Archive for the ‘earth spirituality’ Category

Fire — Druid & Christian Theme 3   Leave a comment

There was the briefest mention of fire in the previous post, but much more about the other three elements. Why?

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Deborah Lipp notes in her The Way of Four Spellbook (Llewellyn, 2006):

Fire has always been set apart from the other elements, because Fire alone has no natural home on the earth; Air has the sky, Water the sea, and Earth the land, but only Fire stands apart from geography. In nature, Fire is the outsider; it is out of control, and it conforms to no known rules (pg. 10).

Now Lipp’s observation both captures the nature of fire and also feeds our stereotypes about impulse, passion, strong feeling. How often we may long — or fear — to be out of control, fearless, spontaneous! Who hasn’t felt like an outsider at some point? Why would the Australian-inspired Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain opt for its advertising slogan “No rules. Just right”? Because there is indeed a rightness to fire — it can only flame up where there’s something to burn, after all. And most of us have been storing combustible material for a long time. How else to explain our explosions, outbursts, flares of temper? Even our language about these things draws on fire for metaphor.

Following the theme from the last post, we can speak of a fire baptism. You’re wholly in it when that happens. The full experience, nothing held back.

John the Baptist, Jesus’s precursor, explains to those asking, “I indeed baptize you in water … but he that cometh after me is mightier than I … he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire”. We sense the power in fire, of all the elements closest in so many ways to Spirit. It can purify, transform, forge and anneal. Its extreme heat can also scorch, char, consume and destroy. Each element transforms its own way. “We didn’t start the fire”, sings Billy Joel. “It was always burning since the world’s been turning”. But he goes on: “We didn’t start the fire. No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it”. And sometimes we even try to “fight fire with fire”. Yet we also long for fire to kindle cold hearts, to heat a flagging will, to spark the spirit deepest in us. We yearn to be fire.

“O! for a muse of fire”, cries Shakespeare’s Chorus in the first line of Henry V, “that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention”. We long to blaze, because we feel in fire something native and free. We are both it and other, too, as with all the elements. “Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire”, says Jose Luis Borges. The elements are natural sacraments, folds and garments for Spirit all around us. For fire, we light candles in so many traditions, for so many reasons, the flame cheering to the eye and heart.

I both am and am not fire. Self and other: the quest of our days, the distinction we cherish and also long to cast away. Pagan, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, atheist, shaman, through all these experiences and intuitions we still ask ourselves, each other and the world: “What makes a good burn?”

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Maybe the purest ritual Druids and Christians might share is one which seeks not to fill our ears with answers, but that gives us space and silence to listen to and ponder the questions. In some ways, the long, slow burn of Spirit in us is fire in its most potent form of all.

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Beltane approaches, that festival of fire. The Edinburgh-based Beltane Fire Society celebrates 30 years this year of a dramatic festival of thousands, from 8:00 pm to 1:30 am. Here’s the “Drums of Beltane” subpage of the Society’s website. As the page notes,

Beltane may be known as a fire festival, but it may as well be considered to be a drum festival too. Drums are the beating heart of Beltane that create the rhythm of the festival, drive the procession forward, and soundtrack the changing seasons. They have been an integral part of Beltane since our tradition was first re-imagined on Calton Hill in 1988.

Looking for a fix of Beltane energy to get you launched? Here’s a video of the Drum Club which will be among the groups performing this year for the event. Just the first five minutes will give you a fine taste of Beltane fire in sound form. We can spark from anything, but sound and rhythm are powerful keys.

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Image: fire.

Gulf Coast Gathering 2017   2 comments

Highland Oak Nemeton, Fontainebleau State Park in Mandeville, LA, the magic of assembled Druids, and a sunny weekend of Gulf Coast weather in the 70s and 80s worked their cumulative spell on the 50 or so attendees of this year’s OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. The spirits of the land witnessed Druids from OR, CT, VT, PA, FL, TX, LA, NE, VA, MI and other states make their way to the south-central U.S.

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image courtesy Steve Cole

The workshops explored the Gathering theme “Opening The Seven Gifts” of Druidry. OBOD offers a lovely 2:30 video that presents the Seven Gifts more attractively than a bald recital could.

Our presenters kept the topics lively, sharing insights and fielding comments. Druidry needs no “outside experts” — the spiritual path generates its own.

