Births and deaths. It seems the older I get the more these things mark the passages of my life. The graduations and weddings come in clusters and I’m at an ebb for those. Births and deaths on the other hand seem constant, a little here a little there but always something to count on in the course of a year. This last week there were, of course, several of these that touched my life briefly. Two, however, make a personal impact.
David Groska was the tech director for the theater department when I was in high school. He was barely older than us students and we loved him for that, his talent, and his sense of humor. He also had an explosive temper, which we found amusing as well. In retrospect I don’t think I would have appreciated being stapled to the set either.
He dated one of my classmates and they married shortly after. Not because they had to, but because they were meant to be together. So why wait? Teresa is now his widow and grateful for every moment they had together.
It wasn’t easy for them. They started out young and poor. Their eldest son had CP and some mobility issues. Their second added all the complications of a sibling to a child with special needs. Familiar as I am with this dynamic I can say Teresa and David handled it brilliantly.
The boys enjoyed being outdoors with their Dad. They built forts and camped out and hunted. Even though those boys are well on their way to being independent productive adults they’ll never stop missing their Dad.
David had been fighting with cancer for several years. Teresa and the boys were by his side every step of the way. The disease finally caught up with him. He’s free of pain and we are all left with memories.
On the other side of things my nephew Zac and his partner Darcy had their new baby on Friday: Emmaline Rae McMahon. This is their third, and the first girl. Adian is older, the High School boyfriend’s son. He’s such a proud big brother – as long as he doesn’t have to share his room with the babies. Babies is plural because Charles is just a year and a half old. He’s not quite sure what to make of the new baby, but we know he’ll be great too.
Andrea, my sister, is glowing. She’s been driving back and forth from her house in Northern Minnesota to the kids in Mankato in crazy weather and nasty traffic conditions. We placed bets on whether she’d make it to Thanksgiving dinner. In my household the money was on her sitting down to eat and the call coming in. Finally the wait is over.
Karina texted me, “The pic of Andrea and Emmaline makes me want to have a baby for you.” Me too, but I told her not to rush on my account. I’ve been ready to be a Grandma for years, I can wait a few more. My “little” sister’s been a Grandma for 4 years now. Owen got to go meet his cousin over the weekend and he was enchanted. Orion and I will probably hold out until the family gets together for the holidays. You may get another post about Emmaline yet….
The world turns in circles: wins and losses, plusses and minuses, births and deaths and the turn of the seasons. It’s hard to find gratitude with some of those turns, and much easier with others. I keep looking for it in small ways even when I can’t find it in the larger more obvious places.
Here’s hoping your life changes this week are slightly distant (it’s easier that it’s neither my husband nor my grandchild) or at least not quite so dramatic as life and death.
Some of you know that I write a second blog. lisaspiralreads.
I set up a challenge for myself to do book reviews on 50 books over the course of the year. There is no particular consistency to that blog. I post when I feel like it on the books I feel like reviewing. I read books I don’t review. I review books from a wide variety of genre’s.
The book reviews I write are the kind I like to read. I don’t rate books. I’ll tell you a little bit about them and why I did or didn’t enjoy them. Sometimes I like the information. Sometimes I like the writing style. Sometimes I like the theme. Sometimes I like to disappear into a pulp romance.
I haven’t been to the library in a month. They keep sending me nasty notes about all the books I have that are now long over due. I’ve been piling them up waiting to write reviews. Followers of this blog know that my October lasted well into November and I barely caught up with myself before the holiday season started. I’ve been biting my fingernails hoping that I’ll be able to get those last few weeks worth of book reviews written.
When I actually looked today I realized I only needed to write one more to make my goal of 50 reviews for the year. The other 5 books sitting on the floor waiting to be reviewed could go back whether I wrote about them or not! I’ve been avoiding, and worrying and waiting for nothing.
How often do you get yourself all worked up over a “deadline” that you’ve actually already met?
Another year and another post titled Thanksgiving. In past years I’ve written about my family traditions and about gratitude. Doesn’t that sum up the holiday in a nutshell? Family and thankfulness, what more is there to say? Still it is the job of the writer, be they blogger or novelist, to find new stories to tell, new things to share.
