09/19/16

Haa K̲usteeyí, Part II

In my recent blog post, Haa K̲usteeyí, I shared a personal perspective on Tlingit belief in regard to the nature of time, and how every Tlingit life is intertwined in a continuum. In that post I suggested that readers give some continued thought on the nature of Haa K̲usteeyí.

I took my own advice. I continued to think on Haa K̲usteeyí and its implications.

Recently I observed two young men, both “¼ Tlingit”, discussing how they felt Tlingit, felt Tlingit blood in their veins, only to have had their statement disregarded by other Tlingit. Their sense of being Tlingit was disregarded because of their relatively light skin or eye color. As a half-breed (a label I was familiar with when I was younger) I find myself in a wonderful position to have some measure of empathy for how they feel.

Consider how insignificant the exact blood quantum of an individual is when they belong to a continuum that reaches back 10,000 years and extends far into the future. Haa K̲usteeyí. Tlingit is Tlingit. Modifiers are not needed.

I think of a 60 year old Tlingit man I admire greatly. He stated that if his entire body represented all of the knowledge that a Tlingit man should have, his own slice of this knowledge would fit under a single fingernail. Although he is a powerful and brilliant man, carries Tlingit names of high esteem from his clan, speaks Tlingit and knows his clan’s songs, he is entirely humble. He feels himself a part of Haa K̲usteeyí, and this truth strips him of any possibility of being arrogant. As a Tlingit gentleman, he is humble.

Then I read a response on social media by a Tlingit man who loudly proclaims how important he is, how knowledgeable and traditional he is, and then he challenges a Tlingit living outside of Haa Aani, stating that since she lives outside of the Tlingit homeland her concerns were invalid and unworthy of consideration. As a 3rd party to that discussion, all I can do is pray that he truly humble himself to the fact that there is no such thing as a man more important than Haa K̲usteeyí.

Most of my thoughts on philosophy or spirituality fail to lead to conclusions, and it’s true here. What I am left with are things that I will personally be mindful of;

-I must be mindful that I treat every Tlingit with the same respect, regardless of their level of cultural knowledge or that peculiar Western concept “Blood Quantum” or “Degree of Native Blood”.

-All of my life I have heard declarative statements that begin with “Well I’m 100% Tlingit, and…” It is the clear  that because their blood quantum is higher than mine they were asserting that they were speaking from an unassailable position of authority. I will be mindful of how it felt to me to be so casually disregarded due to being “less Tlingit”, and that I must NEVER make anyone feel like that.

Surly there is someone out there who is “1/16th Tlingit” who feels his or her blood calling to them, even though there is little of the Tlingit physical archetype in their appearance. Inside, they feel their Tlingit soul. They feel Haa K̲usteeyí.

I think that the Tlingit are feeling an increased pull back to their culture. I know a fraction of what my 60 year old friend knows, but I will seek knowledge. More importantly, I will share what I know. Let me be a bridge rather than a road block.

 

09/15/16

Haa K̲usteeyí

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I sat next to the fire, feeling its warmth against my face and chest. The cool night against my back balanced the heat of the fire. I sat beneath an ancient spruce. My adult son and nephew lay sleeping in the roughed in cabin a hundred feet away , leaving me alone with my thoughts, the crackle of the fire and the lapping of waves on the beach a hundred feet away.

 

A month before a friend had planted a seed in my mind, and it had found me ready to receive it. He said “With the Tlingit, there is no such thing as time. We have no past generations, current and future generations. This is ‘Haa K̲usteeyí’. We are all one people.”

 

As I sat there, the sensations of the moment remained, but something shifted in me as I felt the truth of Haa K̲usteeyí. I was sitting next to a channel that led to an ancient trade route. Trade along the entire west coast flowed from past this point when Ancient Rome was in its infancy. I had just finished carving a paddle based on one owned by my great-great grandfather. In copying this 130 plus year old masterpiece I had discovered a layer of complexity and sophistication that had eluded me before. In my expanded state, I could feel the trail of a million paddle strokes that ran past me.

 

Carrying across the water, I heard a whale blow as it surfaced for breath. In the next hour it would remain near.

 

If I look, I can always feel my ancestors. Now I invited them to sit with me in this moment. The thought came to me, complete, that although many of us call to our ancestors, in the nature of Haa K̲usteeyí, we are part of a continuum, and if we are open to this, we can also feel our descendants. I called them too, inviting them to this moment.

