I found her wedding ring at the bottom of the box. Her birth certificate, death certificate, and passport in the same box mixed together with decades of birthday cards and letters. Open the box. Toss them in. Don’t look back. Memories to revisit later. Or much later. Or never.
As I wade through these boxes I’m beginning to understand. Looking back is hard. Especially when the grief is raw. Especially in a culture that doesn’t travel the journey of death and grief very well. Among the stacks of condolences my dad received when my mom died I found a card from some dear friends in Ireland. It indicated that my mother would be remembered at mass every week for a month and then again on the anniversary of her death. In some cultures looking back is ritualized.
Now, these boxes are my ritual of looking back to capture these memories before we lose them. I’m grateful my grandmother’s ring is still attached to the personal effects tag from either the hospital or funeral home that took care of her when she died. So many other wedding and engagement rings I’m finding offer no clue about the owner. For all the looking there is nothing to see beyond the gold and diamonds. No memories or stories released to dance through this moment and future moments. Yes, it is a dance of intense emotion, of laughter and tears. For such is the journey of looking back.
He swore for decades that he would do it. When he retired he would sort through all those boxes of family photos. And those slides. There must be thousands. But Dad never got around to this task before he died. Now fifteen storage boxes are stacked on the back porch for me to sort through.
Daunting as it is, I’m not complaining. I absolutely volunteered for this task of rescuing the memories in these boxes. For some are already fading. Two photo albums, clearly from the 1920s, offer no clue as to who the people are. I only know they are our ancestors. Mom and Dad were both only children so not only do these boxes contain every photo taken by my parents and grandparents, there are no aunts or uncles or cousins to help unravel the mystery of these lost identities. Fortunately most memories remain clear, like Christmas at Granny’s when I was young. Gotta love those new slippers!
As the eldest child and now an elder, I accept responsibility to be a guardian of our family stories. Because that’s what elders do as we walk our final journey to becoming ancestors ourselves. We gather the stories of who we are and where we came from. Stories that have shaped us and stories that we have shaped. Individual stories and clan stories that give meaning to our lives.
There is amazing synchronicity unfolding for me right now. The next book I am writing is focused on the journey of elder. The Sacred Ireland Journeys are now focused on the portals and transitions of elderhood. And these brown boxes on the back porch are now part of my elder journey. Powerful stuff.
Final. At least for now. With deep appreciation for these two amazing spirits.
Manitonquat When we consider what may be true from a spiritual viewpoint, we find a different understanding from that which we have confined to our limited physical situation and the tiny purview of our minds and hearts. When we can expand our attention beyond our own selves, our individual needs and desires, even beyond our loved ones, our community, our people, beyond our fellow creatures and all of life, beyond the earth, beyond the circles of the stars, when we pay attention to the entire cosmos as the mind of Creation, then we are seeing in a sacred manner the spirit with which we are one. This is the deep truth.
John O’Donohue May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence. May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses. May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
Manitonquat To my way of thinking, when I ask Creation to allow me to walk in Beauty what I’m really asking is to be able to perceive the Beauty. Because the Beauty is always there, everywhere. It is a sacred energy, a holy flame, a divinity raging hotter and more brilliant than the sun and all the stars together, pulsing within every living thing. Every seed and flower and leaf, every living cell, every molecule, every atom, every proton, electron, neutron, quark – whatever there is, and in the dance they are all doing.
I have heard the elders, thinking about the old days and the old ways, speak of being warriors for Beauty. Their obligation, their instructions as they understood them, as they had been taught, was to fight for Beauty. To protect and preserve Beauty. Other words elders often use are “balance” and “harmony.” The world in balance is beautiful.
To preserve harmony and to maintain balance, we must have them inside ourselves. That is not always so easy in this out of balance and disharmonious culture. When we feel too much of that influence, it is time to separate ourselves for a while from that culture. To spend some time alone in some part of the world uninhabited and undisturbed by men. There we can slow ourselves to the pace of the natural world, quiet our minds with the sounds of the winds, and attune our spirits to the harmony of Creation all around us. The beauty that fill us there gives us strength and a paradigm for our return, a vision to hold in our quest for balance and for Beauty.
John O’Donohue When we awaken to the call of beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world. When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul. For a while the strains of struggle and endurance are relieved and our fragility is illuminated by a different light in which we come to glimpse behind the shudder of appearances the sure form of things. In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act. Without any of the usual calculation, we can slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us.
These times are riven with anxiety and uncertainty. In the hearts of people some natural ease has been broken. Our trust in the future has lost its innocence. We know now that anything can happen from one moment to the next. The traditional structures of shelter are shaking, their foundations revealed to be no longer stone but sand. At first, it sounds completely naive to suggest that now might be the time to invoke and awaken beauty. Yet there is nowhere else to turn and we are desperate.
John O’Donohue There is something incomplete in purely individual presence. Belonging together with others completes something in us. It also suggests that behind all our differences and distances from each other, we are all participating in a larger drama of spirit.
Manitonquat The Original Instructions tell us to live in harmony with this Creation of which we are all part. To stay in harmony we are instructed to respect all Creation, every being that exists, and to live as relatives to all. And so we have this very important instruction of hospitality, so that wherever we go we may be well received and well treated, and anyone coming to our door will be able to rely on the same. Hospitality is the policy which allows for our safe travel through the world.
But most of the world today is a world of separate, lonely individuals struggling to survive unaided, the great majority hungry every day of their lives, without adequate shelter or medical care, the rest storing up material goods and personal wealth. This is a world of escalating selfishness, greed, violence and fear. A world of locked doors, prisons, police, and attack dogs, television and computer surveillance, and weapons of mass destruction being sold for great profit.
So which will you choose? A world of locks and jails, of walls and cages, where rules are more important than people, laws more important than justice, protection more important than compassion, comfort more important than kindness, or a world where we are responsible for each other, where hands are for healing and soothing and caressing, not for killing. Where we all live inside each other’s eyes.
John O’Donohue With respect And reverence That the unknown Between us Might flower Into discovery And lead us Beyond The familiar field Blind with the weed Of weariness And the old walls Of habit.