I wrote in a previous blog post that the expression “with a heavy heart” doesn’t quite express how I feel these days. In some ways it’s actually hard to even feel my heart. What I do feel, actually, is a body that is so weighted down that I can barely move. So I write this post tonight with a heavy body in hopes that shedding some words may lighten just slightly the weight of the world that I feel in my shoulders. That expression, “the weight of the world,” that one I definitely feel.
My grandma Ruth and grandpa Walter, my mom’s mom and dad and some of my cousins and I around 1979 I’d guess.
I’ve been thinking about generations and my roots over the last couple of weeks.
As I contemplate the last few weeks, I see the story of roots started for me even before I knew it. When we were at the river while Chris was still missing, we were singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” down by the river when I invited people to join me for prayer and singing. One of my good friends jumped up in the song. I was singing and crying and I hadn’t even been aware of my own sense of being lost in the world. And she hugged me tight. Later she told me she had asked for her ancestors to give her strength and too help her help me. And she told me she felt their energy go through her and through me and plant roots into the ground there by the river. And I cried and cried and little by little the anguish was shared and I could stand again.
And my radical invitation into community continued that day and continues with Pastor Marlene Hegelmo of All Nations Church in Minneapolis and member of the Ho Chunk Nation who has invited me into community ever since she learned of Chris’s disappearance into the Mississippi River. She and other leaders from Anishinabe, Lakota/Dakota and Crow nations have helped me to begin to understand, no, not understand, feel my connection to the Creator, God’s creation and to my relatives, as I’ve heard them often say.
I’ve almost completely lost track of time now, but in the last couple of weeks or so Marlene invited me to a pipe ceremony because a friend and leader was visiting from Seattle. She had invited Sharon Day, the Water Walker who has walked the length of the Mississippi and will walk the length of the Missouri River this summer, and a few other people. We were also joined by an indigenous leader from India and some people with her.
The people present shared why we were there and what was weighing us down. As we shared, I was trying to hold it together and not cry to much, but as the Healer began to sing in her native language, I could feel the tears flow, seemingly without ceasing. There was no controlling them. There rarely ever is now.
But as she sang and I cried and as the sage smoke surrounded us, I began to see or sense or feel roots grow out of me and begin to reach into the earth upon which I was sitting.
And some things began to be clearer for me. I had been thinking of generations in my family and the great losses we have suffered. My oldest uncle, Uncle Dick, and his dog were killed by a train while he was driving his pickup truck. He left behind his wife and two young children, my cousins. This happened before I was born. And my aunt’s oldest son, my cousin Gary, was killed in a car accident when he was in his twenties, probably not much older than Chris, though I was about 12 at the time and he lived in the south so I only have a few memories of him.
And sometimes I wonder if this is some kind of a generational curse. I don’t want to sound morbid or anything or creepy, but really, how is that possible? (This is something I’m mulling over in my brain sometimes. I have no satisfactory answer right now). And I know there have always been unanswered questions about both of these happenings. And now I know my grandma and my aunt’s deep pain and sorrow.
And we talk about both my uncle and my cousin, but both of these events and people have always seemed so far removed from me. But they haven’t been. Ever. I understand that buried deep in the roots of my family’s tree is this deep, deep generational sorrow.
People keep telling me how strong I am. And I have stopped trying to argue that I’m not. It doesn’t matter. But any strength I do have, as I’ve said often, comes from God and from the support of family and friends. And now I see, too, that much of this strength comes from the roots of my family that I have always mostly taken for granted.
I suppose this is part of the separation so many of us have from our creation and thus from our own histories and or stories that are rooted in each other’s stories.
And the deepest roots I have are in Christ. My confirmation Bible verse was John 15:5: I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
These are my roots, at least on my mom’s side. I’ll talk more about my dad’s side, too, another day.
I hadn’t really realized how much my cousin and my uncle have been a part of my life even though they weren’t present. I guess it goes back to my last post. We have all felt this hole left by both of their absence. I was kinda surprised when my aunts and uncles and cousins came to the prayer vigil when Chris first went missing, and even more surprised by their anguish and tears. We are, after all, German and Norwegian on that side so I don’t remember seeing tears before. But of course I did, at my cousin Gary’s funeral. And I now remember crying so very much then, too. And I can feel their tears when my Uncle Dick died, those tears that are still so close to the surface. I wish Chris would have understood just how much he was loved, especially by his great aunts and uncles that he saw only three or four times a year.
And as I feel those roots digging deeper and honoring more and understanding better my past, I feel some of the weight dissipate from my weary shoulders.
Because this isn’t a weight I bear alone. It’s not mine alone, even when sometimes it feels that way. It’s a weight that is shared by all who are rooted with me in this creation, in this family, in this Creator God.
I know many of our relatives will always remember Chris, and there are some that are too young to remember much. His absence will always be a hole in our family. And yet his spirit will always be remembered.
One of many cousin pictures with a special appearance by Maia.
Cousins and second cousins. I notice in so many pictures Chris is hugging as many people as he can. I miss his hugs.
And as always, I share one of Chris’s poems, once again from his collection “Old Growth Forest.”
Day ten. Today I climbed up a tree.
Some say we are not apes
but if you look deep enough,
through skin, muscle, bone cell,
how can you deny it?
The will, primal urge to get high
obvious as the skyscrapers looming above
block out the sun like ugly giants.
And if I scratch your back, I expect
to find you scratching mine, my spine
needs the claw to cut deep and raw.
I climbed the tree to see the view
over the canopy of this old growth forest,
and it never ends in my sight
until the emerald green shelf meets water
but today it won’t rain.
I climbed up the tree and here I am
naturally lifted high above the land
tonight my dreams will really be memories
to remember why we had to come down
to lose our homes, our trees,
and to find our lost longing to be free.