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I felt my ancient connection to this land, and realized that the western concept of ownership is tremendously inadequate for the Tlingit. I lack the eloquence to put into words my sense of this, but it would be much more accurate to say that we part of a balance, similar in the way that our clans are balanced between the Eagle/Wolf and Raven moieties. This land is an entity unto itself, and we are a part of it. This truth exposes how inadequate the United States’ land claim settlement with the Tlingit is. The Tlingit can no more cede their connection to this land than the passage of a law can lay claim to it.

 

I encourage my readers who are Tlingit to contemplate this small portion of what Haa K̲usteeyí encompasses, as it translates into English as “our culture”, and this is certainly word that can be revisited over a lifetime.

 

The fire burned down enough that the night’s chill broke through my revere and I stood and stretched and remembered hearing eagles call from the tops of the trees that I now stood under. In the darkness I found the path to the beach. The Milky Way, grand and bright, showed itself to me as I started to come out from beneath the trees. I looked north, up Lynn Canal, and was greeted by exuberant northern lights, dancing over the distant mountains in hues of green, purple and pink.

Lingít Aaní. Haa K̲usteeyí

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My thanks to my friend who encouraged me to write about my thoughts.

 

03/24/16

The Edrie

On the 25th of February, 1988, the 40’ fishing vessel Edrie sank in the waters outside of Sitka, Alaska. My father was aboard.

 

Courtesy of http://www.besthistoricfishing.net/

Courtesy of http://www.besthistoricfishing.net/

 

61 years earlier the Edrie’s keel was laid in Wrangell, Alaska. It was 1927, and it was a much different world than today. Joseph Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Communist Party, Calvin Coolidge was the president of the United States. Prohibition went into effect and Henry Ford introduced his Model A. It was only 24 years after the Wright brothers first flew, and Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo trans-Atlantic flight. In a time when telegraphs were the norm, the first trans-Atlantic phone call was made. In Alaska, Benny Benson was designing what would become Alaska’s state flag, while Ketchikan, with a population of over 6,000 residents was Alaska’s largest city.

 

The Edrie was large for a troller at the time, but she was a very comely boat, if a little broad at the stern. Her lines gave a hint to a seaworthy nature, a trait that would be put to some incredible tests over the next 61 years that she fished Alaska’s Inside Passage.  At least twice in her fishing career she was grounded during storms.  Howard Ulrich, one of her owners, accidentally grounded her in a storm with 70 mph winds.

 

Lituya bay By D.J. Miller, United States Geological Survey - USGS via [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390967

Lituya bay
By D.J. Miller, United States Geological Survey

Her most famous test came in 1958 in Lituya Bay. Southeast Alaska hosts thousands of coves and bays that can provide shelter from storms, but north of Glacier Bay this dramatically changes, and for a hundred miles of coast it’s the only safe anchorage, called “a dream-like oasis on a brutal coastline” by one fisherman. Safe is a relative word though, as Lituya Bay has its own inherent dangers.  Although the bay is 9 miles long and very wide and very deep, its entrance is narrow and shallow. Each tide change funnels millions of gallons of water through the bay entrance. An early encounter with the bay by the Lapérouse expedition in 1768 saw the loss of 21 crewmembers to these tides. Less obvious, but known to the Tlingit who’ve lived on this coast for thousands of years, and to scientists that have studied the bay, there is a long history of tsunamis here.

 

A Tlingit pipe depicting tsunamis in Lituya Bay

A Tlingit pipe depicting tsunamis in Lituya Bay

 

I can picture Howard Ulrich Sr. and his 9 year old boy Sonny pulling into the bay on a July evening in 1958 and joining the two other fishing boats already there. The Edrie must have left a whisper of a wake as she chugged to the spot Howard chose to anchor. Anyone who’s been on a small boat that’s made a long run knows that special moment, hearing the anchor chain run out, smelling the rich pungent smell of the beach. The engine is killed, and the magical silence that settles into you, displacing the throb and noise of the motor. Now perhaps Howard and his 9 year old Sonny heard a Raven calling to his brothers and sisters in the forest. The bay gently laps at the Edrie as she settles into her anchor.

 

Sometime that evening, a large earthquake shook the bay, unleashing a monstrously huge landslide at the head of the bay.  Fifty millions tons of dirt and rock crashed into the bay. Almost instantly it splashed over 1700 feet up the mountain across from the slide, scouring the forest and soil off, leaving nothing but exposed rock.

