About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
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Friday
Sep262014

The gift inside a package of loss

 

These are my two older boys, standing in front of the dumpster containing most of what they knew to be home and possessions,

a little less than three years ago, right after our house fire.

We keep this photograph above their bunk beds to remind them of what it takes to be happy.

 

Loss can be a teacher, if you let it.  

And for this, you may want to say, "Thank you, Loss, for the gift inside the hard package of your making. I wish you would have dropped the little nugget into my lap, but I understand there was something necessary about the unwrapping."

"Something necessary" may be all you've got so far. You may still be reeling. The wound may still be bleeding. That's ok. Knowing will come.

 

Coming up on the 3rd anniversary of our house fire, I have more perspective now to look at some of the gifts. One such gift is that the fire gave my children at an early age--5, 4, 2, 39 weeks gestation, an awareness of humanity’s cycle of love and loss. 

It gave them humility, a primal knowing forged hard like an iron anvil in their soul that life is fragile, and awe-inspiring, and sacred. 

They learned first hand that pets die, and thus do people.  That toys burn up. That clothes stored for a full season in their closets can be turned to ash in no time. 

That nothing is immune. 

 

They saw firsthand that we need each other. That community can fill the gaps. That we are so interconnected, so dependent.  That we need family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, sometimes not in that order.

That mom and dad are human, and we don’t have all the answers. But if we are brave to ask the questions, people will gather around a dinner table and talk and laugh and cry; and maybe no answers will be found, but we will go to sleep happy and loved.

 

They learned there are people in the world who will spend their Christmas budget to buy clothes for a story of loss they read about on Facebook. That there are high schoolers who will take on a second job so they can buy a Wal-Mart doll and some plastic cars for the children of their history teacher. 

That some of those students came from families with no money, from parents who already work two or three jobs, and that some of those children who couldn’t afford to buy gifts, sprayed perfume on their own stuffed animals, and wrapped them in lumpy Christmas paper, and gave anyway.

 

My kids know how intricately the web is woven- how much we are inside of and wrapped around each other. 

I see it in my eight year old when he cries that his pet grasshopper died, and then buries him in the ground and says a prayer for blessing; in his articulation of social jostling at school, and what people do to try to be cool when really they're hurting.  I see it in my seven year old's empathy, his earnestness, the way he pets dogs and touches his friends, and never pulls away first from a hug.  I see it in my little girl's reputation as the classroom peacemaker, the little momma who tries to make sure everyone is using kind words and having kind hearts. I see it in Phoenix because he was the most surrounded, and he is the most secure. My little fire baby also hates getting water on his face.

 

I am grateful that fire is a defining part of my children’s narrative. 

I don’t want them to take life for granted. I don’t want them to feel insulated from hurt and pain.

I want them to be children who pay attention, who notice spiders spinning webs between tree limbs, and woolly caterpillars inching along in the grass.

An awareness of life’s fragility is a gift usually given inside a package of loss, but is it not worth it to begin to know at such a young age how to truly live?  


Last year, after the 14th annual Sustainable Living Fair had to be canceled because the Poudre River overflowed from excessive rain and flooded the field grounds, destroying many homes as well, Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms (and the documentary Food, Inc.) came to our town and gave a riveting-albeit relaxed and relatable as one would expect from someone who works with land and animals- talk on conservation and sustainability. 

He said something I will always remember: “We are a culture cutting itself off from the ecological umbilical cord.” 

He lamented our lack of understanding of life and death, of growing things, our insularity from something as fundamental as seasonal change, let alone things like the loamy earth under our fingernails, an understanding of the habits of wildlife, a knowledge of where our food comes from, an awe for the interconnectedness of all living things. 

He mentioned how we began as an agricultural society, how communion with the earth used to be viewed as a noble, sacred profession-take the Jeffersonian Agrarian model as an example-and how those associations have devolved into a stereotype of the “trip over the transmission in the yard West Virginian who can’t string two words together.”  

I wrote in my notes that the stainless steel-ness of our lives is robbing our children of their sacred participation in the fragile cycle of life and death. 


I grinned when Salatin spoke about the ineptitude of youngsters these days who don’t know how to work with their hands unless it’s typing on a keyboard.

I laughed when he asked, “how can a 16 year old be behind the wheel of a 3,200 lb vehicle but not know how to use a cordless drill because that’s a potentially dangerous tool?”

And I cried when he said that callouses and splinters and craftsmanship are no longer valued, because I thought of my father, the stone mason, coming home from work everyday with stone dust on his faded jeans, and huge callouses on his dirty hands, and I remembered how safe I felt because my father smelt like the earth. 

I took furious notes when he began to speak of the language of the Bible, of pruning and fruit, yeast in the dough, winnnow and chaff, even jars of clay- words that will soon hold no meaning; of how food in a larder allows us to feel that where we live is an abundant place, so when was it decided it was more important to drive our kids three hours to a soccer tournament than to cook dinner for them?

I thought of my children when he said, “We are segregating the integrated system into two camps: humanism and technology. We survive alone.”  

 

“Not so in this household, please God,” I thought.  This family made it through because of many work-worn calloused hands holding us up.  We made it because other people, maybe because of their own packages of loss, knew what it felt like to walk a dark night alone, and came alongside us to carry a light.

Perhaps we might have survived our fire alone, but that’s all it would have been- mere survival. 

The place we are now, this thriving abundant land we are humbled to call home, was a gift handed to us in a package of loss, a lesson taught by nature and community that we come from dust, and to dust we return, and it is how we love while we walk these few brief steps upon the sacred earth that matters.

 

"For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.

Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks. He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart."

-excerpted from Kahlil Gibran's "On Love" from The Prophet

 

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