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The Child Within

The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.  Fred Rogers

After a while the middle-aged person who lives in her head begins to talk to her soul, her kid.  Anne LaMott

“The gifts of the past make their way into the present.”  I have said these words many times in yoga sessions, as we stand, legs apart, arms stretched-out straight at shoulder height, front foot swiveling to the side, front knee bending over foot, as we look over our forward-facing fingertips, and align ourselves into the full expression of Virabhadrasana, the Warrior Pose.  “No need to look back,” I have added.  “The treasures will find you in the here and now.”

I’m contemplating this yoga wisdom as I prepare to fly east tomorrow, to the land of my beginnings, to the land of my ancestral beginnings as well.  This trip to Maine is not only a way to connect with family and friends during the holiday season; it also is a three-day adventure with a mission.  First, it was the wedding dresses, my mother’s dresses, from her first marriage as a young woman in her twenties and from her second when she was widowed more than a decade later, that re-appeared after being tucked away in storage for decades.  And then her mother’s dress, a Downton Abbey-era sheath was uncovered, and her mother’s mother’s dress, and a dress we think belonged to her mother’s mother’s mother from the mid-1800’s.  And lace veils and shawls and collars delicately crocheted.  That seemed like treasure enough to me, a reason to go east and be in the presence of something so intimately a part of the women whose shoulders I stand upon.  But then, more of the past made its way into the present, unopened boxes — forty of them are now stacked in my brother’s workshop at Fish House Cove where we, the four siblings, on Friday, will peruse their contents.

In the meantime, I have been de-cluttering, clearing out boxes of my own, sifting through the four woven sea-grass containers in my Creativity Room closet, the ones that I have filled for years, with images and photos and rough drafts of projects.  Most of these projects have come to fruition and it is time to create a new space, for new projects, projects that will perhaps evolve out of the treasures that are unearthed during this trip to Maine.  And lo and behold, in the midst of the de-cluttering, there it is, the past brimming up in the sweetest of ways.  I have found gifts galore: photos of our two sons at various stages of childhood, the precious chosen ones that made their way to bulletin boards over the years, and the duds that never found themselves in photo albums; other photos, too, that will be given new homes with the family members whose faces light them up; and a lovely block-print Christmas card from the 1960’s my mother created of the cove, a card I have now made new again for this holiday season.   Among the piles and piles of papers and old journals that I have tossed into garbage bags and the re-cycling bin, are these treasures that seem to pulsate with life as I hold them.  The content in one particular envelope stands out with such delight that I can’t stop smiling.

It is a holiday present from my younger — my very much younger self — that tickles my fancy.  The envelope contains two drawings dated with my father’s hand just a month after my birthday the year I turned six.  It was February, and that is perhaps why I drew this scene of a skier under a wintery sky, a skier that I am presuming is me.  But the funny thing is — I had never been on skis and I don’t think I had ever seen anyone ski.  Perhaps I had already watched the Wide World of Sports and the Winter Olympics on television, or perhaps I was captivated by the stories of my Perry boy cousins who traveled with their parents to New Hampshire from Massachusetts on weekends to fly down the snowy slopes in the White Mountains.  Or, perhaps it also was something else, something innate, in my Capricorn northern girl essence, a knowing that I loved to ski, that I would be drawn someday to a place where the snow piles high and the cross country ski trails are some of the wildest and best-groomed in the country, that I would skate-ski with a passion that sets my limbs on wintery fire.  Perhaps I knew this at six, that the heart-beating whoop of the wild would find its way off the page and into the snowy woods.  And then, there is the other drawing.  Out of all the possibilities that could have taken center stage in my mind, it was church that lit me up.  And I know it is true; I remember it is so, that I loved church.  I was raised Swedenborgian, in a mystical tradition where angels surrounded us and the Bible contained layer upon layer upon layer of meaning, and the old ladies and men of the church loved us children, and the congregation was intimate and small, and it was fun, dressing up on Sunday mornings and making our way to the Greek-revival-style church with its big black welcoming door.

I’m thinking of the yoga wisdom again — that there is no need to look back; the gifts of the past will make their way into the present.  I don’t know what gifts will feel alive to me as my siblings and I sort through the contents of the boxes on Friday morning in Maine.  I don’t know how I will feel as I touch the fabric of a wedding dress worn by my mother, by my grandmother, by my great grandmother and my great great grandmother.  I do know, however, how I feel as I look at these pictures drawn with my own six-year-old hand.  I am welled up with an appreciation and love for this child who sketched out these scenes, who knew then what felt important in her heart, and for the reminder she brings me now of what I have always known, that here is reverence in the whoop of the wild, in a snowy day, and an out-of-the-lines skate-ski.  And there is reverence, too, in community and intentional worship, in churches and synagogues and Hindu temples and mosques and in yoga classes and open mic poetry readings and in creative afternoons spent at the computer or with a pencil and piece of paper and the desire to draw.  And there is reverence in irreverent laughter that sometimes bubbles up on the snowy slopes or in the pew at church or in the sacred circle.  I thank my inner child for her reminder, and I carry her with me into this holiday season.

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