 

By Millar D.J., United States Geological Survey - [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18201150

By Millar D.J., United States Geological Survey

The water washed back down and formed a tsunami well over 100’ tall, which raced down the bay, now heading for the three boats anchored there that night. Howard and his 9 year old son saw the wall of water advancing. Howard managed to get his engine started, but couldn’t get his anchor to release from the bottom of the bay. He let out all of his anchor chain, and a steep walled wave, still over 100 feet high, lifted the Edrie, easily snapping the anchor chain. In an act of luck, seamanship, and in a testament to the Edrie’s design and construction, the Edrie was able to power back to the center of the bay amidst a chaos of uprooted trees and wild choppy waves. The two other boats were washed over the sand bar. One boat sank after the husband and wife crew transferred to their skiff. The other boat and crew were lost without a trace. The BBC has done an interesting video on this event.

 

By Millar D.J., United States Geological Survey

By Millar D.J., United States Geological Survey

 

After the 1958 wave, I lose sight of the Edrie for more almost three decades, but I am able to see through research that Howard Ulrich Sr. ended up working for the US Forest Service for almost 20 years as a skipper for of a Ranger boat, an intersection with my family, as my dad also was a Ranger boat skipper. I also was a classmate of Kurt Ulrich, one of Howard’s sons. 56 years after surviving the Lituya Bay tsunami he passed away at the age of 88.  Howard’s life was certainly more than a brush with a monster wave. Respect to this man and what he did with his life.

 

In 1984, 26 years after the Lituya Bay wave, the Edrie was owned by Thomas C. Will, who had a troubling break with reality. He became paranoid, believing that law enforcement was looking for him, intending to kill him. He slipped away from a small town’s harbor and anchored the Edrie in remote bay. Heavily armed, he swam 75 yards from the Edrie to the boat of a friend, and once aboard, he told his friend that he was a Navy SEAL. To anyone who’s been swimming in Alaska understands the extreme nature of this swim.  One icy swim wasn’t enough; he swam to a second boat and woke up another friend (that must have been a rude awakening), only to return to the Edrie in the morning where he pulled the anchor and headed out.

 

Wearing only boots and cut-offs, Will left the Edrie adrift and took as skiff ashore near the village of Hoonah. This could have been the end of the Edrie, but she was found adrift and was towed to the Hoonah boat harbor. Somehow Will found her and tried to get her engine started, but wasn’t able to get it started. Still aboard, he shot at someone on the dock passing by. Fortunately he missed, but later ended up in a gun fight with the Hoonah police department. Will was shot 5 times in the shootout, only to sue the City of Hoonah, three of their police officers, and an Alaska State Trooper later, winning over $2million in the suit.

 

This was certainly a bizarre chapter in the history of the Edrie, and it certainly could have led to her demise. Luck smiled on her again, only to turn his back on her four short years later. My dad, Robert Kinville, had been working at the pulp mill in Sitka as a tug boat captain, but due a mill shutdown, wasn’t working. A friend of his had been working as a deckhand on the Edrie, but needed someone to take his place for a rock fish opening, and my dad accepted the job.

 

The Edrie was geared for longlining. Long rolls of groundlines lay in tubs, with hundreds of circle hooks, attached by gangions (lengths of tough nylon cord), ringing the tubs. Each tub of gear is known as a skate. Anchors for the ends of the skate and buoys to mark the gear’s position crowded the Edrie’s deck as the boat’s owner and skipper, Jim Phillips and my dad left the dock in Sitka headed for Cape Edgecombe. From the fishing grounds, a look west would show nothing but the curve of the horizon, open Pacific Ocean stretching for thousands of miles. It was a bit stormy that day, with winds gusting to 35mph and a swell running.

 

Once on the fishing grounds, something gave in the stalwart Edrie. Perhaps a plank sprung from a rib? No one will know, but a faulty bilge alarm delayed the initial notice of the dire situation. My dad manned the bilge pump, but due to damage to the pump’s bellows, it only was operating at a fraction of its potential. A mayday was sent, and the nearby Coast Guard Air Station dispatched a helicopter, and a nearby fishing boat responded as a good Samaritan, as the crew aboard the Edrie donned survival suits.

