Of Being In The World

“We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well—places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As we stand in one of those places, fear may remain close at hand and our spirits may still tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.”  ~~Parker Palmer

Horton Bay heron

drawing by me, Kathryn Howlett. Heron in Horton Bay, MI.

We don’t have to “BE” our fears.  You may be  familiar with ” be not afraid” . There are two dozen examples in the Bible.  It doesn’t tell us not to fear. It means we don’t have to “BE” our fears.

‘Fear’ feels like my middle name these days. It follows and haunts me. I feel as if my body and brain have betrayed me with this aneurysm. Some days I feel as if my fears weigh heavily on me and I am sinking. I don’t know how to toss the weight overboard. Sometimes it feels like I am holding on to a bouquet of helium/fear filled balloons and am being swept away and carried here and there with no control. To contemplate letting go of the fear only presents as another fear, falling and crash landing.  So, how do I get across the fault line of fear and to move instead to firmer ground of trust, hope and faith?
I look for places and time in the day where I can stand on steady ground and regain my balance and perspective. From these vantage points I can look out at the world and life around me with hope and trust.
To be aware of these places and times, I have to pause now and then to create a place of non movement and silence or near silence in order to be aware of them and to allow them to come to the forefront of my thoughts. In so doing I move gently towards a place of promise, away from fear.
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day 
is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”
Etty Hillesum
Sometimes I close my eyes and listen to music, or just close my eyes in silence. Sometimes I draw. Sometimes I read, but often that makes me think even more!! Focusing on my breath helps. Whatever aid I enlist has to come from a birthing point of awareness. I have to be mindful to create these spaces because they do not always give birth to themselves!!
These spaces of rest and quiet between my breaths nurture something deep inside of me. They set in motion self care and healing .
Within this space come the words and thoughts “Allow this to be a learning experience that you will grow from.” I don’t have to live from the place of, or to be “fear”.
I have to do three things. One, be mindful of the pauses and allow them to bring me a sense of peace and grounding. Two, to rest in those pauses. Three to look around and reach out to those who are near.
There are some days, or moments in the day when I forget and get wobbly and off balance. In those moments I have to call upon “trust” and reach or call out to those near by to steady me or maybe even catch me. It is okay for me to do that. Not only don’t I have to be perfectly balanced all the time, I need to give up the thought of possibly even being balanced all the time.
I am coming to understand that while I may not be able to be even keeled all the time, there is a centering that happens through the awareness itself. When I breathe deeply and regain my balance, there comes an easy awareness of the pause between breaths and I can rest for a time in the presence and grace of that pause. And healing comes forward wrapped in a gentle blanket of quiet, trust, hope and faith. And when I am wrapped in that blanket the whirling of my thoughts slow down, and I am able to “be” in a space of less worry and fear. A place of balance and awareness where allowing just being to be enough.
Awareness allows me to have days that do contain moments of the healing pauses. The softer hours of sunset and sunrise seem to be the more fertile times for the pausing to arise. The slowing breaths, the quieting of the mostly ever present endless commentary of dreams, thoughts and worries, opens the door and allows for the stepping out into quieter, less kinetic places in my mind. And here, not unlike being out in Nature on a mountain top or standing next to the lullaby of ocean waves greeting the sandy beaches, I find myself in the places Parker Palmer refers to : places with names like trust and hope and faith.
Signing off now to go visit one of those places for awhile. Going to reflect on the way I want to choose to “Be” in the world as I recover and recoup.
A previous post: The Pause Between Breaths
Advertisements

This Path

“This is my wish for you:
Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes,
rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips,
sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag,
beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being,
faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt,
courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth,
Love to complete your life.”

*Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I have wandered down this path of recovery I have done so hand in hand with family and friends. Holding me tight so I wouldn’t trip and fall at the uneven parts, each companion offered physical support, but more importantly spiritual and emotional encouragement. My unsteadiness, which caught me off guard, was anticipated and brought to balance again and again by the mindfulness of my companions. While the pace slowed and turned cautious at times, I did find the courage to know myself and to have  the confidence to trust and reach out and a faith that glued everything together.
My wish for all of us mirrors the poem. That each of us have a source of comfort when we face challenges, smiles that can soften sadness, a glimpse of the beauty that is ahead, laughter to lighten the weight, arms to circle us, open eyes and heightened senses, others to shine a light to show the way for us, belief in a higher plan, the knowledge that we are stronger than we may think, to sense what is true and to know and share a love that binds everything together.

