Death and All the Stuff

Prompted by sheltering at home during the COVID 19 plague, the question came up: maybe it’s time for Margy and I to update our wills and other legal documents which we last visited in 2012. The basic purpose for us in these documents is to protect each other and make sure that we have the power to make decisions for each other, and inherit from each other. As a lesbian couple who are not married, this is what protects our “next of kin” status.

But each of these documents also has a secondary feature.  What if one of us is not available or able, or dies first–what then, who is next? That has always been a more challenging part of the process. In this age of plague, it is not outside the realm of possibility that both of us could succumb.  Who could we ask to take on the role of health care agent, or financial agent, if we were both incapacitated?

We don’t have children, and our family members are far away, and not always supportive of our identities. We have several good friends, but not a “best” friend, and many live far away. Can we ask any of our local friends to take on these roles? Are they close enough, or not too busy, or would they be overwhelmed by such a request? Who would bury us if we both died? Who are our people?

Similar dilemmas confront us with our wills, and who would inherit if we both were to die. I find that I have new concerns now that didn’t show up in the last will. What would happen to our land and garden that we’ve been so carefully tending? How could we ensure that the land would find new caretakers who would love it as we have? And who would have to sort through all the stuff that fills our little house? My natural temperament is to live simply, to possess little, and treasure those few possessions.  But somehow over all these years, I’ve accumulated a lifetime’s worth of stuff. (How did that happen?)

In the past few months, my mother has been preparing to leave her own house, and move into the home of my sister.  She officially moved yesterday.  All of her nine children and multiple grandchildren were invited to consider things we might like to take from her lifetime’s worth of stuff. But, aside from a few mementos, most of it has nowhere to go.  So even more likely, my own stuff will have nowhere to go.  It occurs to me that if I want to share mementos with people, maybe I should just send them as gifts now.

When I first did a will, I noticed that I most cared about my writing–I wanted there to be a way for thoughts and words to survive, for journals, sermons, essays, to live on in some way, to be a legacy.  That is still true, though now that I have actually published a book, I feel less anxious about it.  It feels like something of me will endure, this book child. But I also have five archive boxes full of journals that I have saved, countless sermons, another unpublished book, and even these blog posts. Sometimes I imagine them in an archive somewhere, discovered by some future historian who will be intrigued by my story. Might I be a spiritual ancestor to someone?

What fuels my need to save the writings? What compels me to write in the first place?

I wonder, does anyone see the whole story, does anyone see each of our stories, whether written or unwritten? Are our lives inscribed in a Book of Life somewhere?  When I was a child, we learned that God could see everything we did. It was somewhat scary then.  But now I find the idea a comfort–I want my life to have a witness. I hope my life will be inscribed in a Book of Life.

All the Water Is One Water, #4

In honor of World Water Day, I am sharing the fourth part of my chapter, “All the Water Is One Water,” from Finding Our Way Home.

Some Indigenous stories of North America say we are like a younger sibling on this earth. The other beings and species are more acclimated to their purpose and their relationship to the whole. And so, when we are feeling overwhelmed by the ecological messes we have created, we might turn to our older relatives on the earth to find wisdom for our journey. Permaculture follows this practice by using the wisdom developed by millions of years of evolution, to find solutions for the problems we are facing today.

Water is such a teacher. According to my friend, gkisedtanamoogk, the Wampanoag people consider water a Manito, a mysterious life force that has its own life. His people know fresh water as Nipinapizek, and regard her as a grandmother. He wrote to me, “i think that we humans only exist because there is a significant number of people who remember to Give Thanks to all Those Ones who are the Keepers of Life, one of Those being, NIPINAPIZEK. May we continue to Give Thanks….”

When I was growing up Catholic, we used to bless ourselves by touching our fingers in holy water. I associated it with purifying ourselves because we were in some way unclean. But now, the blessing of water feels more like remembering our heritage. We come from water. All water is holy, and we are holy too. We are washed by water, we are restored by water, we are nourished by water.