Nonetheless, it’s always a draw to have a visiting speaker — and once again we welcomed the always-fabulous Kristoffer Hughes, one of Her Majesty’s Coroners, author, professional actor, OBOD Druid, and head of the Anglesey Druid Order in the U.K.

Kris spoke on “When the Last Leaf Falls: Death, an Awfully Big Adventure”, examining Western attitudes toward, and treatment of, the dead, and ways Druids can respond creatively and spiritually to the frequently dysfunctional nature of the Western “death industry” and its dehumanizing and ecologically destructive practices. He also urged us to bring each other in on, and discuss, our own plans for our deaths, disposal of remains, and the types of memorials we want.

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Kris during his talk — photo courtesy Kezia Vandilo

Dana dispelled stereotypes of magic during her evening talk around the fire our first night, the opening ritual fresh in our memories. The following morning Richard addressed the core of Druidry — getting back in touch with nature.

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Richard and Dana

Lorraine helped many meet a new animal guide, Gabby drew us to consider healing, Jacob turned our thoughts to philosophy, and I explored the awen and the potentials for inspiration. Even if [below] my gesture at one point suggests a fish story — “the big one that got away”.

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photo courtesy Kezia Vandilo

We initiated three Bards and five Ovates, held opening and closing rituals, along with the Seasonal Alban Eilir (Spring Equinox) ritual, went on nature walks, and visited the Seven Sisters Live Oak in nearby Mandeville, LA.

Below is our Welsh Druid guest communing with the tree, estimated to be over 1500 years old, and below that is a more distant shot to suggest something of its size.

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John Beckett captured an image of the atmospheric Spanish moss parasitic on so many trees south of the Mason-Dixon line.

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photo courtesy John Beckett

Storytellers and musicians, notably Jacob Pewitt and Brian Van Unen, made the slowly cooling evenings magical around the fire.

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Jacob and Brian — photo courtesy John Beckett

What better way to leave behind the 18″ of snow in Vermont from the recent March nor’easter?!

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Always, always, it’s the faces, the reunions, the collapse of miles between us, and the conversations that make each Gathering so memorable.

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Don’t know anyone before you arrive? You will before you leave!

Kathleen and Kezia -- KV

Kathleen and Kezia — photo courtesy Kezia Vandilo

 

 

 

WDIGFH?   Leave a comment

Where do I go from here?

All right — I’ll admit the title-as-opaque-acronym is at least a little clickbaity. (I do like the “dig” in the middle of it — it fits one of the themes for this post.)

But more importantly, this is the question I find my life keeps asking, in ways both small and large. What next?

Large: like many cancer survivors, I monitor numbers from regular blood tests. The slow rise I’ve seen over the past 5 years in undesirable antigens means I can’t grow complacent. “Leave nothing on the table,” counsels an elder I know who’s grappling with dementia. A life lived within limits isn’t a disaster: from everything I’ve seen, it’s the only way life happens. Nobody “does it all”. (The young adult novel I’ve got one-third finished won’t get completed on its own. It’s up, and down, to me.)

Small:  a Meetup group I’ve been nurturing patiently is finally large enough to gather for an Equinox/Ostara potluck. A member’s offered her home, and we’ve got several people committed to bringing a dish to pass. One more chance to practice savoring the shoots and leaves of new growth that spring makes its specialty.

In-between: unable to afford to buy a bigger house (we opted 9 years ago for small), or encouraged by any leads to move out of state for jobs, my wife and I focused on asking how to flourish where we are. She eventually found part-time work, and we built an addition to give us breathing room. I’m getting good writing ideas faster than I can get them on paper or screen.

How to survive, yes, of course. But how to thrive, the deeper quest.

IMG_1658Sometimes the big picture isn’t what I need, though I thought it was. Sometimes, instead, it’s just the next step, it’s the phone call I remembered to make this afternoon, it’s the contemplation or ritual tomorrow morning. It’s the short walk that reveals sudden green beneath melting snow. It’s the porcelain hare my aunt gave me 50 years ago.

I think “half a century” and don’t know what I feel. Then I think “half a century” again, and I say to myself, “I’m still here, still wondering what comes next”. I take the delicate figure down from the shelf and blow from its pink and white ears the dust from a season of wood stove ash. The picture’s not quite in focus, but my camera doesn’t do closeups any better. A piece of wisdom: it doesn’t have to be perfect.