Being in a place of uncertainty and dependency I have learned that there is grace in vulnerability. This vulnerability teaches me  to let go of the uncertainty and fear of the unknown, and to spend less time working to control that unknown. As I remind myself to slow down a bit in body and mind, to savor the flavors of this moment rather that looking too far ahead especially with expectations and longing. Right now is what is and when I slow a bit I find great comfort and even security in the moment. I can feel myself wrapped in a blanket of love: the love of the moment, the past, and yes even the future. A love that allows this moment to be full and enough.

Before the aneurysm I had had several experiences that I knew had come from a place of grace and love. Things that at first were difficult to explain, yet held recognizable truths for me. The “message” or “lesson” was clearly for me at that particular time.

In the course of difficult days there is a comfort that comes when I am open to receiving. There are tender smiles for me when sadness intrudes.
When I look up and outward there are rainbows that do follow the clouds. There are smiles and  laughter lingering on my lips.
The sunsets do warm my heart. A hug is always available when my spirits sag.

jan 2013a
Beauty is all around me. Friendships brighten my life.
In my heart there is a faith that sustains me. Tucked inside there is a confidence to lean on when I have doubts.
As I grow I find I do have courage to know and honor my true self. It comes with a patience that is able to accept the truth of what is.
I have been blessed with many great loves that are all a part of the greater circle of love that surrounds me.

Today. at lunch, my husband, daughter and I talked about my recent time in the hospital and rehab after the aneurysm. So many thoughts and feelings surfaced for each of us. Memories and emotions that we each are still processing. Contained in all of these were tears, smiles, and soft laughter. The balance of awe and awareness that could only be witnessed at this moment. We each had a palpable memory of the uncertainty, fear and helplessness that comes at such times. As we looked at each other, the power of the moment, THAT one moment, there was a whisper of understanding, grace, love and gratitude. We were lifted up. I felt so full.  Here, around a table looking out over the lake, a love that is so enduring bound some of the worry and fear and placed it to the side. This moment was for being in the loving presence of each other and breathing in the gratitude that nourished us body and soul.

I am on some kind of a journey. One I had not planned nor was I prepared for. The ride has been bumpy and I have strayed a bit from the path, but have been guided back on course.
Each day I struggle to see the same progress those around me see that I have made. I think I am beginning to allow myself to see the same healing and change as the fear and worry fade a bit to the back ground. I know I am so much more aware of the blessings in my life and am able to give them their rightful place of guiding lights on this amended path.

Writing this I might even go so far to say that I see and understand this aneurysm , as terrifying and scary as it has been, has brought me to this day, on this path, with a new perspective on many things. Now, I ask to be given the strength and courage to find my way on this path. I believe it will lead me to opportunities to explore the rawness of a powerful love, the parting of the fog that covers what is right in front of us, and a inner strength that goes forward with a brighter light showing the way.

 

A Place of Love

Image may contain: text

I currently have a lot of time to explore new authors and books, music and poetry, recipes and art. In exploring a topic for this blog I came across a TED TALK by Valerie Kaur, link here: Revolutionary Love . Her words brought me hope, some tears, excitement and courage. This, I thought to myself, THIS is what I want to write about this week.

The quote above from Parker Palmer popped up next and voila! I had a solid theme for a blog post.

The fundamental premise is to look around and ask yourself “Who have we not yet tried to love?” What are each person’s individual stories that we need to hear because those the are stories can help us see there is no stranger among anyone we meet.  

One of the greatest gifts I have been offered/given in my life has been the opportunity to travel and even live in places all over the world. Some of the time I traveled with friends, my father, my husband, and most recently my children. But some of the time I traveled alone. Taken out of the comfort zone of what I was familiar with I found myself experiencing some worry and anxiety. Some of this arrived at my door step even before I began the adventure. What would happen if….? How do I…….? Is there…..? Who will……..? Questions based on uncertainty and a little bit of fear and worry. I was entering a realm of the unfamiliar, even the unknown. I would be my own source of comfort, courage and ingenuity. I would be in places and situations where I did not speak the language that might have been required for me to ask for help or direction. Off I went! First I traveled to India and Nepal. My father, an Episcopal minister had been asked to be part of the team traveling with a group of college students. He was able to make arrangements for me to go with him. After that we were off to Belgium for The Second World Conference on Religion and Peace. Before going to Belgium we stopped in Denmark where I stayed with a Danish family for almost a week. I no longer remember what my father was up to! With in this same trip I went to Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, France and Germany with my father.

