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I hear the voice of my grandmothers calling me
I hear the voice of my grandmothers calling me

They say wake up wake up, they say wake up wake up

Listen Listen
Listen Listen

-Voices of the Grandmothers chant

* please note: I didn’t write this, but there are conflicting sources online as to its original writer, and it has been shaped and changed by the many communities who have used it.  My apologies for not properly sourcing it. *

     Memories are like little lessons planted for us in advance by those who might not be around when we need those lessons.  I am learning this more and more as I grow older and remember things about my mother that I haven’t thought about in over 17 years.  Every year, as Samhain rounds the corner, I am inundated with these memories and reminded of what a rock my mother was.  A giving, loving, laughing, 5 foot nothing, rock.
Every time the movie Steel Magnolias is on TV I am reminded of how lucky I am to be a diabetic in 2013 and how hard it was for my mother.  Diagnosed in the early 60’s, she was told she’d never see past 18.  There are stories about her difficult years as a teenager with a death sentence, but there are also stories of her thriving and living to the fullest despite it.  As a young adult she was faced with the same choices, one of them being to have me despite the damage it would do to her body.  When I was faced with the same choice at 18 I could almost imagine what she had felt.  While I am pro-choice, it’s not a choice I could make, no matter what the situation was.  For the next thirteen years my mother would make these decisions again and again, and there wasn’t anybody she wouldn’t try to help if she could.  My memories of her have her smiling to through the very last one.  Despite her disability and increasingly more severe health conditions her spirit thrived, and this has what has kept me strong through my hardest decisions and toughest battles.  Even when I was planning my wedding I had conversations with her in my head and in my dreams, and my memories of her always knew what I needed to hear.
When I met Hubby’s grandmother I was warned that she hadn’t really liked his girlfriends in the past.  I put on my bravest smile and humbly entered her house as a guest, but I left as a friend, and by the time she left us I felt like a granddaughter.  We would sit at her kitchen table talking, and she would tell me stories even Hubby hadn’t heard.  The strength of her faith in her god and love for her family was unmatched.  Her last request to me was to take care of her him, and I was honoured that she thought me up to the task.  In the end I helped with her care, and I felt grateful to have had the chance to know her.  Now that I’m taking care of Hubby and his grandfather I sometimes have to stand back and as her how she did it for 55 years.  It is at these times when I think back to conversations I forgot we had or little notes I found stashed around the house when we moved in after her passing.
The voices of our ancestors have great things to teach us, whether or not we agree with their beliefs, their words, or their actions.  While they were no more perfect that we are, they lived to the best of their abilities.  If we don’t listen to the lessons they offer, they didn’t just die in vain, they lived in vain as well.  My mother didn’t have to keep giving to others.  She didn’t have to try new things or learn new skills.  She didn’t have to instill in me a belief that every day is sacred and full of wonder no matter what it holds or how I feel about it.  She didn’t have to have me at all, but she did all of that and more.  Every time I feel stupid I think of my mother learning to play the piano by touch.  Every time I feel overwhelmed I think of Nan caring more about the people she was leaving behind than herself because there was no doubt in her mind that she was headed to meet Jesus.  Every time I feel like giving up I remember those before me who fought on and still had strength enough not to give up on me.
This year at Samhain, when we honour our Ancestors and invite them to our tables, take a moment to really hear the messages they have always been sending through the memories and lessons they imparted in life.  Then thank them, even if those lessons were hard ones to learn.  Even if they made mistakes.  Remember they were human, and thank them.
Aloha and Blessed Be in the Coming New Year
samhain_by_jinxmim-d5cwf2p (1)

English: Feeding the Giraffes at Miami Metro Zoo

My mom used to love to feed the giraffes at the zoo.  She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were there, and she loved the experience.  Looking back, my mother had that spirit in all areas of her life.

I can not remember a single challenge or occasion in life my mother didn’t rise to.  When she lost her site she learned braille and newborn care in the dark.  She got a Guide Dog and eventually a job teaching computers to the blind.  I have days when I can barely remember how to tie my shoes, but this woman thrived no matter what was thrown at her.  This is what I remember when I feel like I just can’t fight anymore.  That my mother did not just survive her life. She lived it.  

