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.