Years later I traveled with my dear friend AnaLisa to attend a 6 week college session in England, and then I traveled to Corfu, Greece before meeting her again in Athens where we made arrangements to live in Iraklion, Crete. Years later, married, I found myself traveling to Japan with another friend and her young son. Eventually my husband would come and join me and we would remain in Kyoto for another 6 months. In each and every place there were people who reached out with their heart and hand when there was no shared spoken language. Yet there was love, care, respect, help and trust.

It’s true, as Parker Palmer writes, we all have places of fear. Right next door are places of hope, trust and faith. They are just a step away from the place of fear, yet the first step to leaving fear behind sometimes seems like such a huge, wide one and we falter and pause, wondering if we can get across the chasm. if we would but only take a moment to look up instead of towards our feet, chances are we would find another on the other side reaching out to lend a hand. We are guided and supported by probably hundred of people through out our lives. Those who will reach out to us offering the very best of our humanness. If by some chance we still stumble or fall they are still there to pick us up and dust us off.

As I have been on this journey of healing and recovery I have stood at the edge of that chasm. Frozen by the unknown and fear. It has been a mind game of sorts, and a tug of war with my sense of pride as controlled by ego. Voices in my head yell “You shouldn’t need the help and support of others. Take care of yourself for heaven’s sake.” The dreaded “shouldn’t s”. BUT, if as Parker says I am able to instead, begin from a place of promise, a place of hopefulness, I will head in a direction not so scary and uncertain. And maybe, I will not travel alone. Perhaps now that the foundation is more stable perhaps others will follow me towards a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.

I can remain stuck in the quagmire of self pity, uncertainty, cynical thoughts and feel all the accompanying feelings and emotions which may only add proof that I am in fact stuck here forever. Or I can gather myself up and step just next door to faith, hope and trust. From this place stepping forward is not so intimidating, so impossible looking.

Sitting here, having walked through a door I never even saw (the aneurysm) and finding myself frozen in disbelief and fear, I am humbled. Humbled by what I now understand is a kind of strength, promise and hopefulness. It comes from deep inside of me, upheld by the foundation built from the love of others. There is no weakness or shame in reaching out to others. It may just be that they are in fact the bridge that connects us, me, to a more trustworthy , more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world. A place where we heal, grow, love, share, offer, receive, nurture, trust and discover and gain the strength to reach out to others in return.

I put a lot of time into thinking about all this because it is my path to healing and regaining pieces of my life. I am not blind to the goings on of our world. There is much pain and suffering. There is divisiveness and mistrust, anger and fear. When I am quiet in my heart I understand some of this mistrust, anger and fear because, for a moment I am able to put myself in the proverbial shoes of the “Other”.

I am in a place where I feel out of control of the situation, at the mercy of things I cannot control, scared and worried, unsure and uncertain of the future, and sad. When I can understand the situations others are in that may cause them the same feelings and reactions, I am able to feel connected to them, as if I am standing next to them rather than against them. It is possible we may look at each other in recognition of this and reach out towards each other, helping one another.

It’s been difficult to see the silver lining of the past six months, but it is there. It is the cloak of hope and love. Both hold a guiding lantern up to the perceived darkness of not knowing and soften the fear, the uncertainty as they guide us to our place in the world were the light shines on trustworthiness, hopefulness and faith. And it is in this place, understanding there are no strangers, we rest in the arms of others, where we may find comfort, pause, healing and growth. We will discover the one we have not yet tried to love is not so different from us. We need only to care enough to listen to their story with an open heart and then reach out to them with compassion and empathy.

So, this Sunday I contemplate my own way of Being in this world. What guides me and sustains me?

Sustenance

Here in the Northeast Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow so we have a little more winter ahead before Spring wakes up. If you’ve been following along you know I am recovering from a ruptured brain aneurysm. If you’re new to this blog, I am now in the 6th month of recovery from this. I spent many weeks in the hospital and many months in rehab before being  able to come home.

Memory was significantly affected. While much seems to be returning, there are things that remain fuzzy or cloudy. Things one might think you could never forget, like the death of loved ones.  Alas, those tender moments of deep sorrow needed to be retold and relived.