When faced with significant things like motherhood and love she dedicated all that she had to give, and she never turned down a friend in need.  At times it let people take advantage of her kindness, but it never stopped her.  If she could help, she did.  If she couldn’t help directly, she found a way.  I grew up knowing my mother loved me and would give anything for me to have a good life and a happy heart.  I never knew anything other than acceptance and support, never doubted she believed in me, and that unconditional love has carried me through many points in my life where I’ve veered from the beaten path to find myself.

What else has my mother’s spirit lived on to each me?  That no matter how hard things get it’s always alright to laugh, to play, and to dream.  As a kid I watched my mom bowl, play Frisbee, and beat the pants off of everybody at Monopoly.  She decorated a giant tree every year for Christmas, dusted around ridiculous decorations at Halloween, and dared to wear pointy little heels to work.  She rode roller coasters and went to concerts, Disneyland, and, yes, the zoo.  Nothing was ever off-limits or too much trouble.  If it sounded like fun, my mom was there before anyone.

Which brings me back to the giraffes.  My mom never had to see them to know they were there and to experience their beauty.  We spend so much of our lives looking for something, and quite often it’s already here waiting to be experienced, waiting to be loved, or waiting to be nurtured.  Sometimes I close my eyes and the world becomes a very different place, one with more potential than I can see with my eyes.  It’s all so very simple, but it’s something many of us spend our entire lives trying to learn.  My mother knew. If you hold the food out, the giraffes will come.

Aloha.

Go now, feed your giraffes.

I would’ve posted this yesterday, but there is no wi-fi on the river.  Every year on the anniversary of my mother’s crossing over I try to find something to do, not only to keep my mind distracted but to honour my mother and who she was.  My mother was blind, but she never let it stop her from doing anything she wanted to do.  She worked teaching computers to the blind, she bowled, she played frisbee, and she rode roller coasters.  She cooked like a chef, cleaned like a professional, and sewed little neck scarves for a local pet grooming store for extra cash.  She sold Tupperware, collected Princess House Crystal, and never broke a single piece.  She could give you directions or recipes from the top of her head, and never missed an opportunity for a laugh or a practical joke.  My mother was never disabled or handicapped; she simply adapted.  I make it a point not to let the memories of her loss cripple me.  Instead I use the day to try something new, enjoy what life has to offer, and do it in her memory.

This year I’m injured, which limited my options for new experiences.  After two years of invisible illness following three months with a broken tailbone, I’m growing somewhat weary of being limited.  Hubby, however, had a plan.  His idea was to take a rafting trip down a stretch of the Schuylkill River.  This particular stretch was mellow enough for us to take the other couple in our household’s two-year old, so it would be fine for a cripple like myself.  Early yesterday afternoon we loaded the inflatable raft into the water with a cooler of beer and soda.  We then roped two gallons of drinking water and three inner tubes to the back of the float, and we were good to go.  Once launched I spent most of my day in one of the tubes while the boys camped in the raft with the beer.  hey made sure we didn’t drift or get snagged on anything, and I was left to enjoy the sun, water, and peace on the river.  No phones, no computers, no worries.

On our first stop along the shore we can across a still pool full of shells and river rocks.  While the boys had a bonding moment on the shore, I sat in the pool and felt the river.  I could feel it moving just feet away as it flowed past me.  I moved out of the pool and felt the water passing through and around me in a fluid embrace, and each drop that touched my skin had something different to say.  After a few moments a piece of seaweed passed by and caught itself in my hand, dancing through my fingers, and we played for a while before it was time to head back to the waters carrying us down the river.

For someone with no water signs in her chart at all, I have always connected the most and communicated the easiest with water.  As a healer and someone who generally follows my heart and intuition before anything else, water has always come naturally to me as the element easiest to access, whether or not I’m actually near a body of water.  Luckily for me I grew up in California not to far from either the Santa Cruz coastline or the San Francisco Bay.  There were other bodies of water close to me, but those were always the ones we drove to as a kid.

When my father and I started camping together along the Stanislaus River I realized that rivers, more than oceans, were a better fit for me.  I would sit for hours while he fished just being one with the river. I learned a lot about peace, persistence, and calm strength from the river.  I learned control and connection to my own energies.  I learned to use that of the world around me.  Those trips, more than anything else, made me a better witch and a more peaceful person.  Yesterdays trip reawakened that calm within me.  I haven’t been on a river that way in almost a decade, and it was something my body, mind, and spirit were all missing to be whole again.    I don’t think Hubby has had a better plan since “let’s get married”.