I write thank you notes. Not like you’re thinking “thank you for the lovely present” but genuine thank you notes. Every once in a while I’ll be inspired to write thank you for being you, for all the things you do for me, for being in my life kinds of notes. I was driving in traffic last week, alone. That gave me some time to think. I arrived at my meeting almost half an hour early. That gave me some time to write. I started a thank you note.
This note in particular is almost a “fan girl”note. I’ve met Teo, spent a little time talking to him, let Orion spend a morning with him and taken a workshop from him. But, even though I’d like to think we’re friends, I don’t really know him. Teo is a public figure among Pagans. He was an ADF Druid and wrote a blog with a wide following. His Spiritual journey has led him to return to an exploration of Christianity and a relationship with Jesus as Divine. He continues to blog about his Spirituality through all the transformative experience. He’s taken a great deal of flack for his choices.
My letter begins:
I want to start by saying thank you, yet again. Thank you for being kind. Thank you for being open and honest and willing to share. Thank you for being honorable. Thank you for living the path of someone truly called by Spirit.
As I write I am struck by the notion that this is a love letter. Not in the romantic sense, but in the sense of unconditional love. I can’t express gratitude without it. My heart is open and it is love that comes out, in the form of thanksgiving.
When I wrote about the Women and Spirituality Conference I talked about working with the ancestors. I told about my experience in the workshop meditation holding my ancestors in unconditional love. This is currently my daily practice, to spend 5 minutes a day simply holding my ancestors in my heart, in love. I am overwhelmed by gratitude. My heart is open and love comes out, in the form of thanksgiving.
My father pulls the turkey out of the oven every year and carves it. He often gets credit for the cooking, but that truly goes to my mother. In my household food is love. Dad makes bread, Mom makes stuffing and gravy and wild rice and anyone who shows up is always fed to bursting. I am lucky, and grateful to still have my parents. I am overwhelmed, with food and gratitude and love. This is Thanksgiving.
Life is full of good intentions. At least mine is. I make “to do” lists. I keep my calendar handy. I manage to get to my appointments and often combine those trips with a stop by the grocery store or the gas station or the bank. I come home full of excitement about getting at the dirty dishes or writing. Then something happens….. I fall through the rabbit hole.
Sometimes it’s just physical. All my good intentions don’t do anything once my back is done standing. Sometimes I’m just a lot more worn out from those errands than I might have anticipated. Sometimes a girl’s just got to have lunch RIGHT NOW! Once I’m “off task” I don’t seem to get back on. One distraction leads to another.
Or maybe I’m just interrupted, for good or ill. I get lucky on occasion. Once in a while when I’ve got “make a phone call” on my list, the person (my mother) or the office (doctor) calls me before I get around to it. It’s like getting a free check mark on my list. More often though it’s someone who called to “chat”, probably who I haven’t talked to in awhile. (I’m not really good at “keeping in touch”.) Once we get on the phone one thing leads to another.
This weekend for instance. I put an apple in the oven to bake for an evening snack. I didn’t bother to turn on the timer, all I was doing was watching TV and if it didn’t smell done before that it would be done when the show ended. Then the phone rang. Four hours (it might have been five) when I finally pulled the apple out of the oven it was charcoal. Maybe I should have taken a picture.
A frequent rabbit hole for me is Facebook. I’ll run through my feed, “like” posts, write comments and click on interesting links until I have a long line of tabs. Pretty soon I’m reading about some new nutritional supplement or a celebrity commenting on social issues or reading a blog – which then leads me to the other blogs I read – which then calls for responses and comments to blogs – which reminds me to check this one……. down the rabbit hole.
The Netflix/Hulu/cybersave full season TV shows are another trap. It’s one thing to “catch-up” on last week’s one hour episode. It’s another thing when full seasons (and multiple seasons) become available. I watched Orange is the New Black in about 2 days. New episodes are due in January. Maybe I can schedule a rabbit hole weekend. My evil self convinced me to take a look at Torchwood. I loved Captain Jack Harkness in Dr. Who and am a fan of John Barrowman, so why not?
