Inspiration: This poem came to mind as I was pondering reflection. There is the kind of reflection depicted in the photo; and then there is the reflection we do when we look back at where we have been, and those who have helped us through.
On March 28, 2010, I wrote my first timid post here. I was certain no one would read it… and not many did! But a strange thing has happened over the years… people have found my small space on the internet. I appreciate everyone who has taken time to read something I’ve written.
Since I likely won’t post until next week, I just wanted to acknowledge the 5-year mark of this blog and my 773rd post. It’s happening because of you: the readers/commenters who make this a fun place to be. I’ve grown a lot in the last five years and bared much more here than I ever thought I would. I thought revealing myself would be terrifying, but it’s turned out to be liberating.
For all of you who have had me in your thoughts and prayers over the last couple months – thank you. Your kind support has truly helped more than you know. Someday I will provide some explanation, but I simply can’t right now :)
As I was running one morning, this drainage area caught my eye. At the time, I didn’t know why, but I stopped to snap a quick photo. For nearly a week, this photo came to mind as my thoughts gathered regarding its significance. Then, it finally occurred to me…
During heavy rains, this culvert fills with rushing water. Ducks come to check out the new vacation spot and weeds flourish as the abundant moisture soaks their roots. As sunny days pass by, the water level depletes until all that’s left are eroded indentions cradling the last evidence that a river temporarily existed. Eventually, only hardened dirt remains, supporting the most stubborn weeds. This “barely existence” goes on until the next rain, when the process begins again.
I realized I was drawn to this photo because it is a naturally occurring representation simulating life itself. Specifically, how I’ve felt for a while now: drained, like I have just enough energy to exist, and no nourishment for parts of my life that used to thrive. I’m putting more effort into to finding “rain”- seeking out things that provide sustenance to counterbalance the demands being made of me. This means devoting time daily to prayer and reading, embracing laughter, and taking in the beauty of nature around me.
More sleep needs to also be part of this. I’m working on that. Baby steps….
Do you ever feel like this? What is it that makes you feel alive?
If I normally visit your blog and I haven’t, or if you have subscribed to my blog in the last three weeks – please know that I will visit your blog eventually :) I have over 200 unread emails that speak to my recent neglect, but other demands have cut into my blog activity. I am crossing my fingers that I will have an hour each night to begin catching up… before I’m completely lost in the monster that is my email!
Thanks to everyone for the prayers and patience. I feel stronger each day.
I made myself small in the space between the beat up sofa and the metal TV tray that served as a table. Hunched with my knees pulled to my chest and arms wrapped around them, I strained to hear the hushed conversation between Mama and Aunt Celia. From this vantage point, I could only see Aunt Celia’s back and sometimes caught a glimpse of Mama’s face.
“I can’t do it,” Mama said.
“It’s been six days. If she’s not better tomorrow, you have to.”
“She’s my baby!”
“But the spirits ravage her.” Aunt Celia lowered her voice. “The ceremonial drapes have hung outside for six days. If Ariana isn’t released tomorrow, the spirits will claim the entire household.”
“She’s only three.” Mama leaned into Aunt Celia, sobbing into her shoulder. Her muffled cries echoed against the concrete floors and adobe walls of the sparsely furnished room.
Aunt Celia put her hands on Mama’s shoulders and set her upright. She then picked up a bundle that had been tucked under her thigh, the white cloth wrapping stark against the darkened room. Slivers of sunlight managed to sneak in between seams of fabric covering windows and through the warped door jam. I watched the back of my aunt’s thick arms move as she fiddled with the object in her lap and then extended her arms to present something to Mama.
Mama gasped. “No!” Metal clanged against the concrete floor.
I glimpsed the ornate silver handle, but my gaze settled on the long blade. I didn’t realize I’d broken my silence until I saw both women looking right at me.
“Mija…Cristina!” Mama and Aunt Celia exclaimed in unison.
“Mija, I thought you were outside playing with the other children.”
I slid out from the hiding place and stretched my legs. “Mama, I’m twelve. I don’t play anymore.”
Aunt Celia moaned as her eyes fluttered closed. “The premonition. It is true.” Her chin dropped to her chest and a string of words in an unfamiliar language tumbled into the otherwise silent room.
My eyes widened and I looked to Mama for direction. She appeared just as frightened. Lines creased her forehead and fear clouded her brown eyes.
“Go,” she whispered. “You should go play outside.”
Aunt Celia continued her chanting as if in a trance.
‘Alternate sacrifice’ were the only two words I understood. The hair prickled on my arms and a tingling sensation ran from my neck all the way down my spine. I sprinted for the door, not bothering to correct Mama that I’d passed the age of playing. Once outside, my toe caught the edge of one of the pavers making up the tiny porch. Stumbling into the adobe half-wall surrounding our house, I gulped several breaths while thinking of what to do. I knew my baby sister, Ariana, was in trouble. I stared at the ceremonial drapes; woven murals in bright colors that mocked life. I always thought that death slithered through night shadows shrouded in black, but the dawning came that death wore vivid hues of turquoise, yellow, red and purple. My eyes zeroed in on the skulls. Smiling skulls. They looked all too happy to rip souls from failing bodies.