What better way then to honour the woman who gave me life than to re-awaken all the parts within me and actually feel alive again?  How long have I been existing this way?  Who have I been lately?  I certainly have not completely been myself.  Yes, there have been moments when I have felt alive and vibrant, but even then it was a temporary condition.  Even then it was a synthetic reproduction of actually being whole.

The river reminded me of my place here in the world.  I am a healer and a  facilitator.  I am constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly shaping.  I have still places, and I have rapids.  I am strong.  I am fluid.  I am adaptable.  I am not always what I appear to be on the surface, and if I am respected and treated well I will embrace and support those who love and understand me.

I am my mother’s daughter, and if yesterday taught me anything it was how much I am like her.  One of Hubby’s biggest issues with me lately it that I hinder myself.  He’s right, I say “I can’t” a lot, even if I know I can.  This is not how my mother raised me.  This is not a value she instilled in me.  I have spent the last fourteen years wondering if she would be proud of the person I have become, and I have been driven to make sure she would.  Yesterday I finally felt that peace.  Yesterday I felt that she was not above me looking down and watching but inside me smiling at the ways I continue to grow and learn.  I have never been as at peace with being without my mother as I was yesterday.  I know there will still be days when it’s tough, but I think I’m moving closer to knowing that I can always look deep within myself for the guidance I need, the guidance she instilled in me years ago.

There is no way to list all the women in history who have changed the world in which we live.  Just the same there is no rubric for which ones deserve the most acclaim and the unique privilege of being written about in the blog of yours truly.  If I sat and poured over the timeline of women’s history, I’d end up with an overwhelming number of women who made it possible to even have such a blog, or even the ability to read and write.  Let’s get a little more personal than all that and honor the women who have made the most impact on my history.  The list is long, but I will cover a few.

Let’s start at birth.  I come from a long line of strong women on both sides.  My great-grandmothers overcame hardships and stigmas, and sometimes had to be a little creative or daring,  to make sure their families were provided for.  While one worked as a Rosie the Riveter, another sold moonshine from her basement during Prohibition.  My grandmothers  joined the work force as career women.  My mother, a diabetic since early childhood, knew the risks of continuing her pregnancy with me but did it anyway.  She lost her sight in the process.  Not only did she adapt, and being discontent with being “disabled”, she flourished in both her career at a local community college and her personal life.  She made sure I always knew I was loved, and she never sacrificed a good time.  Beautiful both inside and out, she taught me through her actions and words that grace and strength are not exclusive to each other.  Without this I would not be the woman I am today.

There have been several teachers in my life who have made a huge difference.  My 5th grade teacher, Ms Borges fed the writing bug and encouraged me to write poetry.  We still talk to this day.  She may be appalled to find my writing success is thus far limited to the scope of a blog.  Then I went to high school, an all female, former boarding school connected to a Catholic convent, whose catch phrase at the time was, “Where Young Women Exceed Expectations!”  There I encountered the likes of Ms. Sutter, lovingly referred to as Ms Debbie.  I may have been less than adept at the French language, but I learned invaluable lessons about individuality that have given me the courage to be the woman I want to be instead of the woman others want me to be.  There were other women on the administration who inspired me and taught me more about myself than about the subjects they covered, because while I remember very little about high school physics I will always be prepared to prove my worth and strength as a person rather than as a woman.

Last but not least, and I hope I don’t embarrass her, is one of my best friends.  I have watched her sacrifice everything she has for her son, friends, sisters, and parents without asking for anything in return.  One of my first female friends in Philadelphia, she became like a sister to me years later as roommates.  She has coached and held me through sickness, break-ups, and personal crises, and has never judged me for any of it.  She is a beacon of perseverance and the quintessence of resilience.  I have seen her bounce back from a fall more times than I can count, and she never lets it get her down for too long.  Because of her I am never afraid to be an individual, nor do I view mistakes as fatal.  She has taught me to laugh at myself and never take anyone too seriously.  She embodies the saying, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”  Thank you, Cat, for always being willing to laugh at me, and for always being honest even if it might hurt my feelings.

This list is by no means complete, but these women are on my mind and in my heart as I look up at posters of Amelia Earhart and Marie Curie.  The women I have written about deserve a bit of recognition for the impact they have had on my world every bit as much as any woman in a history book.  Think about the women in  your own lives, my friends, and whether or not they know what a difference they have made.  Maybe it’s time they learned.

Go now, hug your matriarchs!

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