How I’ve gotten to episode 12 is beyond me, but I haven’t gotten much sleep these last few nights………
This past week was my “catch-up” week from the whirlwind that was October. The last of the Samhain celebrations is over. The next round of medical check-ups hasn’t started. The holidays are still weeks away. (Thank goodness for a late Thanksgiving!)
The problem is that my “catch-up” week did not include quite enough catching up on the actual physical plane. I did catch-up on my sleep (finally). I got my refrigerator emptied of all those mystery plastic containers. I made some soup, and some more soup and stashed some broth away in the freezer. I read a book. I even went to the movies!
I still haven’t finished unpacking. Seriously, I still have camping dishes on my table from August, laundry in my living room from September and my suitcase from October is in front of the fireplace rather than put away in the closet. I unpacked the things that HAD to be unpacked and abandoned the rest.
The library is not loving me. I’ve stopped looking at my library page and am deleting the “important notice” emails. I know all those books are overdue. I know that the books I renewed in October have no renewals left. I know I haven’t been to the library in a month and several “on hold” books have been returned to the stacks. I’ll get to it, honest. Just as soon as I write reviews for lisaspiralreads. Well, I could return the half-dozen I haven’t even cracked open yet…..
I haven’t arranged to have the driveway plowed this winter. I have to do this or Orion can’t get on the bus. I haven’t raked leaves over the garden beds to keep them cozy warm (in case it doesn’t snow) until next spring. I haven’t added fuel additive to the mower/tractor thing sitting out back under a tarp because I don’t have room for it to winter in the garage.
I’ve been saying for a month that I needed an extra two weeks in October. I’m not on top of my game, but I’m ready for November. How can it already be halfway gone?
Samhain on the River is an event hosted by my friends Nels and Judy for many years. This year was the last and I made a point to attend. The high point of the weekend is the burning of an effigy “corn man” or a “wicker man” in ritual. Nels did a piece several years ago about his experiences hosting fire rituals.
The ritual itself is powerful, dramatic and lovely. Sitting with a group of friends drumming and dancing around a HUGE bonfire is a great time. Taking time out to acknowledge and honor the ancestors is especially nice in a year when we’ve had a recent death in the family. However, dramatic and awesome though it may be, the burning isn’t the heart of the weekend for me.
The ritual starts with a casting of the circle, calling in the four directions as guardians and protectors. The ancestors are welcomed and so is the Divine, in many forms. Then there is the feasting. This is a huge pot-luck extravaganza. The ovens are going for two days. There are half a dozen crock pots. The desert table has two levels and probably could use a third. Given all the dietary issues in the group everything is supposed to be marked and labeled – does it have meat? Nuts? Is it gluten-free? Vegan?
When I attend I complicate things. It’s that darned allergy to cinnamon. Most people don’t think it’s a real allergy, or they just don’t hear it, or they haven’t a clue how to read a label down to those tiny ingredients. (Except in red hots, cinnamon is rarely one of the first ingredients listed.) It gets even trickier when all the label says is “natural flavorings and spices.” Most of the time that actually means cinnamon. Who knew? - Well, I do.
There are a few people in this crowd who have watched me react to cinnamon. Who know that my children wash their hands and brush their teeth before they come home if they have a cinnamon roll elsewhere. People who have been to restaurants with me and been asked “Please don’t order the waffles, the cinnamon roll, the warm apple pie.” If the ventilation is good I might manage the room (if they’re not baking right then) but not at the table.
Because of all the trouble, the feast isn’t really the heart of the event for me either. It’s the people. It’s being able to spend time just talking and catching up with folks I only see once or twice a year. It’s the late night conversations about being a leader in the spiritual community and the lessons that come with the job. It’s the laughter when someone pours a glass of wine and makes a joke.
These people remind me that not all our ancestors are ancestors of blood. Many of them are simply ancestors of the heart. I remember this year, my aunt who just passed, but also the friends who I have lost over the years. I miss them all the time and think of them often. But so many of them would have loved sitting in a circle full of drummers and dancers around a really HUGE bonfire.