And I open for the 100th time the demanding draft of a workshop I’ll be giving at Gulf Coast Gathering on “30 Days and Ways to Tap the Awen”.

Well, I remind myself, you asked for them. The inward sap bucket fills, after a winter’s dry season. Now the trick of a moment (a life): to open my heart wide enough to receive.

 

Brighid of the Snows   3 comments

The first stanza of Damh the Bard’s lovely song “Brighid” (below) places the goddess in the landscape of vision:

There’s a tree by the well in the wood,
That’s covered in garlands,
Clooties and ribbons that drift,
In the cool morning air.
That’s where I met an old woman,
Who came from a far land.
Holding a flame o’er the well,
And chanting a prayer.

Though here it’s the goddess who’s “chanting a prayer”, the bard has invoked her with song — his own prayer. And he’s gone to the “well in the wood” full of intention. Maybe not specifically to see the goddess, but knowing the tree and the well and the moment offer possibility waiting for human consciousness to activate. A gift of the gods, already given freely to us.

Here in Vermont a light snow falls as I write this, and I step away from the keyboard to take a picture.

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By February here, snow itself can signal spring to come. You can feel the longer light, and moments of snowy beauty remind you that wonder is never far away. The sap will be running soon in the maples, the sugar shacks smoking all day and night as the sugarmen boil down the sweet juice to syrup. Green will burst forth, improbable as that seems right now in a world of cold whiteness. So Brighid comes from a “far land” that is also always near to attention, intention and devotion.

Here across the Pond from the Celtic homeland, some North American Pagans can feel removed from the “gods of Europe”, bewailing their distance. This place, we can feel, isn’t “Their” land. Yet anyone who’s encountered a spiritual presence knows that place is a convenience of the gods, not a requirement — a set of clothes, not the being who wears them.

Yes, it would be splendid, we imagine, to visit that “tree by the well in the wood”, simply by stepping out the back door to a landscape steeped in stories and legends of the goddess. Yet we also know what familiarity breeds. Or as an African proverb has it, “Those who live nearest the church arrive late”.  The old saying that the gods like the offering of the salt of human sweat means effort is not wasted, devotion is repaid. Always, we have something we can offer them. And the gods give, but “not as the world gives”.

For you soon find that the gods are not merely passive reservoirs, to be drawn down whenever we happen to think of them and plug in for a re-charge, our rituals cannily crafted to work like the swipe of a credit card at a gas (petrol) pump. “Fill me up, Brighid!”

But wait, you say. Isn’t that just what we’re doing with ritual and song?

It’s really not a matter for argument, unless you need the exercise. Damh the Bard knows Brighid — you can hear it in the song. And out of love he’s traveled many times to the tree by the well in the wood. Brighid knows his name.

This, then, is one intention to cherish: may we serve them so that the gods know our names. Not to hold it up before others like a badge of pride, but as a spiritual resource to treasure and spend at worthy need. Or as Gandhi said, “If no one will walk with you, walk alone” knowing in truth you aren’t alone.

Ten years ago I didn’t honor Brighid. I didn’t “believe” in her, though I’d heard her name, thanks to all those who kept it alive in our world. Now I honor her, but I still don’t trouble myself about “belief”.

Instead, I take the hint and look. “I saw her reflection in the mirrored well”, Damh sings.

And I looked deep in her face,
The old woman gone, a maiden now knelt in her place,
And from my pocket I pulled a ribbon,
And in honour of her maidenhood,
I tied it there to the tree by the well in the wood.

Spiritual fire kindles in us at such moments.

A blessed Imbolc to you.

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Changing It Up For Real, Part 2   Leave a comment

HOBBITS and RABBITS

[If the upshot of watching the video about Yury, the “Russian Hobbit” featured in yesterday’s post, has you most concerned about whether Petrushka, mentioned only in passing, is actually Yury’s rabbit, I’ve still achieved something. Something very small, but still something.]

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ESCAPES and MODELS

This post examines some of the arguments, examples and ideas in a recent (Jan. 15, 2017) essay in The Atlantic with the unfortunate title “Seeking an Escape from Trump’s America.” I say “unfortunate”, because the problems the “escapees” face neither originate with Trump nor will they end with him. His name here is merely a red flag to a bull.

In the previous post, Yury aspires to, and achieves, a personal solution to his problem. For some, that may be enough. For others, community is a less selfish choice. It can also prove much more viable if you don’t have the means to drop out and move to Maine, as the previous post begins to suggest.

