles from me.
I do not know under what earth they lie,
Nor where they breathed their last breath
T
hat memory is lost to me, if ever I had it at all.

 My ancestor’s lives are shrouded now,
cloaked in fog, mostly gone,
whispers of that time before
heavy beneath stones in some land that I do not call home.
I know not where they are
Nor what of them I carry inside myself.

 Yet I know I am born and built of the same material,
a
nd I am here due to their surviving
Again, and again and again,
Generation
on generation.
They must have been good hunters, good mothers, survivors
with strong bones and sharp teeth.

My ancestor’s bones lie buried in my bones
I carry their blood in the rushing of my blood
I sing their songs in my own voice
I feel the cool earth in my hands,
it is the same earth that came before me
Earth made up of the bones of ancestor’s
Earth made of life
Earth made of death
I call this family.