 

The helicopter lowered a gas operated pump, but Jim and my dad were unable to get it to run. The helicopter lowered a second pump, but before they could try to start it Jim told my dad “It’s too late, we’re going to have to abandon the boat!”, and rolled over the side of the boat. While Jim made his way to the waiting fishing boat my dad tried to abandon the Edrie, only to find that two of the circle hooks from a skate had punctured his survival suit, tying him to the sinking boat.

 

My dad was able to free himself from one of the hooks, but one hook, caught in then leg of the survival suit was now being pulled taut, and the material of the suit was too tough to rip the hook free. As the stern sank, waves began to roll over his head. In the trough of a wave the deckhand of the other boat called to my dad “Get away from the boat!” My dad called back “I can’t! I need a knife!”

 

Wave after wave rolled over him as the Edrie sank, only briefly allowing him a life giving breaths, and the intervals were getting smaller the deeper he was pulled. As he was saying what he thought was his final prayer, an act of luck, seamanship and heroism was happening. The skipper of the other boat, tossing about in the large swell, swung his stern over the sunken stern of the Edrie, disregarding all of the lines and debris in the water, and the deckhand reached far over the side of his boat…and placed a knife in my fathers hand. With the slash of a knife, he was finally free of the Edrie and was able to make his way aboard the rescuers boat.

The last sight of the Edrie that my dad saw was a bit of the bow stem, and finally, after 61 years of service, the Edrie slipped below the surface of the ocean.

08/9/15

Perspective in Growth

Classic Tlingit design adapted from a bentwood box

Classic Tlingit design adapted from a bentwood box

I once heard a man say that he had tried to “find himself”, but despite great effort he had had found the task daunting. In an epiphany, he realized that he had been searching for a stationary being, but he saw now that his “self” was dynamic, ever changing. He was the sum of each decision that he had made to that point.

We invent ourselves by the choices we make.

I am in a period of intense personal growth, sparked by the many decisions of my life, and most recently, a decision to devote myself to developing my art. I have long loved the Tlingit art that surrounded me growing up in Sitka, Alaska, felt pulled to it, but turned away from it’s call.

A good friend challenged me with a commission for a bentwood box, a style of box important to the Tlingit for thousands of years, and a project that I longed to try, but shied away from. I turned my focus to this difficult task, made more difficult by the fact that I have no master to apprentice to, only able to learn from pictures and the stern taskmaster of trial and error. after hundreds of hours and 7 failed attempts I had created a beautiful box; a length of red cedar with three kerfs cut, steamed, bent and joined, with a carefully fitted top and bottom.

One of three bends

One of three bends

Two sides of my Killerwhale bentwood box

Two sides of my Killerwhale bentwood box

Creating this box unlocked a deep desire to create art, and my wonderful wife gave me support when I told her that I wanted to pursue my art full-time. Yolande Fejes, co-owner of the Alaska House looked at my box, and for the first time, I received informed criticism on this project. To me, this input is highly valued. She suggested that I apply my art to pendants. I have completed 4 pendants to date, and they have been extremely well received. I’ve shared my work on social media, and have been contacted by the owner of another art gallery…things are moving fast.

My work on display at the gallery

My work on at the gallery

This newly created art is receiving accolades, and must the face that I am now, officially, an artist, as opposed to “someone who likes to draw, paint and carve”.  I appreciate the approval, but I am actually humbled, because the more I accomplish, the more I learn, the more I write, the more I spiritually and intellectually I grow…my perspective changes, and from a slightly higher vista I have a new appreciation for the masters who proceeded me. Words from fine authors, the Whale House carvings by Kadjisdu.áxch, the spirit and strength of my father. I see higher levels to achieve, an new appreciation of what is good and fine.

The painting I’m doing is so demanding, so exacting, that it consumes me while I’m engaged in it, and it turns out that this is a form of meditation for me, holding me in the moment so thoroughly that I am able to relax my frenzied mind, and in it’s place I find a form of spiritual tranquility.

A Tlingit Raven

A Tlingit Raven

I am so encouraged by the response my first attempts at art in this period of my life have received, and by the fact that it touches certain people. I’m amazed at what my mind, eyes and hands are able to create, but I know that I am at least 10 years from any level of mastery, and that I will continue to grow as long as I am alive. I hope to forever remain a moving target, inventing myself one moment at a time, decision by decision, act by act.

My 3rd mask, coming to life

My 3rd mask, coming to life

The 3rd mask, complete

The 3rd mask, complete

 

 

08/6/15

A Foot in Two Worlds

Sitka in 1904, each house a clan house, center of power and wealth.