Recently I was looking at a site I follow, Gratefulness.org, and came across this question to ask myself in their “Practice Space”: “What memories sustain me?” The word “sustain” jumped at me. What keeps me going?

tagore

I think it caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly because of the targeted loss of some memory, and two, because thankfully I retained/regained many powerful memories. A whole line-up of memories fell into place as if on cue. As I reflected on those memories I came to the train of thought that wondered how this played into the mindfulness concept of being present in the moment and not wandering back to the past or longing for the future. The past is over and the future is unknowable.

Working with this I began to see that while I did not try to linger in or relive the past, I had walked that path once and the experiences and people I met challenged me to grow and to continue along to discover what was up ahead. I value the lessons of those experiences and now, as memories, they do continue to have a profound effect on the person I am now.  I am now most certainly different from the person I was then. To my mind the memories are significant because they reflect events that did in fact mold this person I am now.

These stories that are now memories were significant in me developing into the person I am today and have been incorporated into posts on this blog. You can read of few of them here:

Sounds of Life,   About That Box of Photos Under My Bed ,  Every Single Day,  

There are other posts as well that contain stories about my memories and how they influenced who I grew to be.

To be clear, there are memories I do not share because they are not happy ones and I do not see how my sharing them would be of value. At least right now. There are no deep, dark secrets, but there is profound sorrow, the endless lingering and looping of the “What If?” thoughts and questions and a few embarrassing moments too!

Blogging presents an interesting conundrum: what is okay to share and what is not?

As I sit here now writing this I am focused on healing and recovery. There is some awareness of learning and transformation,  but much of my focus is only on physical and emotional healing.  I have come to understand how some things in my past, now memories, built up and created the person now delegated with this task of lifting “me” back up and dusting off my shoulder before sending me forward.

I have found myself in positions where I have been confused and scared. I have experienced pain and hurt. Because of the aneurysm there I things I do not remember. With my family by my side I made it through all of it and while my body is still weak, some thing in my heart and soul is ready to burst forth with new growth and blossoming. Something almost sacred, that was seemingly born and fertilized from this difficult medical event.  The sign posts along the way towards recovery and healing asked “What memories sustain you?”

There are too many to list but the common thread is that they are all so different. There are memories of being loved and nurtured as well as of being worried or afraid. There are memories I would just as soon forget as well as ones I am sure I could never forget. “Good” or “bad/painful”, each one was part of the construction team that built the person who is writing this. Without each part of the story, each memory, I would not be who “I” am. Yes, “I” would still “be”, but “I” would not be the “I”  am now.

So, as I meander along memory lane in the hopes of reaching my destination of “Healed”, I take comfort in any and all of these memories. Turning each one over and over again like a newly received gift. Each one a part of the mystery puzzle that manifests as Kathryn. Along the way I do not need to linger long on any one memory. Instead I only need pause to take in the view and then, looking forward, take a breath and continue one foot in front of the other.

Memories are a little fickle in general. If I am honest with myself I generally discover that while there may be memories I would just as soon delete from all files, they are also, if I am being honest, a tangential piece of a “good” memory. The place of origin did not begin as something sad or painful, it usually was the result of diverging from the path intended. This is a long, round about way of saying I am trying to make peace with this aneurysm. Each day I work to give my body the time, space and support it needs to heal and to allow the aneurysm to be a short term visitor in my life, not a boarder who needs tending to.

Would you like to share the things that sustain you?

 

 

 

The Opposite Of What We Want

I’ve been out of the hospital and home now for a little over two months and I really want to be able to say that things are going well, but honestly I have to work on making myself believe this on a daily basis. This is not intended to be a pity party, just a snapshot of what my recovery is like. Not surprisingly, it is hard work physically, mentally and emotionally. And while there has been progress and improvement, each day is filled with therapists, doctors, exercises, tiredness, frustration, aches and pains and way too many medications. While I do improve and get stronger, I still have a feeling of “stuck-ness.” I can’t drive. I’m not allowed to cook alone. Can read but do not remember what I just read when I turn the page, can draw and, if someone is around, play board games.

I have lost a certain kind of freedom and I miss it. I feel as if my body has failed me, or if that is too strong, at a minimum it has left me feeling let down and disappointed.

As I search for some comfort and reassurance to cradle me while I try to patiently regain my perceived “being-ness” and independence, I grab on tightly to the love of my family and friends and sometimes the sentences and thoughts in the books I try to read. Reading is now a slow, uncomfortable process, but I read and search for threads of hope and healing and do find comfort on occasion in the words and thoughts of others.

