Sunday, October 16, 2016

following the trail...

Trail of our Ancestors-Jan Oliver-Schultz

When I saw the painting, I was so moved. How wistful to see the backs of the ancestors as they slowly drift away like leaving spirits.The colors whisper to me ; the blue and green, of calmness and acceptance.The dark trees witness. Is that fire or the setting sun which signifies the end of their era ? Their backs are straight. I feel like running behind them and asking about their lives, their wisdom.

For six years, I was addicted to family research.I have a book called " Collecting Dead Relatives".The yellow cover still makes me laugh. It shows a cartoon drawing of an old red haired lady with big sloppy red boots running through a cemetery with a huge butterfly net.I recognized her instantly. As I ran through graveyards in person and on-line, I gleaned quite a bit about the Irish, Scots and English who walked this path before me.Here is a litany to honor some of them.

For Hannorah, my Irish grandmother, who died when I was two.I have no memory of her but I do have a story.There was a terrible thunderstorm that ripped Long Island in the '20s when her husband was away. Alone with her 5 children, she took out a bottle of holy water and sprinkled each of her children for protection.She awoke the next day to find that in her hysteria, she had grabbed a bleach bottle.A woman of faith.I have the crucifix that she left behind, which I treasure

For William Carpenter, who left England and landed at Plymouth in 1638 with a  wife and 4 children under the age of ten.I am trying to imagine starting over in the wilderness, thousands of miles from home. What courage.These were not snowflakes.One of his ancestors was John Carpenter who served in Parliament in 1303.I saw the street that is named after him when I was in London a few years back.When William died, he left a whole library of books.Did my love for the written word come from him?He is buried in a Rhode Island cemetery and, poignantly, his grave stone simply says " W.C."

For Great Aunt Amanda Knowlton, who looks at me from an old sepia toned photo.She had a baby snatched from her arms by a tornado in Minnesota in the mid 1800s.They never found the child.Imagine.Somehow she survived this terrible blow. I have several of her pencil written letters after this tragedy.Amanda, I would like to have known you in your black satin full skirt with billows of fabric and a white bow tie at our neck, your dark hair pulled back and parted in the middle.Your penetrating eyes.I will never forget you and your child.

For Charles Phillips, Amanda's brother, who served in the Navy during the Civil War.My great-grandfather,.who never came home from the war but disappeared after changing his name.What hole did you leave in my grandfather's life ?Who knows your reasons ?Your well written letters penned in 1864 and 1865 speak of love for family and faith.May you rest in God's arms.

The blood of all of these flows in my veins and I honor them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

I got dressed myself...

Not knowing about this little 7 year old girl would be a great gift.As she got on the school bus yesterday in Pennsylvania, she told the driver that she had dressed herself and couldn't wake her parents.Police found three other children in the home under the age of 5 and two dead adults.They had overdosed 24 hours before.I try to imagine that little girl who probably fed her siblings,  took care of them and still managed to get to the bus on time.God help us.

Their addiction wasn't just to drugs but to more.This world isn't enough, I want more.More good feelings.The jails in this country are full of people who wanted more and did whatever it took to get it.

When was the last time you heard anyone extol the virtue of asceticism ?Or the idea of sacrifice? Prayer is O.K. but fasting and sacrifice?Ewww!!!!

Skellig Michael is an island of rock off the Irish coast. Skellig means steep rock and it was here in the 6th century that a group of monks took themselves to focus entirely on God.They lived on this windblown, desolate rock and had no contact with the outside world.They weren't on retreat, they lived there and never left. Their names are unknown to us.They started a rock side monastery of a few men, slept in stone beehives, ate fish, birds eggs and any small vegetables they could grow and prayed.How hard, no pun intended.They stayed there until the 13th century and what their prayers wrought, we have no way of knowing.

I have been aware of these recluses for a long time but I never pondered what their voluntary deprivation may have brought them.From a book I am reading: "the rough life had its compensations.Asceticism gave an intensified response to the smell of flowers, the texture of stone, the feel of rain, or sun or wind or flight of birds.When they came out of their dark cells their spirits must have lifted to heights rarefied beyond our experience.""The Flowering of Ireland".by Katharine Scherman

This sounds right to me.

A small example comes to mind.I have been reading about the messages given by Mary to the visionaries in Medjugorje, Bosnia, and a theme reveals itself ; prayer and fasting,  prayer and love.It seemed to me that perhaps I could answer this call in a small way.Prayer is part of my day but I decided also to forswear coffee every other day.It's not the coffee but the Carmel Macchiato Coffeemate that starts my day.Ah, the pleasure of this drink going over my tongue and down my throat with warmth and sweetness.Small thing , I know, but let me tell you something surprising; on coffee day I am excited and energized  just thinking about my morning drink in a way that I wouldn't if I had it every day.

Is it possible that by choosing less we will find the More that we long for ?