More importantly, the intentional communities the article investigates are not all “escapist” by any means. Rather than retreat, some attempt to engage the larger culture and model more viable and saner alternatives. Several got their start years and in some cases decades before Trump had entered the political fray. You could even call the title clickbait, because it does a disservice to the writer, who very probably didn’t choose it, and to the substance of the article, which grapples with some real and compelling concerns.

Twin Oaks, a community of some 100 members, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The community founded in 1967 can speak with particular authority — experience and evidence of its survival and “thrival” — about almost every issue facing intentional communities today. I believe the video below really is worth your next 16 minutes.

Now it may be that the video, or this post and some of the previous posts don’t speak to you. Perhaps you’re largely immune to the accumulating economic, political and cultural upheavals of our era. Possibly you’ve made your pile, your mortgage is paid, you have diversified investments, or other secure-enough sources of income. Along with those bulwarks against poverty and despair, you’re healthy enough to garden or handicraft your way through the next few decades until mortality relieves you of the challenges of this particular incarnation.

If so, please consider how you can help others. You don’t need to subscribe to false-Christian ideas of giving away all you own, unless you’re entering an intentional community, monastic or otherwise, for which this is the admission ticket. Why plunge yourself into poverty out of guilt or misguided perceptions that this will help someone else? Instead, use your position and privilege to accomplish something you choose to do for others.

ALTERNATIVES to “CONSUMPTION-HEAVINESS” and DESPAIR

One group has “given an official name to their search for an alternative to consumption-heavy American life: the Downstream Project, with the motto to ‘do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.'”

That’s one measurable goal. Rather than trying to “change others”, live so that your life doesn’t make other lives harder. I know that’s certainly more than enough for me, some days. A negative goal troubles you? Think of the Hippocratic Oath: “Do no harm.”

Can we aim for something larger? Of course. “… instead of continuing in passive despair, as many Americans seem to do, the people in these communities decided to overhaul their lives.” What would a “life overhaul” look like for you? The beauty of the question is that the answer is wholly up to you, if you let it be. Why not your answer, rather than anyone else’s?

Many of the Druids I know give more than lip service to this ongoing question. Despair just gets boring after a while. And that’s one of the reasons I love them: they don’t merely go through the motions, but bring courage to their own lives, and find worthwhile challenges in engaging bigger questions than “Where will I vacation this year?” or “What’s on cable?”

If you still haven’t let go of “Trump?!”, consider this observation by one member of an intentional community the article considers: “When there’s a Democrat in power, social-justice-minded people go to sleep, because they feel validated by what they hear on NPR.”

We can even practice Trump-gratitudes: I thank Trump for waking me up, for kindling useful anger, for provoking self-examination, for puncturing my weak political stances, for making me doubt, for unsettling the false comforts of middle-class-dom, for X, Y, Z …

ALIENATION as a RESOURCE

So what can we do with these gratitudes once we affirm them? Feel just as alienated, if not more so?

Alienation is “othering”, and not all bad. (Trump himself is a delicious example of a Monty-Pythonesque “Now for something completely different”.) One thing becomes another anyway: it’s how the world works. Alienation? “The Living Energy Farm runs on a different philosophy of alienation: If they can prototype alternatives to modern life, they believe, they can eventually remake the world.”

Any real re-making happens at home:

In the summer, [members of one community] cook with a small solar dish and a rocket stove behind the kitchen; they’re building a bigger dish, taller than a grown man, nearby. They hooked up an exercise bike to a washing machine and rigged a pair of old tractors to run on wood gas rather than gasoline, although they aren’t quite functional. They built their own food-drying room off the kitchen, where they process vegetables grown on their 127 acres, and they graft fruit-tree branches onto wild stems.

‘We refer to it as neo-Amish, or Amish without the patriarchy,” another member says.

Some of what we see as solutions are inextricably bound up with the problem:

“The way we choose to live has far more impact in terms of our environment … than any particular technology,” [one community member says]. “If Americans bother to talk about the environment at all, it’s usually in terms of a technological perspective.”

We’re conditioned, after all, to expect technical fixes for most problems, when some of the best alternatives simply don’t originate in technology.

