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Terrified Yet Transfixed

     Fire.
Amazing, seductive, life-giving, nurturing. Terrifying.

     My son was driving in the wee hours through rural Georgia on his way to deliver a load of department store goods in Kentucky, when he saw a huge, as in he thought he was seeing things it was so huge, orange ball of light pulsing in the darkness. Both thoughts simultaneously in his brain:  It’s a fire! It can’t be a fire!

     Within moments, he got closer and saw it was a mansion as big as an apartment building engulfed in raging, throbbing flames. The ball of fire grabbing up at the sky, the mansion itself like a shadow inside the flames.

     There was no one anywhere in sight. He stopped the truck and called 911, straining to see if there anyone around. He saw no one. No nearby houses. No sirens.

     Being so close to that inferno was deeply unsettling to him. He was transfixed and terrified, even though he was at a safe distance from the blaze.

     His experience reminded me of this story from the Ibibo people of eastern Nigeria, “Fire’s Wild Dance.” Long ago, the Sun and Moon were happily married and living here on the earth. They had many friends and loved to entertain. Sometimes they could hear Wind whooshing in from far off, other times he spoke quietly at their door to announce his arrival. Fire was animated and loved to tell stories. Because he danced and waved his arms when telling his stories, they would visit outdoors in the open yard for safety. The Trees in the nearby forest were friends as well. Since they couldn’t come to the house, Sun and Moon went to the forest to visit them. They also went to Water’s home as Water knew it would not be safe for he and his family to visit as they were so large, they might do harm.

One day, Sun and Moon decided to build a larger house, then they could have larger parties and everyone could come. So with much work, they did build a house of wood and thatch five times larger than their first home. They invited everyone to the celebration. They cooked pots of food, gathered fruits for days ahead in preparation. Yet again, Water said he must decline as the wonderful new home was still too small and he and his family might bring danger.

Wind arrived bustling and swirling, blowing through the forest. Fire crackled and sparkled as he danced in. The festivities and food were abundant. Wind was singing with his rich voice along with Fire as he told his story. Fire leapt excitedly in his dancing.

And then… a spark caught on Wind’s breath and flew to the thatched roof. Soon the house was in flames. Wind stopped singing. Fire stopped dancing. Sun and Moon began shouting. Fire cried out, “There is nothing I can do now. Only Water can stop the flames!”

Sun called to Wind, “Go quickly to Water. Tell him to bring all his family. We need them now!”

Snohomish River, Lowell park.
Photo by MDessein

By this time, the Trees in the forest were also aflame. Water arrived with his family and they were able to put out the fire of the house, but not the Trees. It seemed everything was on fire. Water sent Wind back to summon all his relatives. Cascades of water rushed over the land, rising higher and higher. Soon, the fires were out, nothing could be seen. The land was under water. The trees were under water. Wind had blown away. Fire had disappeared. Sun and Moon flew up to the sky for safety.

It took a long time for Water to make his way back to the sea. There was nothing left of Sun and Moon’s home. Every day and night, they came back to look around earth for a new home. They have not found any place as magnificent as the home they had, so they remain in the sky.

My son drove past the place of the fire two days later on his return to Tennessee. Absolutely nothing was left standing. A huge black area was the only evidence the mansion had been.

What? How? Why? The unanswered questions disturbed him. He felt a visceral gut punch reliving the intensity of the experience; the uncontrollability, the wildness of the fire.

Fire.
Amazing, seductive, life-giving, nurturing. Terrifying.

Been there, have you?

P.S. you can find Tom Nevin’s version of “Fire’s Wild Dance” in his book, Zamani.

It’s About the Light

The leaves drift and drop from the trees each fall. It is often thought the leaves falling is due to the cooler weather. Simplistically, it is more about the decreasing amount of light as the days become shorter, the chlorophyll which give the leaves their green color breaks down, and the leaves change their color to the many magnificent oranges, yellows, golds, scarlets, amber, rust, and crimson.

It’s about the light.

When I was afraid to go upstairs to my bedroom as a 5 and 6 year old because it was dark and I could not be sure there was no creepy thing lurking. There was not light in the stairway or upper room until I got to my bedroom.

How many times have I been stopped by my own fear and uncertainty? When I didn’t think I could see enough? So it didn’t stop at age 6!

Hydrangea. Photo by MDessein

Ah, when did I not see when I was the light? As my children have become autonomous, amazing adults, I sometimes look back and wish I had known better for times they were in distress and uncertainty. I tended to react to the event, their behavior, and circumstances rather than look at the bigger picture, possible actions, and then respond. Yet, they are both still speaking to me! and I look forward to each time. For the most part, they remember when I stood up for them, taught them, played with them~

Mukilteo sunset. Photo by MDessein

Michael Strassfeld is an author, a rabbi, and thinker. One of his thoughts captured my attention, “Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.”

Be the light.

When I’m gone, you’ll need love

Legacy. An interesting word, yes? A gift left in a will, a bequest; something handed down from the past, such as the legacy of ancient Egypt.

