too much beauty to bear

She really wants to know my growing-up, formative landscape, the one that surely must have created in me this deep love of Earth and Water in this place….

I once heard a young woman describe what it was like for her to fall in love with a woman after many empty attempts at heterosexual relationships… how everything suddenly fell in place, as if she’d at last discovered what had been missing. She described it as something like the gnawing feeling you have when you know you’ve misplaced something but can’t recall what it is or even be certain whether you’ve actually lost something at all or might just be lost yourself. How it is that when you stumble upon it you finally remember who you are.

That’s the best answer I can give to her question, vague as it is. That when I found this place, it was like something missing in me was found and returned to me. How this particularly shaped hole formed in me, I cannot say. It is a mystery of belonging too deep for my words or my understanding.

Part 1

Two nights ago, an unexpected and unsolicited piece of information came my way. I don’t know what to think about such bewildering sychronicities as this, how it is that not 24 hours after I wrote the words above, confessing my feelings that something missing in me is inexplicably met in the water and the woods of Algonquin, this news arrived on the doorstep of my heart. Not a day after confessing the unaccountably deep feeling of belonging and homecoming I experience in my bones in this place, which seems to have no relation to any landscape in my personal life’s history, I learn the strange news that my ancestor grandmother may have been a Penobscot Indian. Yes, that Penobscot, people of birch bark canoes and beavers, otter and moose and turtles, lakes and rivers and mountains.

If I am honest, I tend to be quite cynical about things like this. Not only synchronistic timings that feel providential, but also that there is in me the spirit (even if only the DNA) of an ancestor so strong that it awakens such longings in me, vague memories of rightness and feelings of familiarity. But here I am, a bit giddy, in fact, waking through the night with her in my heart. I feel like Alex Haley discovering the roots that made his own life suddenly clear.

A 4th great grandmother was she, a woman whom I’ve known was a chapter in our family story but about whom I had no details, such as setting or plot, other than she was a ‘full blooded American Indian’. As a young girl, I’d been enchanted by the possibility of her, imagining myself her descendant. I remember ingenuously attempting to walk through the woods without making a sound, (checking my footprints to see if they were parallel and straight, as I’d been told a ‘true’ Indian’s were), beading bracelets on my ‘Indian loom’, and yearning to let my boy haircut grow down to my waist (which I finally did when my mother got angry after the beautician gave me a stylish cut in the 4th grade of which she didn’t approve, and so never took me for a haircut again). As an adult, I’d occasionally pour over the photos of my ancestors, which my grandmother had given me stretching back to the 1860’s, looking for hints in those solemn faces. My best guess, living in this part of the country and state, was that she might have been interred at the Carlisle Indian school and married from there.

I cannot fully describe the elation I experienced, the oh my god, ‘yes’, as the pieces fell into place. The strange feeling of home in that place. The way my body relaxes when it settles into a canoe. My affinity for the beaver, the turtle (even before experiencing them in Algonquin), the hemlock and spruce.

It feels as if I am gifting her in my return to those places, seeing those waters through her eyes, weeping with the joy of the long awaited reunion of lover to beloved.

Part 2.

Yesterday, my first day back from my recent visit to Algonquin, I visited my mother, who is suffering from significant dementia. I’ve written often about that troubled relationship here. (like this post and that one ) Lately there has been a sort of truce between us, me loving the humanity in her, the ways that her own life must’ve been painful and difficult, finding compassion for her as a woman in my own maturity that i couldn’t as a young woman. She, in her forgetfulness of me over the past year, has mostly greeted me as a nice stranger whose company she enjoys. Yesterday, something clicked in her, as she asked my sister, for the 10th time during our visit, who I was. Suddenly, from her newfound awareness, she went into a negative tirade about how bad I was (nasty was the word she used). I allowed it to simply be, as best I could from a place of heartbroken love, understanding the pain I have also likely caused her. Perhaps it is true that hearts breaking open make space over time. Still, though I was on some level able to see her with eyes of love/ feel compassion and forgiveness for her in those moments, it was interesting to notice how my body belied my benevolent thoughts. I experienced a complete draining away of my energy.

This morning a quote came to me, attributed to native American author, Linda Hogan –

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

Part 3.

Today, I went to a post-medical-testing consult with my. spouse It seems he will be needing surgery again. Our plans for paddling together in Algonquin will have to take a back seat for the 3rd summer in a row. There will be consults, surgery, pain, caregiving and recovery. My love for him and my sadness over the loss coexist in my body at once. There is so much more complexity within this than I can begin to express here, than perhaps I am even consciously aware. Again, my body knows it. The profound grief within this washes over and through me, and all I can do tonight is to let it be.

I listened yesterday to a podcast where the following words on ‘love in the hard places’ gifted me with their grace. I return to them now.

Love is space. (it is not preference, alignment, affinity or positive reflection). It is developing the capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are. That is love. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have hopes or wishes that things are changed or shifted, but that to come from a place of love is to be in acceptance of what is, even in the face of moving it towards something that is more whole, more just, more spacious for all of us. It’s bigness. It’s allowance. It’s flexibility.”

I thought today often of the strength and resilience of my Native American grandmother, the intense grief that must have been hers to bear within her profound longing for place, the ache within her for home and belonging, perhaps even for Love. Perhaps I have more of her inside of me than I know. She gifts me now with eyes to see how to hold it all, with a heart wide enough to Love.

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