…  mainstream environmentalism is too focused on incremental reform and modest lifestyle choices, like driving Priuses. “For us, the question is: How do I live comfortably with what renewable energy can do? … If you ask it that way, you can’t drive to D.C. and work in a cubicle,” he said. “But the environmental groups want to tell you that you can, because then you’ll send them donations.”

Ouch. But useful ouch, I hope. For Deanna, another community member,

“I envisioned being remote, being able to keep to ourselves, not being involved in whatever strife is going on in cities,” she said. She was glad to leave behind Boston and demonstrations like the ones that took place after Trump’s election; she’s also glad they now drink from a well, she said, because “it feels safer to be in a place where we have control over our water.” Hers is not a search for ideals, but for something tolerable—something better than what was available elsewhere.

If such retreats from what mass culture offers can provide something better, why not try them out? Another community named Cambia (“change”) isn’t just retreating.

To some extent, they’re trying to spread their knowledge and their project. They’re writing a wiki, nicknamed “commune in a box,” outlining legal and tax details for income-sharing communities—Cambia, it turns out, is both a commune and an LLC. They want people to be able to start new communities, tailored to their own needs; Cambia is not the model, they said, but a model.

Viable experimental models of alternatives are crucial at hinge points in the human experience. We certainly seem poised on one right now.

Another commentator concedes a signal challenge of making any change.” It takes a lot of cash to get off the grid,” he says. Putting it another way, you almost have to start rich to become poor.

… becoming untangled from capitalism also means becoming much more vulnerable. It’s tough to imagine a comprehensive way of replacing health insurance, not to mention programs like welfare, in a world without government.

“What we have now is an embryonic global civilization that’s totally ecologically, socially, and economically unsustainable. … There’s no escaping into your own little enclave.”

Once again, at the risk of sounding a theme many already know and others label a facile fiction, I’ll quote Tolkien’s Gandalf as he counsels Frodo: “The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.”

Some people use the term “lifestyle politics” to describe these communities—“the belief that if you live your values, then you will be able to make effective change, or at least express your political perspective,” [University of Washington professor of political science Karen] Litfin said. “I think that’s a good place to start, but if that’s where you end, you actually don’t have much impact at all.”

Meaningful change, I find, has to start with me, or it literally doesn’t mean anything, or not for long. It stays on the page (or the blogpost). I’m the center, just like everyone else is, where any transformation takes place.

An INVITATION to COMMENT

Reactions? How can we continue this conversation? (The most important arguments we have are with ourselves.)

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Romuva — Baltic Paganism   3 comments

romuva_flag[Updated 29 Dec 2016: two links added: a tribute to Trinkunas and a video of Kulgrinda, a music group he founded.]

One of the expressions of love of the earth relatively unknown in the U.S. is Romuva, Baltic Paganism. It is better known but similar to Druwi, another Baltic Pagan practice whose name itself shows its obvious connections with Druidry.

I first encountered this mostly Lithuanian pre-Christian religion about a decade ago, and I’ve followed news of it intermittently since then. Lithuania was one of the regions that held on to its ancient Pagan roots longer than most of Europe. Pagan observances still flourished into the 1400s. A series of crusades over several hundred years aimed at stamping out such lingering practices were largely successful, but even in the 1400s under Grand Duke Gediminas, Lithuania was still officially Pagan.

While much has undoubtedly been lost, Romuva imagery, song, symbol and practice were and still are intertwined with Catholic observance to a considerable degree, and folk memory and practice has preserved much material, particularly songs and dances. The roots of modern Romuva date from the Romantic period that sparked Lithuanian nationalism and an interest in indigenous culture, as it did for so many other regions of Europe.

Like many cultural phenomena of the last few hundred years, Romuva as it exists today owes a great deal to one person — in this case, ethnologist and krivis (Romuva priest) Jonas Trinkunas, who was born in 1939.

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Trinkunas, who passed almost three years ago in early 2014 (you can find a tribute at the Wild Hunt here), was a folklorist and university lecturer in Vilnius, Lithuania. He founded the “Society of Friends of India” (Lithuanian Indijos Bičulių Draugija), and the similarities of practice he saw in “the traditions of India were what pushed him to search for the roots of Lithuanian culture and its spiritual meaning”, notes the Wikipedia article on Trinkunas.

Hounded during the Soviet period when Lithuania lay under Kremlin authority, he was barred from academic life for 15 years, and only with Lithuanian independence could he resume that work. But in that interval he continued to travel his country and collect songs and lore that nourished his commitment to Romuva practice.