I was taken in finding a crafted box with a clasp, in my china hutch as I was cleaning things out. I opened the box, to find it lined with a silky fabric, and therein a thick book with a warm brown leather cover. In opening the cover, I see my grandmother’s name, M. Dessein, embossed in gold on the page and the date of 28 Mai 1908. It is a prayer book, in French.

Beautiful pictures, a ribbon marking a page, small prayer cards in various pages. Also in the crafted box, two hand-written letters. Neither had dates, however, they referenced a trip to France. One written in French from my grandmother’s sister and one in English from my grandfather. My grandfather Alfred, who died seventeen years before I was born. Grandpa Alfred. He signed the letter ‘your lover.’ Grandmere made a trip from Seattle to her birthplace in Langres, France in 1927 with her firstborn child, my mother, Josette. Grandmere was anxious to see her family again and introduce them to her beautiful three-year-old daughter. There is much to be said there, however, back to my topic.

Grandmere’s prayer book. Photo MDessein

Do you think about the legacy you are leaving and will leave? And to who?

“So lately, been wonderin’, who will be there to take my place? When I’m gone, you’ll need love, To light the shadows on your face.”

So in my going through my little hall closet, which a water leak in the wall has forced me to do, I find the Wedding Anniversary memory album of my parents’ 40th anniversary in 1984. Quite the shindig, to be sure. It was at my house, I made a triple-decker wedding cake for them, a soft orange with deep orange trim. Twas a beaut, if I say so myself.

Do I throw that album away? A lot of the people in the pictures are long passed away. My two children live in other states, my son was two at this event and my daughter wasn’t born yet. Is it part of their legacy?

Ah, when I am gone, my children in their 60’s (!) looking back – at memorabilia, their lives, their children, perhaps grandchildren. What am I leaving them? Is it already a done deal?

“If a great wave should fall, It would fall upon us all. And between the sand and stone, Could you make it on your own?”

I wish I could ask my mom questions, ask my dad what he would do differently. Ask my grandparents what they think I ought to do next. Ask my great-grandparents how they would approach a huge life change.
Have you had similar wishes?

“And maybe, I’ll find out, The way to make it back someday. To watch you, to guide you, through the darkest of your days.”

Is my legacy a combination of what was left to me to now pass on? Is it how I raised my kids and therefore all done? Is it how I have moved through the world and helped others? Made a difference? Protected someone? Or simply when I held the door for that family at the Post Office?

“Runaway with my Heart. Runaway with my Hope. Runaway with my Love. I know now, just quite how, My life and love might still go on. In your heart, in your mind, I’ll stay with you for all of time.”

This song I’ve been singing to you is “Wherever You Will Go” written by Aaron Kamin, guitarist in the band, The Calling, in 2001. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlMLzg7ZKYw
It speaks to me of legacy, love, and support.

My mortality has been brought to mind by finding all kinds of family artifacts and the people who once used and lived with them. I haven’t got this figured out. Yet I know my father loved roses and Mom loved raspberries. So do I.

Forgiveness. Really?

Redemption. We’ve talked about this before, yeah? You and I, you and your spouse, with your daughter, your boss, your neighbor, your therapist, your lover, probably even your cat.

     What is redemption anyway? The act of saving or being saved from error or evil; the action of regaining possession of something in exchange for payment; clearing a debt; release from the consequences of an offense for the person who committed the offense.

     Okay then, what is forgiveness? A conscious decision to release feelings of resentment toward a person(s) who has harmed you.

     Interesting. In the program, we used to talk about forgiveness is not forgetting, it is not condoning, it is releasing. Lewis Smedes noted “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

     Really?

     Last year, in one of my sojourns to work with the kids in Juvenile Justice, I told the Haitian story from Diane Wolkstein, “One My Darling, Come to Mama.” It goes like this: A mother has four daughters, she loves and dotes on the first three and despises the fourth daughter, Philamandre. Every night when the mother comes homes, she sings as she is coming up to the house door, “One my darling, come to Mama. Two my darling, come to Mama. Three my darling, come to Mama. Stay Philamandre, stay. Stay where you are.”

The three daughters would let their mother in, they’d eat dinner together. If there were any scraps left from dinner, then Philamandre could eat.

     One day, the three daughters were kidnapped. When the mother came home, she sang. No answer. She sang again. No answer. She opened the door, saw the daughters were gone, and ran away like a madwoman, singing the song frantically. Philamandre realized she was on her own, went to the town and found work. Eventually she came to work in the palace of the king, and over time, the prince and she fell in love and were married.

Years passed. One day, she heard the maids talking about a crazy woman singing a song out in the street. Philamandre, now queen, went to the window to look out. Yes, it was her mother. Her clothes were rags, her hair was wild – filled with sticks and bird droppings.

     The queen went outside, brought the her mother in. She bathed her, gave her new clothes, and trimmed her hair. “Mama, the others are no more. I am here. You did not take care of me. Yet now I will take care of you.”

     I said nothing more for a minute or so, looked at the five young women sitting in a semi-circle in front of me, dressed in the standard-issue orange trousers and blocky shirt, and then said, “I’ve never understood that story. How someone mistreated could then turn around and take care of the one who mistreated them?”