Sitka in 1904, each house a clan house, center of power and wealth.

I am a shareholder in Shee Atiká Incorporated, a regional corporation established under the Alaska Native Lands Claim Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971.

Sitka has been a part of the Tlingit homeland for thousands of years. Before the first recorded contact with Russian explorers, or “pre-contact,” the Tlingit based their society around a moity, clan and house system. Under this system the Tlingit flourished, becoming a powerful and vibrant society.

While the Native nations of the lower 48 were often forced off of their land under treaties, the United States government made no such treaties with the Native people of Alaska, excluding a single reservation on Prince of Whales Island.

ANCSA supposedly addressed this issue. Rather than approach it as a “government-to-government” issue, the act set up regional corporations. Perhaps it is cynical, but I believe that this was done to uncouple the source of power, the wealth of land ownership, from the traditional and powerful leaders of the Native people. As it disempowers the effective system that held US interests at bay for so long, it created a structure that seamlessly interfaces with powerful corporate interests in the nation.

There is a sad irony that this occurred in Sitka, the birthplace of the incomparable Alaska Native Brotherhood, established in 1912 (8 years after the photo above was taken), and shortly thereafter, the Alaska Native Sisterhood. Peter Metcalfe discusses how this organization changed the face of Alaska’s treatment of all of its Native people in his excellent book, A Dangerous Idea. ANB Grand Camp #1 sits on Front Street, almost certainly where Tlingit canoes were once beached when Sitka was among the most powerful villages in SE Alaska.

ANB Grand Camp No. 1, Sitka, Alaska, courtesy of Wikipedia

ANB Grand Camp No. 1, Sitka, Alaska, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Tlingit people struggle to maintain a balance between preserving our culture and being successful and effective in a massively predominant Western culture. We see leadership problems with Shee Atiká, but we are trapped by our cultural concepts of respect; we are taught to respect authority, and we are taught to respect our elders. Certainly the executives and board members are in positions of authority, and for many of us, these people are our elders. This is another example of where Western and Tlingit culture fail to mesh. It is also the nature of living in, or coming from, small towns that it is not possible to be act without the knowledge that our ties to other community members will cause ripples and unintended consequences. This is even truer within the Tlingit community, with another complex layer of family and social ties at play.

A culture of apathy has become the norm regarding the operation of our corporation. This is a sad comment on a generation which was handed a legacy of dynamic, innovative and strong leadership. If Peter Simpson or William Paul, leaders from the ANB’s crucial 1920’s period were to come back, could we look them in the eye and say “I have taken that which was given to me, and made it better”?

I think our ancestors wouldn’t accept the act of corporate leaders insulating themselves from the wishes of their shareholders through “discretionary voting”. This allows shareholders confused by the proxies that they receive, or simple apathy, to pass control of their votes over to the board of directors. Once elected to the board, the desire to be in good grace with the other board members in order to secure these discretionary votes can derail efforts to change the corporation’s direction.

There are many red-flags in the direction that Shee Atiká leadership has taken our corporation. A group of shareholders has established a Facebook group, and members have cataloged a host of concerns, from small to egregious. The tone is honest and respectful, and very appropriate to who we are as a people.

My sense is that there is a groundswell of concern and empowerment underway. In my opinion it is well warranted and overdue. It is true to the legacy from the Tlingit men and women who bravely stood up and seized power and initiative.

I humbly ask you my fellow Shee Atiká shareholders to look into yourselves and see if you are knowledgeable about the direction of our corporation and some of the valid concerns that are being expressed. If you are like me, you may find that there is room for improvement.

We are not shareholders in the common sense of the word. We are the owners of not just a corporation, we are caretakers of our land and power for the generations to come.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Gunalchéesh, gunalchéesh!

07/14/15

The Transforming Image

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For those who love Northwest Coast native art, the book The Transforming Image is a treasure trove of old art made new. It’s an ambitious (and expensive) book that places contemporary interpretations of NW Coast art into context with the older art’s eras and areas. For artists involved in this art form, its huge collection of detailed photos provide an amazing resource to expand one’s artistic vocabulary.

 

Background

In the 1800’s a rush was made to North America’s North West coast to collect objects from the various Native nations, as it was believed that these cultures were in the midst of disappearing, and chances to obtain, own, and perhaps study the highly evolved art form would disappear too. Today, many of these items, to include house screens (the interior painted division of traditional long-houses) and bentwood boxes sit on museum shelves, darkened by the patina of age, oils, and wood smoke from long dead fires, their original painted splendor seeming long gone.