Today this jumped off the page and into my ruminating thought process: ” The wisdom that took longer for me to acquire, through direct experience rather than being told so by someone else, was never to assume that trust always lines up with desire. The offerings of the holy are often the opposite of what we want. They don’t sort for our willingness to receive them. They’re abundantly bestowed, like them or not.” (Magic in Plain Sight by Patricia Heavren.)

I interpreted this to mean is this: I was being “offered” something ‘holy’. Within that however, is the message that the universe is not concerned with what I might want or desire (health, strength, trust). There is no concern as to whether I would like to have an aneurysm. Rather, it was “bestowed” upon me with no concern for my thoughts. The “Holy” saw things differently than I did and had determined I needed to be presented with something I had to work on unwrapping patiently in order to figure out what it was.

“On a fundamental level, everyone plays with the swing of seeming opposites. Advancing and returning comprise an ageless dance with infinite expressions. Everything emanates out and eventually returns home again. It’s the breath and essence of all life, an ever-flowing, sacred change of direction by the One.” (Magic In Plain Sight) So, was I being called to move towards some ‘sacred’ change of direction or something else? Geeze…..this is a lot to process, to ponder. Why on Earth would this be so? All of this would seemingly be the opposite of what I wanted in my life!

There was no place for me to go but inwards.  The only path before me was to try to see, in the quiet spaces of my heart and mind, my true Being. To see what was there, even if it appeared to be hiding or a little bit out of focus. As I kept reading, Patricia revealed a piece of the puzzle, the magic and value of ordinary things: “….one of the early clues that vast intelligence and enormous heart are ever-present in ordinary things, a kind of living wisdom that can take a lifetime to recognize and appreciate, if ever.”

‘Living wisdom’ concerning ‘ordinary things’. I am in no way suggesting that an aneurysm is an ordinary thing. It is scary and serious and dangerous. Perhaps what is ‘ordinary’ for me in this bumpy, restless, time of my life is understanding that my body and spirit are held together by a desire to live. Held together by the threads of unfailing love that cradles and comforts me. Was/is this a call for a sacred change? For me? For my loved ones, my friends and family? What was the living wisdom I was experiencing? How was I to understand what this was and turn it from something I resented to something I could appreciate and value?

There have been teasingly small glimmers of understanding, but like the child blowing on the fluffy seeds of a dandelion flower, scattering them into the air, these glimmers just danced away like sun sparkles on water and the scattered dandelion seeds. Pretty and awe inspiring, but gone quickly. Never to be regained or held on to. Ever fleeting and temporary.

So now I am trying to give positive meaning to something scary. Why? Because I have “lost” so much time. I have missed making beautiful memories and instead have frightening memories and emotions. I am not able to just let all this “be”. I have to find a way to make sense out of some thing that is medically cold and straight forward, and shift it towards some thing that has value and purpose. Otherwise these months will remain “just” lost time. Ultimately the outcome will be determined by the path I take and the destination I choose to pursue. Of course things will appear that I haven’t foreseen or planned for, like an aneurysm, but what else can I do? Stop? Stand where I am, not moving? No thanks. I’ve successfully climbed too many personal mountains to give up or doubt I can get through this.

In quieter moments when the view is not clouded with sorrow and worry, I do see a open path towards healing and growth. Along this path are turn outs where I can pause and refuel and take time to be aware of the “living wisdom” of “ordinary things.” As I gaze  ahead I sometimes feel I am walking among those “ordinary things” and they come into view and focus. The sacredness of the “living wisdom” is always before me with its hand held out and open. Illuminated in the glow and softness of hope and trust. For me, hope is soft because it has to be pliant and pliable, not hard and anchored. Ordinary and sacred might not seem like they go together, but really they do.

As I sit here writing there is a cat in front of me making those little cat cooing sounds that I interpret as sighs of contentment. The snow is dripping off the roof and has become the background music for the dance of the birds that flutter and vie for positions at the feeders. These are ordinary things during the days here on Turkey Hill Rd., and to me they are sacred events. This is how I see life in the days I am living. This is what “living wisdom” is for me…..taking the leap and creating a space and the time to see sacredness in the ordinary. And my path now is to walk this path of recovery and maneuver around the bumpy parts of discomfort and frustration, fear and loss, seeing those things as part of the sacredness. The sacredness that highlights the path so that I can see it more clearly and step with more confidence and determination. A sacredness that gives space for understanding some things may appear to be the opposite of what I believe I want/need.

highbanks1mh

I may discover as I meander this path that the end ebbs and flows in front of me. First near and then further away. Maybe there is an end to the path, maybe not. Where would the “end” be? Maybe I’ll just come to a fork in the path and just continue to meander along in a different direction. This continuation might just be an invitation to see more expressions of the sacredness in the ordinary, and not just be a longer way that delays the arrival to somewhere I think I need or want to be. Just allowing the paths/journey to be the experience. The trail signs with arrows along the way direct me to “Be here now”.