     One of the girls looked me in the eye, “Maybe she didn’t want to be like her mother.”

     I’m three times as old as this seventeen year old, yet she has wisdom like that?

Honeysuckle 5-31-2020
Honeysuckle in the rain 5-31-2020

I have often pondered how abused children, when adults, re-establish relationships with their abusive parents and often take care of them, specifically with a couple people I know.

     I have been thrown under the bus, as they say, for things I did not do yet got the consequences as the person who did the action would not take responsibility for it. I have been lied to, stolen from, betrayed, mislead, as we all have, sometimes by my own family members. I was bitter. It wasn’t right, where was justice? I was resentful.

     In looking up Lewis Smedes, he was a professor of theology and ethics, and author of fifteen books. “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

That young woman who responded to me may have been in custody for an illegal act, yet she had certainly learned a few things along the way. Indeed, there is hope for the future.

Years ago, one of my siblings did some egregious things. I believe I have forgiven them yet want no contact with them. One of my cousins chided me for that, saying, “But they’re family.” In my head, I am going, “Yeah, but…” Recently I came across another wisdom of Professor Smedes:

“You can forgive someone almost anything. But you cannot tolerate everything… We don’t have to tolerate what people do just because we forgive them for doing it. Forgiving heals us personally. To tolerate everything only hurts us all in the long run.”

Oh my.

So tolerate is now in the mix. Forgive. Permission to not tolerate. Redemption. Significant issues for me in my life, as many changes are being presented. Some of them being who am I now in my life, who do I strive to be, who do I wish to be with? How do I do this? Where shall I live? How do I pursue what gives me meaning?

I leave you with this from Hans Z and Lisa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBE-uBgtINg while I go redeem my coupon for the turkey taco. Let me know what you think~

Subway to My Heart

     “Hi! Hi! Hi!” She waved her small hand between each greeting. Her eyes captured my attention. Bright, alive, mischievous – insistent that I see her. 

     I smiled and waved back at her, “Hi.” 

     About three years old, with short dark brown curly hair and vivacious brown eyes, the little girl wore a flowered dress with a red background. Sitting kitty-corner across the subway aisle from me, she perched on her seat, while her mother sat on the seat behind her. The subway rattled and rocked us as it rushed to McGill Station, the next stop on Montreal’s green line. 

     She pushed off the plastic seat and hopped the three steps over to me. As she reached up toward my oval-shaped earring dangling from my left ear, I was instantly wary – I leaned slightly back. In my moment’s hesitation, she gently rubbed her thumb and forefinger on the length of the earring, smiling slightly as her bright eyes watched me, and then fingered the right earring without the slightest tug on my ear. 

     Her mother called her back to sit down. We waved at each other the rest of the four minute ride. The panel doors split open, she turned and waved, “Bye.”

     I waved back, “Bye.”
    “Bye!”

     I smiled, perhaps as big as her smile, “Bye!”

     “Bye!”

     “Bye!”
    Holding her small hand, her mother and she merged into the melee of people going up the tall flight of stone stairs, leading to the underground plaza to either change trains or head up the two-story escalator to the street.

Streetlight in front of Notre-Dame Basilica Montreal. Photo by MDessein

     I turned the corner, found the correct direction to Boulevard Maisonneuve, and who is in right in front of me as I step onto the escalator? The bright-eyed little girl. She could have covered the rest of her face, and I would have known from the sparkle in her eyes of her joie de vivre. She recognized me immediately, “Hi! Hi! Hi!” and put her hand up. 

     My heart warmed instantly. I put my hand up to give her a ‘high five.’ 

She opened her fingers, put them between my fingers, and closed her hand around mine, looking me in the eye, as if she knew a happy secret. 

     She held my hand the entire way up the escalator, we looked at each other; she seemed to know clearly what was going on, while I held her hand in wonder.

     This child’s intuition, spontaneous action, seemed so clear and sincere. No hesitation, simply clarity in action. Her small hand warm in mine, my eyes moist and my heart entranced with her being.

     Countless times in decades past, I missed these opportunities of genuine engagement. I smiled and kept going. I would have said “Hi,” in return and gone back to reading or whatever important, adult thing I was doing at the time. 

     I now realize those wondrous moments of true connection, spontaneous positive interaction are more important, more life-giving than anything I might have been reading, planning for, or worrying about. 

     In submitting a grant application recently, the grant requirements helped me articulate a vital nugget my intuition has known for years: I write to help people see their humanity in others, to see their own stories in the stories of others. Our human connection. 

     Oh! I write to find my own humanity and connection to others. I tell folktales and ancient legends to connect with humanity, decades and centuries past. We are all stories. 

     “The Black Prince,” a millenia-old Egyptian folktale has followed me for years trying to teach me that. On some level, I knew it as I told the tale when teaching life skills, including telling it to my son when he was searching for himself. Then the Black Prince showed up again in my dreams and my writing a couple years ago until I completed the CD telling his story. The story of his search, my own unaware search, and the search of countless other people.

     Then this little girl, filled with joy and trust, held my hand the entire way up the escalator.
And I held hers.