I pushed off the wall, vaulting myself toward the brilliantly colored drapes. I screamed as I grasped and pulled at the fabric, tearing the cotton from nails that held them in place. I knocked statues and candle holders from the offering table butted up against the house. I dodged shards of ceramic that were intended to appease the spirits. I didn’t care. It was all just a tangled mess of superstitions, myths and wives tales. I didn’t agree with Mama and Aunt Celia; angry demons wouldn’t materialize and vengeful death wouldn’t steal the souls from healthy bodies in retribution. I believed Ariana would still be writhing in bed, face glistening from fever just as she had done for the last six days.
Aunt Celia bolted out of the front door, followed by Mama.
“No!” she shrieked and her hands flew up to cover her face.
“Oh, mija, what have you done?” Mama whispered, shaking her head.
I dropped shreds of fabric and stumbled a few steps backward. Silence descended; a heavy, stifling quiet that suppressed all noise, except the drum-like pounding of my heart against the bones in my chest. My pulse throbbed inside my head, but I resisted the urge to cup my hands over my ears.
“The alternate sacrifice,” Aunt Celia said.
I stood with my chin up. I didn’t believe in the death spirits, but still prepared for them to take me, just in case. Even in the balmy heat, a chill came over me and produced a dramatic shiver. My heart fluttered and then resumed its normal beat pattern. I sensed death spirits were among us, choosing souls like Mama selected meat from the market. God, please protect me.
Aunt Celia dropped to her knees. An anguished cry escaped her dry lips. “I am ready!” She reached toward the sky.
I stared in shock. Aunt Celia collapsed into a heap and convulsed.
“Look away, Mija!” Mama called over her shoulder as she turned her back on her sister.
I obeyed and turned away from Aunt Celia. On my eighth birthday, Mama had explained that eyes were the windows to the soul. Mama told the story of her great-great grandmother, Anne, who had been caring for her sick brother when she watched him gasp his last breath. She witnessed his struggle and his eventual surrender, only to die minutes later. It was believed that the death spirits entered Anne’s body through her opened eyes, like a burglar slipping through an unlocked window.
Aunt Celia’s body stilled, but I kept my eyes clenched, too afraid to look.
“Mama, I hungry,” a timid voice called from the house.
Mama and I both whirled around to find Ariana peeking around the door. She had been bed-ridden and near death for six days.
“How about macaroni?” I asked. Ariana smiled and nodded her head vigorously before disappearing into the house.
Mama kneeled down beside Aunt Celia and gently tugged her eyelids shut.
Drawing the curtains. All the women in town knew this duty. After death, the eyelids had to be closed to prevent spirits from moving through the body. Male hands weren’t allowed to do this.
As I walked inside, I knew this would be a story told to my great-great grandchildren: the day Aunt Celia took my place as the alternate sacrifice.
This was another collaboration with Emilio Pasquale – he provided the photo to write whatever I could come up with for a story. Be sure to check out his photo blog, if you haven’t already been there :)
Faith isn’t walking into a fire, certain you won’t get burned. Faith isn’t blind, either, but it does mean facing the unseen and the unknown with the conviction that we are not alone and the experience will somehow sculpt us into a new version of ourselves.
Faith is easy to proclaim, but when it comes down to it, it can be really hard to live by. It’s kind of like putting on a blindfold and running down a busy street (if the street is in Phoenix, this would be insane.) In our minds, we recognize the dangers- we could stumble into a light pole, wander into traffic, get hit by a bus, fall into a ditch… the list goes on. Would you have enough faith to do this?
When adversity hits, my tendency is to obsess over the facts, mentally travel the possible actions and their consequences, and then I make decisions accordingly. I rush in and “do” something.
To me, faith is the ultimate trust. Kind of like running down a busy street blindfolded. Faith is relying on something other than my own abilities. Faith is believing that there is hope even when all the evidence I see says otherwise.
I recently found myself at a crossroads of sorts; sandwiched between my faith and a desire for freedom from my circumstances. For many crushing weeks, I’ve wrestled with the rub of choices (mistakes) I’ve made. I’m coming to terms with my life being an “is what it is” situation, for now. I don’t see hope when I look forward, but I’m trying to have faith that God has more planned for me than what I can see. Some days it’s harder to have faith than others, but I take each day as it comes.
In the depths of all-consuming darkness, I came to a realization: rather than focus on what’s missing or what should be, I need to turn my attention to what I already am. It occurred to me that I’ve never depended on anyone to provide me with happiness, so why would I allow someone to steal it from me and disrupt my inner peace? My answer: I shouldn’t- and I have to change this.
I have obligations to keep. Most of the time, the weight is too much to bear and I want to just sleep, but I can’t allow this to immobilize me any longer. I can’t let my future to be so burdened by past mistakes that today is lost. In this moment, I see my life is worth more than that. Tomorrow, I may be snared once again by the trap of what isn’t, but I will try to refocus and remind myself that my success/failure is not dependent on only one aspect of my life.
I’m still surrounded by uncertainty, but if my state of mind holds, I hope to return to more regular writing – once a week for now. Thanks again to all the wonderful people (both online and in person) who have encouraged, prayed and otherwise helped me during this low period in my life. You are special to me :)