I have not always enjoyed this part of the journey. There has been confusion, pain, loss and resentment. I lay my head on the pillow at night and silently lament “why is this happening?” I hear several  answers. “The medical reason is….blah, blah, blah” That reason offers no comfort. Another response is fierce love from family and friends that almost yanks me awake while wrapping me a tenderness and certainty that has no room for faltering or failing. The other response is softer and highlights the question to Mary Oliver’s offering: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Within that question is also the answer.
Mary Oliver links

So here I sit fingers tapping the keys, gazing out the window upon the grayness of the season. I am here. This moment is sacred to me. And I will continue to try to find the ways to honor the sacredness, understanding that I am being offered many keys to many doors. It is no concern where the doors lead but rather if I can discover which key opens which door. It is about walking through one ‘ordinary’ door after another with eyes wide open, curiosity pulsing through me, anticipating a meeting with sacredness.

So many of you reading this are part of this sacredness. With you by my side and in my life,you are the sacredness in my life. Your friendship and love illuminate my days allowing me see the sacredness in the ordinary, making my life and life experiences extraordinary. My family, husband, children, siblings, in laws, nieces and nephews, friends, all tether me to what matters, to what is sacred in this life. Your love and kindness nourishes me, sustains me, heals me.

Now I’ll close and move on to my physical therapy exercises and try to give space to allowing them to be the keys that just might open another door to something extraordinary. You never know!

Thank you for being the sacred parts of my ordinary life.

Your Life, Your Journey

” Do Shaol, Do Thuras”

The Irish phrase “Do Shaol, Do Thuras” means “Your Life, Your Journey.”

Many years ago I was handed a box by my step mother. My father had recently passed and she was transferring this box of family photos, history and information on to me. I was to become the keeper of this information. Inside there was the history of our coat of arms, copies of patents, invitations to award dinners and events, wedding invitations, old telegrams, newspaper clippings, strange piles of marketing flyers…..some things I knew what they were. Other things, I had not a clue. Pictures of people were mysteries….no names, no places listed, no dates. No connection to be made. Just faces looking back at me.

I realized I could either throw the box and it’s contents out, or get the information organized and keep it safe. I made a decision to protect the information and unwittingly dove head first into the world of genealogy.

This past Christmas my daughter began talking about a family trip to Ireland. We had been talking about doing a “big” trip somewhere. My now decades old foray into genealogy saw Ireland as a solid contender as a destination. Northern Ireland in particular was at the top of the list. And a sleepy town in County Down called Portaferry became one of the highlight destinations.

DSCN0312

Portaferry, Co. Down, Northern Ireland. June 2017. Photo by me.

The venture into genealogy has been a true journey for me. Past history has become living history. I have felt at times as if my ancestors were walking by my side on this journey.  Each story uncovered about these family members put them in a spotlight for me. As I have gained perspective on their lives, my life has gained some perspective too.

Your life. Your Journey. My Life. My Journey.

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.”
~Linda Hogan

Genealogy is sometimes fickle. Information exists sometimes, but not always. Oral history is sometimes proven, but not always. People with the good-intentioned desire to make connections sometimes make them up, ignoring dates, places and more. Brick walls are at every corner. Angels appear out of nowhere with a missing piece of the puzzle. Genealogy really is not a single person’s journey, but a collective effort at finding and piecing the puzzle pieces together. DNA testing helps but only if there is a living male descendant.

Exploring the past, I have been able to get as far back as the mid to late 1700’s in Portaferry. This was the first place I could connect my maternal 4x great-grandfather, James Vance, to.

There is no DNA proof. There are no birth or census records yet found in Ireland that connect him to Portaferry. The church he most likely was affiliated with there was destroyed in a massive storm, along with any records. There are Revolutionary War records where he indicated he “was from” Portaferry, Ireland. There are American records that record Portaferry as his “home”. There is only one place in the world called Portaferry.