I have mentioned this event in an earlier post. See Ancestors and Descendants
Dancing With the Stars is on TV as background music for dinner tonight, but it’s nothing like the dancing with the stars I’ve been doing. I spent the weekend (Thursday through Sunday) at Wyalusing State Park in Wisconsin with The Earth Conclave. Since the theme for the weekend was astrology, I’ve been much more poetically dancing with the stars.
The Earth Conclave is a non-profit that devotes itself to an exploration of harmony in diversity with the natural world as it’s model. We work to deepen our relationships with each other and with the natural world around us. Often this expression takes an artistic and spiritual bent. The Conclave puts on two weekend events a year, one in the spring and one in the fall, around a theme. As a community we follow the event team and support the work of maintaining our community and deepening our understanding.
It sounds very deep and intense, and I suppose it is. More importantly though it’s fun. This is the most incredible group of loving and accepting and welcoming people I know. Though many of them are very scholarly, they are also very artistic and patient and committed to that idea that diversity makes us stronger. Everyone who comes has something to offer and there are plenty of opportunities to share those skills.
I’ve been involved with Earth Conclave since the turn of the century. (There’s a fun phrase!) Because of the work and travel I’ve been doing with writing and because of my physical limitations I’ve taken the last few years off. I can’t convey how nice it was to be back. Everything’s not the same (there’s a new stove in the kitchen) but it felt very much like coming home. This is a crowd that’s watched me react to cinnamon (I’m anaphylactic) and so when I show up they make some serious accommodations. Gayla, who was in charge of the kitchen, said “As much as I like cooking with cinnamon, it’s still nicer to have you here.”
The four astrologers who took on the challenge of presenting the content for this Conclave did an incredible job. They opted not to teach astrology, but to go with the heart of Conclave and help us develop relationships with the signs and planets. We walked through the world as each of the inner planets, feeling in our bodies the qualities those planets symbolize in astrology. We spent time in a room with the solar system at its center and the signs of the zodiac around the outside of our circle. It was easier to see the aspects and relationships when they were so much a part of everything we did. When we all went to stand under our sun sign it was nice to see there was someone present to represent every sign of the zodiac.
One of the funnest parts of the weekend was the Saturday night feast. We were all encouraged to dress as planets, or signs or objects of the heavens, and we did. We dressed up the dinning room with lights and glitter and had an enormous feast of greek food. It was beautiful, and outrageous, and a lot of fun.
I’m not new to astrology, but I would never call myself an astrologer. We all helped each other through the material, reading our charts, identifying our sun and moon signs. Everyone learned something, even the professionals, because they each have their own point of view. Sometimes it was just an off-handed comment that made all the difference in understanding or that opened up a new way to look at things. We were not limited to a list of traits and associations, but got to notice how the moon might be different from one person, or one element to the next.
I was more worn out by the end of the weekend than I expected. That’s part of why the blog is late. I also am still so full and processing the things that I learned that I can’t speak clearly about it. I can always say that Conclave is a wonder-filled experience with incredibly kind and talented people and always worth the effort to go. I’m so glad I went back.
I’m very fortunate in that most of my experiences with death have come with enough time to at least attempt to resolve tensions in the relationship. When my Grandfather was dying I was a sophomore in college. I was still young enough that my family tried to protect me from the inevitable. The hospice my Grandfather was in was fortunately walking distance from campus. I’d sneak in while the crew on “vigil” was off on a coffee break. We got to talk about how angry I was that he was going away when I was finally old enough to get to know him as a person. We got to talk about how he felt about dying and leaving his family behind.
I had a high school friend who committed suicide the same month my Grandfather passed. We also had long telephone conversations about his depression. I told him that I felt like suicide wasn’t helpful because I believed in reincarnation. If he had those issues to work out, and didn’t, they’d still be with him next time around. He felt that suicide was an opportunity to “reboot”. It was too painful to stay and he needed a way out. He planned carefully, researched insurance policies and their suicide clauses, said his goodbye’s in his own way. He even knew who he wanted to find him and when. It’s hard to lose a peer, especially so young. But I never doubted the clarity of his choice.