Each of us faces a choice. Will we approach water as a commodity to be bought and sold, or as a blessing, a teacher to be honored and protected? Water is the mother of all life. There is no life without water. Whether we view it scientifically or spiritually, water is the womb from which all living beings have been born. We are made of water and we need the constant flowing through of water to remain alive in this world. Thankfulness can be the beginning of restoring our relationship with water. If I can remember to be thankful to water, then I have the capacity to take action on its behalf as well. I can join with the many other people who are working for water as a human right, or who work to restore the flow of rivers or clean up pollution in the sea.

Meandering BrookThe path forward will not be a straight line. I find hope in that. A river or stream meanders on its way to the sea. [Thank you Starhawk for teaching me about this!]  Because of the friction of the river bed, the water on the bottom of the river moves more slowly than the water on the top. So it creates a spiraling current that wears down one bank and deposits sediment on the other, and then vice versa, as it moves around and around in sweeping curves. Just so, our journey into a new relationship with all life on earth will meander—I imagine in this case, there is more movement at the bottom of our culture, while the top is going much slower. But since we are all connected, movement in any segment has a ripple effect on the whole.

We must keep taking steps, even small steps, in the direction of living in balance with the rest of our interdependent web. We must work our magic and offer thanks and take action in practical and political ways. We must meander in the direction of wholeness, of earth community. Each creative step forward will ripple out into a spiral momentum toward greater balance.

PRACTICE

When I made the conscious choice to regard water as a blessing, I decided to stop using plastic bottled water as much as possible. I like to carry water with me, so now I carry tap water in a special reusable metal or glass bottle. Anytime I drink water, I am reminded to offer thanks for the blessing. I invite you to give up plastic bottled water, and to start carrying water in a reusable container. Each time you fill or drink from the container, give thanks to Water for giving us life.

 

All the Water Is One Water

In honor of World Water Day, I offer this excerpt from a chapter in my book, Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community.  I will share further excerpts during the next few days.  This chapter is entitled, “All the Water Is One Water.”

Water BottleOne summer several years ago, I attended a two-week Earth Activist Training, which combined a Permaculture Design Course with practice in magical and political work on behalf of the earth. We began with a water ritual. We brought water from the places we lived or the places we may have traveled to pour into one container. At the end, each person took some of the water, and we brought it home with us. One of the teachers for the training was feminist witch and eco-activist Starhawk, whose writings had been important for me earlier in my spiritual journey. She had begun collecting water in this way many years ago. She brought water back from her travels around the world, and asked her friends to bring back water when they went to far off places. They brought water from the sacred Ganges River in India, and from the great Nile River in Egypt; they even brought melted ice from Antarctica. After a while, they had water from every continent.

When you pour it into one container, all of the water mixes together, and every drop has some of the molecules of water from every place. So if you take a small bottle of water out, you have the waters from many places in one bottle. Each time you have a water ritual, you add some water from the bottle you saved from the previous ritual. In that way, each ritual, each small bottle, contain the waters from all over the world.

Why would we want to have a small bottle of waters from everywhere in the world? For me, first of all, it is one more way to make tangible the sacredness of water. All life comes from water, and needs water to survive. Water moves through the whole ecosystem, nurturing and transforming life as it moves. It rises from the ocean in evaporation, forming clouds in the sky, and, blown by the winds, it returns to the land in the form of rain or snow. This precipitation falls into the soil, and gathers in streams and aquifers. In the midst of this journey, it also travels through the bodies of every living thing.

Margy and I have a bird bath outside our back door. Many kinds of birds come to drink the water we keep filled there, but we’ve also seen squirrels, chipmunks, and bees stop to drink. Every being needs water: insects, birds, mammals, fish, humans. Water also rises up into the stems of plants and the trunks of trees. But none of the water is isolated from the rest—even our own bodies are part of the watershed. We drink in the water, it moves through our blood, and permeates all of our cells, and then we sweat it out or pee it out. Sometimes we weep with wet salty tears. The water goes back to the air or the earth and continues in streams and rivers on its way to the ocean. The cycle keeps going round and round.