Capture

jvancebio

Scots-Irish history supports the reason for his family’s journey from Scotland to Ireland in the 1600’s, and then eventually to Pennsylvania in the mid 1770’s. Oral history from family supports this also.

So Portaferry became a family destination. (And I am ever so grateful my family agreed to this)

We are bound to our ancestors and to those who made us,
whether we want to be or not.
What matters is what we make of what we are.”
– Kate Elliott

Upon arrival in America both sides of my family eventually settled in parts of Pennsylvania. My son lives there now and when we go to visit I find myself looking out the car window, watching the scenery fly past. Questions loop around as thoughts: What thoughts did they have leaving Ireland? Did they know where they were going…have relatives here already? How many family members did they say good-bye to? What few things did they bring with them? What was it like for them to see the Monongahela River and the rolling hills of PA? Did it look like home?

Those questions arose again as I walked on the ground and streets where this Scots-Irish ancestor of mine most likely walked, Portaferry. In talking to a town historian there he said, “Portaferry wouldn’t have looked too much different land wise…it’s the same now as then. What you see now is what he saw then.”

 

 

There was great power in that summation for me. A connection to the past. My eyes saw what he saw. The water. The hill. The windmill. The castle. The tower across the water. The forceful tide flowing in and out through the Narrows everyday. The Irish Sea in the distance. All that was the same, then, as now.

I was looking at what he saw everyday.
I saw what he saw.
I was standing where he stood.
I was walking where he walked.
It almost felt like we could walk together and reminisce.
Share a memory.

Political and religious persecution were no doubt the motivating forces in James Vance leaving Ireland. He was part of the last of the five large waves of Scots-Irish to leave Northern Ireland for America in the 1700’s. Up to a quarter of a million Scots-Irish were estimated to have emigrated across the Atlantic from the north of Ireland through the 18th century (with an even greater amount following in the 19th century). Shortly after he landed in Philadelphia he enlisted in the fight against the British in the Revolutionary War. His grave in Greensboro PA has the Rev War marker next to it. He served under Captain Reading and Col. Chambers and fought in the battles of Germantown and Monmouth. He was with Washington and Lafayette in Valley Forge.

 

 

After the war James joined with a group of German immigrants in a business endeavor with Albert Gallatin (who later became Secretary of the Treasury under Jefferson and Madison) establishing the first “Glassworks” in New Geneva PA. The name Albert and Gallatin, as well as the German given and surnames of the glassblowers (seen on the marker below), became intermingled with the Vance family as friendships developed and marriages took place. Thinking back to when we visited Gallatin’s home, Friendship Hill near Port Marion PA, I realize I had many of the same thoughts and emotions I experienced in Northern Ireland. At Friendship Hill I saw the same things James would have seen. I walked the same path James would have walked on. I stood in a room James would have stood in, looking at he same furniture he sat on. I could imagine him greeting his friend Gallatin. Family history tells of Lafayette and James embracing warmly in Gallatin’s living room.

pa gallatin etc

Statue of Gallatin, his home, James grave and marker from the Glassworks where James worked.

Eventually James married and settled down to raise a family. Two of James’ sons became well known potters in a flourishing pottery trade in New Geneva PA. When his sons moved to Cincinnati they continued with their pottery work. Their sons, James’ grandsons, lived there and designed and built steam powered paddle boats in Cincy that ran up and down the Ohio River. Their children, James’ great grandchildren, grew up to build buildings that are still standing in Columbus Ohio.

These individuals left a mark on history.

Several years ago my family visited what was my great-grandfather Vance’s farm in Columbus Ohio. Now part of Highbanks Park, only the land remains. The buildings of the farm, then state of the art, and the house, with greenhouses and a swimming pool, are gone. Still, we walked the trails. We walked on land my mom walked and played on. The same land her father walked on. And the same land her grandfather walked on. We saw what they saw. My children stood on the banks of the Olentangy River. The same river their grandmother, great-grandparents and great great grandparents stood by.

 

 

Genealogy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I never would have imagined I would spend decades searching for little clues of history that would weave together a rich tapestry of stories and adventures. I never would have imagined the information would lead me to a small, sleepy town near the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland.

“Do Shaol, Do Thuras”. “Your Life, Your Journey.”

It was James Vance’s life. It was his journey. And it is my life. But my journey includes his journey.

Do Shaol, Do Thuras”

Each one of us are the result of the love of thousands.