 

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Discovery

Through a happy discovery in Canada, it was found that infrared photography revealed that the grey and weathered collection of NW Coast art still held the intricate and nuanced work of long forgotten masters. Government grants funded the amazing work of recovering this lost visual treasure. These images, in shades of grey and black are stunning, but further grants brought in contemporary Native artists who transferred many of these images to new wood and painted them with traditional colors, and we get to see them as they must have first looked to the artists and owners long ago, far away.

 

The top two images on the left show how two sides of the box look to the human eye, the two images on the right show what infrared photography reveals.

The top two images on the left show how two sides of the box look to the human eye, the two images on the right show what infrared photography reveals.

 

A Book is Born

Finally, another grant brought together a collection of these images, old and new, into the beautifully produced 274 page book, which was titled “The Transforming image; Painted Arts of Northwest Coast Firsts Nations” by Bill McLennan and Karen Duffek. It honors the past through the printed word, but it is the hundreds of amazing photos that let long gone artists speak again.

 

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This book discusses this process of recovery, but goes beyond simply presenting the recovered images. Through the medium of these recovered images it illustrates the artistic differences between nations and regions, discuss the 800 plus year development of the art’s formal structure known as formline, and tracks individual unnamed artists work. Finally, it looks at contemporary artists work, and discusses the evolving nature of culture and art.

 

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What it Means to Me

I am an aspiring artist who has been inspired by the Tlingit art that I grew up surrounded with. By the time my need to express myself in this art became too compelling to ignore, I was living in Anchorage, Alaska, far from the Tlingit homeland. There is little NW Coast art in the Matsu valley, and much of it is poorly executed. Reading Bill Holm’s exceptional book “Northwest Coast Indian Art; An Analysis of Form gave me the vocabulary to express what, to that point, had been an instinctual, or subconscious understanding of “right” in regard to a highly structured art form.

 

Through the decimation from western disease, and the assimilation efforts by the governments of the United States and Canada, links to native cultures were diminished. In the vacuum that was created much of the subsequent art lacked the flow, balance, and the tension and release of older art. For the aspiring artist, finding examples of the early art can be difficult, and often the newer art is no longer moored to the art form’s powerful fundamentals. For those looking to connect with truly authentic art, The Transforming Image, and Bill Holm’s book, provide a direct path to this power.

 

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In Conclusion

If you love NW Coast art, I highly recommend this book. If you are looking to express yourself as an artist and practice NW Coast art, I suggest reading Bill Holm’s book first, and then lay your hands on The Transforming Image.

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05/23/15

Now a word from my daughter

We started foster care for my daughter Jessica when she was three years old. She had seen some horrible abuse from her birth family, and came to us with many of the issues common to people who’ve been treated that way from an early age. We fell in love with her, and decided that we would be her forever home. We fought to adopt her for years, with the adoption finally being finalized when she was eight. It has the ring of a sappy holiday special, but there were huge ups and downs in parenting her. Most days didn’t look anything like a TV special.

Later in life she fought her demons of addiction, almost an echo of my own battles. It is a relief beyond words that she has found a way to maintain a clean and sober lifestyle. She has found friends and a community that support her, and she has blossomed in a most beautiful way.

I was there when her beautiful son Joseph was born, and it was clear that this was a turning point in her life. She has written about her experience, and I thought that I would share it here on my blog.

 

As I sit here, washing dishes that fell behind while Joseph was sick, I see toys scattered around, books we have read over and over- precious belongings that have caught my toes many a time. I reflect on what my life has become.

My house is a cluttered disaster of toys, unpacked things, and remnants of a beautiful life that I get to be a part of today. A year ago… I never knew my life would be so blessed. I was going through pregnancy, knowing I would be a single mother. Anxiously awaiting the beautiful baby I knew would change my life forever.

Change can be scary for a person like myself. This change, however, was a long awaited dream. It has been my life’s desire to be a mother. My mother gave me the best chance in the world, when, from birth, my chance was less than most.

