Dear Billie, You are in my thoughts today Perhaps it’s because the cup you brought as a gift on your visit to Montana more than a decade ago is holding the coffee I’m drinking on this sunny August afternoon
I miss you and I know your daughter, my beloved granddaughter, does too I’m not sure if you can see how kind and beautiful she is now I promise to remind her what a thoughtful loving father you were
I send you thoughts of love and joy May your spirit soar peacefully like the eagle on the gift cup that always reminds me of you a kind and generous young man who was deeply loved by all who had the honor of knowing you in the short time you were here
Loving you means trusting life and letting you go onward
accepting the limitations of a frail aging frame with grace
watching you with love, compassion, joy, and heavy sadness
remembering conundral choices that I suspect hurt you
hoping one day you will understand that loving you deeply
gave me courage to face daunting challenges to keep you safe
Yesterday, March 5th, was my granddaughter’s twelfth birthday. We had a lovely family celebration. But it’s a date that always makes me feel both deeply grateful, and deeply guilty.
I was traveling when I learned that my daughter was in the hospital giving birth to her daughter prematurely. In the midst of a powerful late winter snowstorm, the airports were closed in both of the cities where my daughter and I were. Renting a car to drive hundreds of miles through the storm wasn’t an option. There was no way I could be there. I could only fly home to a distant state the next day while the storm continued to batter the city where my daughter was.
When the airport reopened on the third day, I was faced with a conundrum. I was carrying heavy responsibilities for gifted, at-risk graduate students in a university that was unsupportive of those who were different in some way. If I left again to be with my daughter, it was likely their graduation would, at best, be delayed. I decided to send my partner, my daughter’s stepfather for most of her life, to be there instead. It was several months before I held my granddaughter for the first time.
All of the students I was advising graduated, many passing their final requirements with distinction, and they went on to careers helping vulnerable people. Yet, I know my daughter was deeply hurt. I will always wonder if I made the “right” choice, just as I will always remember that her birth was the greatest gift in my life.
The past week has been strange. My computer power pack fried on class-prep day, Thursday, leaving me without access to the internet. Thankfully, the colleague I co-teach with was able to shoulder the work of reading student assignments and preparing our class power point. Getting my little laptop functional presented too many challenges to address in a day – antivirus protection, internet connection, and too little space to even download Windows 10 updates. Amazingly, each challenge has been overcome with my sense of humor intact.
I must admit it was a relief to be free from the continuing bombardment of distressing news. Yet each time I entered the living room my eyes automatically focused on the computer screen. It was dark, making me realize how much time I spend online. Without my computer, I had time to think, read, and do tasks that I could never find time to do when I was dealing with my blog. I liked having all of that time to reflect.
Having so much extra time also meant I could sort through the piles of papers everywhere and get rid of unnecessary things. It was a healing time in some crucial ways, though. I realized how weary I have become. The state of the world weighs heavy on my heart.
Countering the hopelessness and sorrow that sometimes makes it hard for me to create takes a tremendous amount of energy. And it takes much more now than in years past. I don’t feel as physically resilient as I once believed myself to be. My 70th year felt like a turning point signaling inevitable decline. Illnesses, back injuries, and the uncertainty of recurring debilitating back pain were constant reminders of my limitations and growing frailty. The combination of hopelessness and feelings of increasing physical frailty made it very tempting to simply withdraw and live in a reclusive fantasy world.
Then, my computer power pack fried. Suddenly life quieted and simplified. I had a chance to reflect and fall in love with life again. I had a chance to remember what matters most in my life.
I realized that the one true love of my life has been my daughter through good times and bad. I certainly haven’t been a perfect mother but she has always remained the most significant love in my life, now joined by my two grandchildren. Partners and friends have come and gone, yet giving birth created a special connection. The words that come to mind when I think of her, “In my life – I love you more,” come from a song by the Beatles.
Time for family comes first. Just as I finished typing these words, I was called in to live them, putting all plans aside to help provide support in a challenging situation. Although unsure how to help, I was grateful for the chance to be present, standing on tiptoes to hug my beloved grandson.
I also had time to begin spring cleaning by purging file cabinets that I try to avoid opening with the excuse that I just don’t have time. Sifting through them this week helped me remember how many places I’ve lived. I had forgotten the courage it took for an introvert to begin such a wide variety of new jobs in new places. I realized, too, how much I have enjoyed working in partnership with elders, tribes, and communities to develop innovative programs that addressed their needs and visions.
Old files reminded me how much I have loved teaching. Reading through teaching evaluations made me realize that many of my students appreciated what and how I taught in return. I say that with deep humility and gratitude because it’s something I worked very hard to do in often repressive unsupportive institutions. Challenging the status quo through love-inspired creativity makes one a target, but for some of us, it’s just what we have to do to be true to who we are.
Revisiting the past made me realize how grateful I am for the opportunities I still have to teach and contribute what I can to help open up possibilities for others to awaken to their beauty and talents. It brings me joy to encourage others to care about the earth and people by example in the true spirit of liberatory praxis – action guided by knowledge and inclusive compassion. Making time for teaching keeps me engaged with life doing something I love to do.
The one ache that became clear, though, when I looked at the looming blank computer screen this past week, was my failure to make time to finish editing and revising my manuscript about Ojibwe child welfare. It’s not something I can do until my computer is repaired.
Thankfully, my computer can be fixed although it will take time. Until then, I will remain grateful for the ability to connect with the internet even though it means squinting to read tiny type on a tiny laptop. It’s hard on my eyes so I can’t spend much time reading or writing. If you don’t hear from me often these days, that’s why.
I am not sure when I will be able to post again or how often I will be able to visit your blogs and comment. That depends on forces outside of my control. But I can still send my best wishes to all and I do so now with gratitude.
The old nokomis eagerly anticipates spring
after another long bitterly cold winter
She plans to plant gardens again
even though harvesting is always uncertain
She will prepare the soil
and carefully plant each seed
despite hands, once supple,
now gnarled with age
rough and clumsy from so many years
of hard work, washing, and winter weather
She will wait for the new life
that springs from the soil miraculously
when she isn’t looking
and she will nurture the seedlings
through drought and deluge
until they mature and bear their fruit
As she reflects about gardens past,
she remembers the anxiety she always feels
from the plant beings at harvest
it’s as if she hears their cries in her heart
when she kneels on the earth before them
“Please be gentle with us, nokomis”
She will remember this year
when she touches their delicate leaves
as lovingly as clumsy hands will allow
giving thanks to them for their beauty
deeply aware that her survival
comes at the cost of other living beings
She knows someday she too
will once again be part of the earth
that feeds future generations
in this inextricably interconnected
ongoing cycle of universal life
Of course she knows
this may just be fanciful thinking
She doesn’t know where she was,
or even if she was,
before she arrived on earth
in a much smaller younger physical body
She doesn’t know where her spirit will go
when she is finally released
from a stiffening, sometimes painful
but still, it’s comforting to believe
something of her will remain
nourishing new life
and maybe even traveling
to distant constellations
carrying the essence of the plant relations
that fed her while she was here