My best friend died of HIV Kaposi Sarcoma. That’s what killed Tom Hank’s character in Philadelphia. We had lots of opportunities for conversations about love and family. We talked about what he thought was ahead for him and what he was sad to miss. I knew how important it was to him that his sister be able to have the baby she’d always wanted. I knew that he felt his mother had made a “deal with God” to take her, with her recurrence of breast cancer, so that her son could have a few extra years. (He was right, I had the chance to talk with her before she passed as well.) We got to tell each other how much we loved each other and appreciated the opportunity to share part of this life. I made him read the eulogy I wrote for him before he passed.
I had another very good friend who passed suddenly. He had severe asthma. We’d been talking for a week before he went, trying to find a time to connect. He’d say, “I really need to see you.” I’d say, “I really need to see you.” but the stars and schedules never aligned. It felt like he knew it was coming and he wanted one last chance to say goodbye. I wished I’d been able to give that to him, but I knew and so did he, there wasn’t anything either of us could have changed. Just knowing that he’d tried was enough.
There is nothing more devastating than losing a child. I have a cousin who recently lost one to suicide. I have another cousin whose son was killed in a car accident his senior year of high school. My sister has lost two babies. The grief the parents feel is untouchable. For the rest of us, the grief is as much or more for the parents as it is for the child. Unless you’re an everyday part of a child’s life it’s hard to say you knew them. But the parents, they hurt and you hurt for them and there is nothing that will make it better, ever.
Unresolved issues are similar that way. I’ve been very close to people who’ve suffered losses before relationships could be healed. My Grandmother told my mother, “If you’re not going to come home and take care of me I might as well die.” and she did. It took my mother a long time. 40 years later I think she still feels some guilt. My niece and nephew lost their father in a freak logging accident. My sister had just ended their 18 year marriage. She wasn’t willing to live with his 20-year-old girlfriend. They were still sorting through custody and visitation and financial issues and he’d announced his engagement to the younger woman. We all grieved, but his family shut us all out from the funeral process. Even the kids, teenagers, were not fully included because they came with their mother. We were actually asked to leave the cemetery at the internment.
My aunt died last week. She’s been fighting with lupus and Parkinson’s disease for 27 years. She’s stayed active and alert and always been interested in friends and family. She and my father had a difficult relationship. When she went into hospice he finally started talking to her when Mom would call to check in. They were still merciless with each other, teasing always with an edge. In an off-handed comment to my sister at the funeral Dad said, “I’ve been waiting for this day since I was 10 months old.” Think there are any unresolved issues there?
The people we live with, the loved ones we take for granted, these too are our ancestors and descendents. Take some time to say, “I love you.” Be courageous enough to admit, “I was wrong, I’m sorry.” Have coffee and agree to disagree about how you see whatever issue is keeping you apart. The seasons turn and our time here is fleeting.
Thank you for following my blog. Many of you have become very dear to me. Your encouragement and support means more than you can know.
I promised Kathy from Lake Superior Spirit that I would blog about my weekend attending and presenting at the Women & Spirituality Conference at the University of Minnesota Mankato. Now my blog is late and I’m still struggling with what to write. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that I have too much. My brain needs an editor.
I love this conference. I don’t know why, but no matter how much or how little I participate, no matter how open or jaded my approach I seem to leave a little stronger than when I came. There is something special about women gathering to talk about Spirituality. There is something binding, bonding, supportive that comes simply from being in the presence of women. It’s the break from being a Mom. It’s the autumn weather and being “on campus”. It’s seeing old friends, unexpectedly. It’s finding out that the world is small and you really do know the friend of your friend.
There is so much to do at this conference. So many choices. I told one of my fellow participants that the reason I present is it immediately eliminates all the choices in that session slot. It’s easier. At this conference, this year, there was one workshop in particular I’m so glad I managed to attend. It was titled “Circle of Life – Seven Generations of Healing”
There are a lot of reasons I went to this particular workshop. The most compelling one was that my friend Judy is friends with the presenter. Judy has been trying to get me to contact Rmay for a few months. When I said I was going to the conference Judy said that Rmay was doing a workshop around her “Grandmother chairs.” She told me, “I have no idea what the workshop will be but you HAVE to see those chairs.”