Once the Soviets were gone, the first festival observance he organized was Rasos — the summer solstice — the Lithuanian name literally means “morning dew”.

On the outskirts of Žemaičių Alkas, a Lithuanian resort area with a historical town center, carved wooden pillars mark the close intermingling of Pagan and Christian observance. Note the runes on the middle pillar.

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The archaism of Lithuanian practice extends to language as well: to cite just one example from literally hundreds available, Lithuanian dieva “god” comes from Proto-Indo-European *deiwos, and is related to Latin deus, Germanic Tiw (English Tue’s Day, Tuesday), Sanskrit deva, etc.

For a taste of Romuva in action, here’s a 4:28 video of a Romuva handfasting, with several dainas (traditional songs) sung as accompaniment to the images. I suspect most Druids would feel right at home here.

Finally, a link to Kulgrinda, a traditional music group Trinkunas founded:

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Images: Romuva flagTrinkunas at fire; carved wood pillars at Žemaičių Alkas.

Becoming an Ancestor   1 comment

From the OBOD “Inspiration for Life” for 26 October: “Our greatest responsibility is to become good ancestors” — Jonas Salk (1914-1995). Search for information on Salk and you’ll find, beyond his discovery of the life-saving polio vaccine, that the original quotation has  “be” for “become,” but “become” fits. It gives us room to grow into the role.

Growth? I don’t know about you, but most days I need all the help I can get. We can be as literal as you like. My father had a mild case of polio in the 1930s when he was a young man, and it stunted the growth of his legs. He would have been as tall as I am at 6’2″. When we sat, we were the same height, but standing, he was six inches shorter than me. He made up for reduced stature by work and persistence (if you’re uncharitable you might have called it cussed stubbornness). Sometimes we can feel like we’re cast against type in our own lives. What now?

If I approach the day, the season, this life, as roles, I can often feel my way into possibility. We’ve all slipped in backstage. From there we tried out for this role — like almost all the others we’re offered — just by being born. Set aside for a moment the question of whether any of us asked to be here.  If we do indeed get recycled from one part of this universe into another, perhaps our own ancestors called us, and our parents made bodies for us and brought us back to the longest-running show of them all. Have kids, and we’re doing the same for them. No kids this time around? You won’t escape that easy.

Live in this world more than a handful of years and you’ll meet others you instantly warm up or cool off to. Mere chance? Unlikely. Instead, one big noisy, contentious family reunion. You never liked Great-Uncle Louis, only now (s)he’s your one-year old niece Lucy who just spit up on your new silk shirt.

Or that annoying nephew Luke who always manages to bring back your car with a few more dings and scratches whenever he borrows it. You’d say no but you still owe his mother a few grand from that tight period some years back.

After all, karma’s one of the most efficient ways of polishing rough edges. Get back what you give out. Until you decide to play it differently. A different take. An original interpretation. A dramatic break-through. A sensitive and well-rounded performance that elicits sympathy for a potentially unlovable character.

What roles will I play in this ancestor ritual that is my life? Can I live large enough that I qualify as a “good ancestor”? Do my choices make the future lighter, wiser, more loving? (The signs tell me I’ll get to find out in person. Back in a century or three to check in and live my own consequence.)

Some days I get a foretaste. I wake, sliding slowly out of bed feeling I’m already halfway to ancestor status. You know, when your body’s now the best barometer for tomorrow morning’s weather. Low pressure and my lower back aches. Rain coming and my shoulder throbs. At such times it’s slender consolation that half a millennium hence my thighbone may decorate some family altar, or that my brother’s great-great-great-times-10 granddaughters will drink toasts from my lovingly preserved skull.

No, Salk probably meant something more. While not all of us will fall fighting to defend our land for our descendants, in every age too many of us do.

But just as many of our battles are inward, and many outwardly calm or seemingly easy faces conceal, it may be, most grievous private wars. It’s fitting, then — humbling, sobering and just — that we may well return to see what becomes of our own deeds.

For me there’s no better perspective. I find myself asked to forgive less than glorious forebears. “Judge not, lest you be judged” can cut painfully close. Knowing my own struggles and weaknesses, I’ll toast them with a generous measure of compassion — not because they may “deserve” it, but because they need it, and so do I — even as I honor the great among them, this weekend on Samhain.

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