I look upon the scattered toys, as I move from the dishes to the beautiful, playful, learning mess that becomes once my beautiful baby boy comes home and gets his time with Mommy (Me!! How blessed I am to be his Mommy!), and all I can do is smile. Every book, every toy, is a memory of the life I get to build with him. As I put things away, to be ready for the new mess that will ensue tomorrow, I see his smiling face in my head. His little cheesin’ grin- his happiness. He is the most beautiful, blessed, amazing miracle of life that I have ever been given a chance to be a part of.

Once upon a time, I was granted forgiveness by someone I never thought would do that. It is a forgiveness I never thought possible. It was that forgiveness that gave me the strength to forgive myself. I still miss that person’s smile, laugh, and how much my son adored them.

Now, at this very moment in time, I sit beside my son, Joseph, and I can’t help but think, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I remember my life as a childless person, and then my life’s true purpose called upon me. Once again… I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being a Mommy- THAT is my true life’s purpose. “To give back what was so freely given to me” is what many I know say.

My parents gave me a chance at life, a chance at happiness, a chance at fulfillment. That is what I hope to give to my son. I love him more than the infinity of stars in the universe. I just whispered him his “Goodnight, Sleep Tights” for the third time tonight, and I know that he will sleep tight. Why? Because I know, in my heart of hearts, that he knows he is loved. I know he is well taken care of. I know that he is happy. I know that I am his Mommy, and nobody can take that from him. Joseph Charles… I love you with all my heart and soul. All ways and always. Gosh… I am so blessed to be a part of his life… I am blessed to finally be a Mommy. I am grateful that my HP saw fit for me to be given the opportunity to be a part of the miracle of life- the miracle of true love!

And now…. I better get to bed! Being a single Mom is no joke, and I gotta be up and at ’em tomorrow to continue to provide for my lil’ miracle baby!

05/18/15

In the Middle of the Night

It was around 2:45 in the morning, and I was holding my sleeping 14 month old foster son in my arms. The house was still, and of the nine people within its wall, I was the only one awake. The fever in the sweet boy I held had broken, and he was resting peacefully.

I looked out the windows and marveled at the amount of light still present, nearly enough to read by, and the trees outside were fully visible. Song birds continued to sing the night through. A mere few months ago it would have been profoundly dark outside by five or six pm, and if a bird was to be heard, it would certainly be an owl.

If there is sweeter experience than holding a sleeping child, I don’t know what it is. My first child just turned 29, but I can still almost feel him in my arms. Over the years, and through the many seasons, there have been other children, other nights. It felt as if all those times weren’t long ago, far away, but more as if they were closer than the thickness of a gossamer curtain.

It is commonly believed that being a parent involves sacrifice, but I see it as an exchange. I give up some of my “self”, and I get to participate in the start of a new and profound being. I become tied to the cycles of life in an intimate way, and the exchange is more than fair. The loss of self and the discipline of parenting are not to be taken lightly, but there I sat, a beautiful boy in my arms, and I am the world to him. I am complete.

 

05/5/15

Not Knowing

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard this, but I’ve been accused in the past of being a “know-it-all”. While it seems that my love of learning has filled my mind with fact after fact, my spiritual and philosophical growth has lead me to realize how little that I actually do know.

 

Based on this understanding, most of my conclusions are simply page markers. Mentally, my inner dialog goes something like “Based on what I currently know, this is my current, temporary understanding.” Hardly anything is fixed with surety, and to be honest, this ever shifting view of the world sometimes becomes wearying.

 

Not often, but on occasion, I look at someone who goes through life secure in their conclusions and understandings and wish that I too could see the world the same way, never having to actively seek to maintain my balance.

 

The appeal is short-lived, because this thought almost always is followed by the recognition that I am a product of my decisions, and I have actively sought out the path that I’m on. On a bad day, these thoughts will form a running loop and bother me for some small time. Fortunately, days like these are rare.

 

My sense is that many who have mapped the world to their content, and have firm and fixed opinions and understandings of matters large and small. My concern is that if I become too comfortable in my assumptions I will become mentally brittle, resisting new interpretations and new information that challenges my assumptions. It isn’t possible to avoid some level of fixation and the formation of bias, but I hope to at least recognize it when it occurs.

 

From my perspective, facts and trivia are small pieces of a larger whole. They help build a picture of the world, but they don’t constitute a universal understanding of what they represent. The more I learn, the more humble I become, for every summit reveals new realms of things to learn. Rather than feeling lost by this understanding, I’m exhilarated. My love of learning appears to have the stamina to last as long as I do. Quite simply, what I am coming to understand is myself.