What matters is what we make of who we are.”

All this is infused into the making who we are. Whether we know all the history or not, we are the result of the love, the joys, the struggles and sacrifices of our ancestors. Of course it is our life and our journey. It also is our life given to us through the life and journey of others.

What matters is what we make of who are—-drawing on and respecting all the snippets, remnants, blood and DNA of those who came before us. Add to that all the combined experiences we’ve had, with all that is at this moment. Standing here. Now. It has made us who we are.

All of this grounds me somehow. What written history I can find about my ancestors on both sides of my family is that they gave to others. They lifted others up. They adopted orphans. They worked hard. They were teachers and ministers. They bailed people out of Depression era debt. They literally raised churches. They built boats that aided commerce and travel. They built stores that served people and communities. They tanned hides and sewed shoes. Some built furniture while others were self taught itinerant doctors who knew the how to combine medicinal plants into elixirs and ointments with healing properties. They built carriages and forged horse shoes. They grew flax and wove linen cloth. They were council members in the towns they lived in. They supported Women’s Suffrage. They carried bodies off of battlefields. They fought in wars and they resisted wars and fought for peace. They were regular people.

Of course there are a few characters too! We all have a couple. We have pirates, disposed ministers and a witch!

I am a richer person for knowing my family’s history. I feel a kind of connection to some of my ancestors.

It’s all a journey. A personal journey most certainly. But also a journey that began before we were born. A journey of others that led to us being born.

I’ve been fortunate to get to know James Vance as intimately as I have. To have stood where he stood. To have walked where he walked. To have seen the same views he saw. To have been in rooms where he sat.

“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way.
Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.
Be still, they say. Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.”

Be still. Watch and Listen.

**Check out what I’ve been reading This Week

 

 

 

 

Dewdrops

For many years, at great cost, I traveled through many countries,
saw the high mountains, the oceans.
The only things I did not see
were the sparkling dewdrops in the grass just outside my door.

~Rabindranath Tagore

I have been very fortunate in my life to have traveled to many places all over the world. I was blessed to be able to actually live in a few. Each country opened my heart and eyes in a new way. There were wonderful, joyful, carefree times, and more difficult, very uncomfortable times. There was fear and worry. There was celebration and excitement. I grew in ways I would never have been able to do had I not traveled.

And yet, coming “home” was the real lesson. When I left Ithaca I felt I had been liberated from many things: parents, American culture, high school cliques, peer pressure, boredom, a broken heart. Parts of life felt stagnant and mundane. I did not want to be only an American. I was going to become a world citizen.

So I traveled. With eyes wide open. My senses were like a sponge. My brain rewired as I learned and experienced new things, had new thoughts and gained new perspectives. My body changed from new foods, less four wheel transportation. I sat next to sheep on buses, and stepped over dead bodies. I ate eyeballs and other balls, intestines and stomachs. I learned how having a cup of tea can be a three hour silent event. I discovered weaving silk is very hard and that I don’t like salted goat milk. I was jostled in religious parades and sat in stillness and silence in Japanese gardens. I was followed by herds of children begging for money and food. I found myself surrounded by groups of men because I had blue eyes.  I was invited into homes and slept on floors literally crawling with scorpions. I was awakened by earthquakes and “trapped” by a declaration of martial law. I traveled by plane, boat, train, bus, trolley, subway, cart, truck, helicopter, elephant and foot.

I ran out of money and sold my blood. I got very sick and had to go to a hospital every day for testing. I experienced altitude sickness, fainting, food poisoning, acupuncture and cupping.

I grew up.

And then I came home and looked out the window and saw the “dewdrops.” All the beauty, mystery, hope, sorrow, sadness, pain, possibility and wonder right outside my window. I hadn’t seen all that ever before as clearly as I could now.

dew1mh

Redbud leaf, by me

I did have to travel in order to come home and be able to see the dewdrops….right out my own window. I don’t think the meaning and message would be as clear as it is now without all those experiences in my life. I learned to look through different lenses. The experiences from the world provided a means for observing, assessing, evaluating and synthesizing information and experiences, challenging beliefs and even personal opinions.

What’s outside your window? Your living room window, your car window, your bus window, your office window and the restaurant window? The window to your thoughts, biases, perspectives, your heart, your education and religious background? The window that showcases the planet, the environment, the universe? The window that shows you the life of others, their struggles and joys?

What do you see?

What I’ve been reading, and watching, this week : This Week