All the water on earth is really one water, continuously flowing through the biosphere. Even if we get water from our kitchen tap, that water has been around the world on its journey. All water is connected, and connects all of life.

Small Bird Press

Version 2

Photo by Margy Dowzer

Small Bird Press is the name for my self-publishing adventure. I  considered several other names, but when Small Bird Press came into my mind while I was on a walk, I realized it expressed so much about the purpose of publishing my book.

First of all, small birds were among my most important teachers for the spiritual journey I describe in Finding Our Way Home. The small chickadee I held in my hands after he was stunned by flying into our window. The cardinals who kept calling me outside at dawn. Small Bird Press is a way to honor those teachers.

Secondly, I had submitted my book to several publishers, but was rejected.  Most of the time, they didn’t really say why, but one publisher was kind enough to say that though my writing was good, they couldn’t take on the book because I wasn’t well-known enough and didn’t have a catchy hook, so it would be difficult to market my book. I understand this is often the way of publishing right now. So I too am a “small bird.”

But I believe that even a small bird–a person who is unknown, or only locally-known– even a small bird can change the world. When we have a vision of how the world might be, when we seek to articulate that vision and live that vision, it can ripple out in untraceable ways to shift reality. I want to be that kind of small bird, to bring about changes for whoever might listen, to shift reality toward earth community, toward human beings living in mutually beneficial relationship with all other beings of earth.

So I am delighted to be publishing as Small Bird Press. And if the message is going to ripple out, it will be because those in my small circles who share my vision are willing to share the book with others in their own circles. Find out more about the book here: Finding Our Way Home: A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community.

And thank you, Margy Dowzer, for capturing my moment with a chickadee in your photo.

Unexpected Magic

River MagicI am beginning to wonder if the book I have been writing (whether I publish it or not) is creating a kind of unexpected magic to manifest the visions within its pages. Yesterday, for the new moon, I read my journal from the last new moon until this one–a practice I do every new moon day.  This particular month has been a time for spiritual restoration.  But I noticed something rather curious as I read.  Old rituals and practices are finding their way back into my life after a time of absence.  And it seems related to the writing of the book, Finding Our Way Home.

In one chapter, I write about the practice of diving into water every day, which came into my life when I lived on Cape Cod.  But for 11 years, there was no body of water close enough to where we lived for me to do that anymore.  And I didn’t imagine there would be in our new house, but then we learned about access to the Presumpscot River just ten minutes away.  So now it is a possibility again.

In another chapter, I write about dance as a form of prayer–physical, emotional, a way to experience the energy of the divine in my body, and find joy in the midst of struggle.  When I lived in Boston, I was part of a women’s spirituality circle that danced as a part of our rituals.  But I haven’t had an easy or collective way to do that for a while.  Then, this month I found a community group that meets for free-form expressive dance every Sunday morning–not always so great during the church year when I am occupied most Sunday mornings–but for the summer it is accessible to me, and once a month on my Sunday’s off during the year. So now that is a possibility again.

And then I started thinking about how I had written about wanting to use less oil, to have a house that was zero-carbon–I wrote about it before I could imagine any way that we might really find a way to live in greener housing.   But this past year we started an intentional search for greener housing.  Our new home is not all the way to zero-carbon, but with our solar panels and in-town location we are using so much less oil than before.

Journaling DSC01316I also write about the spiritual practice of writing–and the book as a ceremony of reconnection to the earth, to each other, to the spirit within all.  But the magic I have been noticing this month was completely unexpected, beyond my wildest dreams, and uncanny in its particularity.  I wonder if when we write our hopes and visions, when we express our gratitude, when we imagine and tell the stories, there might be an energy that starts to percolate. What has lain dormant wakes up and tries to find a way to express itself.  All I can say is wow, and thank you.