So I found the workshop on the schedule, looked for an alternative choice in the same building and stuck my head in to meet Rmay and see the chairs. Of course I recognized Rmay (who I may have known by Mary or may just have known by sight) and she recognized that I was familiar as well. And the chairs………..
Rmay Rivard is an artist and she took on a project to explore her relationship to the women whose mitochondrial DNA she shares, her maternal lineage. She dumpster dived for wicker chairs, coated them with plaster bandage painted them white and waited. She used her intuition, her divination skills, her pendulum and decorated a chair for herself, her mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, her great-great-grandmother and so on seven generations back. For most of these women she had very little to go on. She didn’t even know their names. Still the chairs became shrines, and many of them came to the conference.
We were invited to sit in a circle of Rmay’s ancestors. We were told the stories of the chairs and the stories of some of these women began to unfold. We also shared our own stories of our female ancestors, calling them to join us in the circle by sharing their names and stories. We did meditations connecting us to our past and to our future generations of women sharing our DNA. We were invited to trust our intuition and to continue this work.
I can not explain how powerful, how moving and how incredible this experience was for me, and for most of the women in the room. We had a sense of knowing Rmay’s grandmothers, as though we’d been brought over for tea and introduced. We had a sense, hints, of knowing our own grandmothers as people, as women. We saw them in our visions in their childhood and as young mothers. We saw that they had struggles in their lives that made their difficult behaviors make more sense. Several women also saw their children and grandchildren and were called to know the grandmothers to share their stories further down the generational line.
I’ve been to a lot of silent suppers and meditations for honoring the dead and connecting with the ancestors. This was remarkable even in that context. There is a power in this art, in these chairs and (I do say in my book that invocation encourages invocation) the visceral presence of Rmay’s grandmothers made our own more present as well. Even the stories about creating the art added to the magic and the mystery.
Rmay talked about the polka dot pattern on one of the chairs. After the chair was finished Rmay’s sister found a photo (in black and white) of this grandmother. In the photo she is wearing a skirt in the same polka dot pattern as Rmay painted on the chair. There is the story of Rmay using a pendulum to find dates while building another chair and her sister (on ancestry.com) finding the dates, and therefore the name of the grandmother.
In the end we sat in a meditative posture and held our ancestors, past and future, in unconditional love. This is the healing that the workshop title refers to. Unconditional love and acceptance across the generations heals our family, and ourselves, in the very cells – the mitochondrial DNA – that we share.
I also wrote an article about the conference for the Pagan News Collective if you want to check that out.
The wheel of the year keeps turning and I’m still running to catch up. I starting the morning with, “What do you mean it’s already Monday again?!?” The leaves are finally starting to turn, about two weeks behind. I’m feeling about two weeks behind as well. Unfortunately, my schedule isn’t.
Sometimes when things are this hectic, and there is no end to the hectic in sight the best thing to do is actually to stop. Take a moment and breathe. Give myself permission to simply be present and grateful and still. Setting a timer is sometimes a necessary component in this formula. If I don’t set the alarm I spend the time worrying about how much time I’m taking. If I do set a timer I can trust that it will go off and I will move on.
So let’s take a minute (no really, one minute) and breathe together…..
Take a deep breath in
Let it out with a long exhale
Take another deep breath, slowing it down just a little
And simply let it slowly release
Let’s be in our bodies, simply allowing the experience we are experiencing. Noticing where we are in space. Noticing what does or doesn’t hurt. Not correcting, or compensating but simply accepting what is. Let’s be in our bodies.
Let’s open our hearts to gratitude. Today, in this moment I am grateful for taking a breath. I am grateful for the friends who are lending a hand this week. I am grateful for the family that is pitching in or simply making space in their lives for me. I am grateful to be up and moving and writing and continuing forward with my plans. I am grateful for all of the people who take time to share this moment with me, in their own time. I am grateful for all the bounty in my life.
Take a deep breath in
Let it out long and slowly