The thrill ride begins with a jolt. It’s a combination of wooden rollercoaster and spinning teacups. It quickly reaches that not-so-sweet spot between gravity letting go and centrifugal force taking over. And the wooden rails are rotted and the teacups are cracked. And then the sound system cuts in and out with static and white noise and metallic clanging, jungle drums and jumbled voices. I see my arms, but they aren’t mine. My legs disconnect. My breathing stops, unable to resume. My heart is punched and crushed somewhere below my chest. more “Panic in Pink.”
“Writers are indecent people. They live unfairly – saving the best part for paper.”– Charles Bukowski
I think most writers understand instinctively that they are meant to be writers, storytellers. I suspect that the stories are already there inside – like secret libraries in our souls, or hundreds of scrolls tucked into our hearts. more “The Storyteller.”
I believe in the goodness of dogs. I also believe in the power of kindness. And the wisdom of compassion. I believe in bare feet, and sneezes that make me laugh, and gentleness, and bees, messy hair, muddy footprints, birds with perfect pitch, the influence of full moons, the safety in holding hands. more “I believe in the goodness of dogs … among other things.”
I don’t suppose I would have heard her fall in anyway. I doubt if she made much of a splash. She was just a tiny bit of a spider – all spindly legs and a body with no more than a breath of weight. She may have already been in the tub when I turned the taps on. But I never saw her. Not until I lay back into the water for a good long soak. And there she was, floating next to my elbow, woefully quiet and bedraggled.
Even when I lifted her out on my fingertip and placed her gently on the side of the tub, I detected no life left in her. Then the dog came over and snuffled at her. Pulling her back out of his nose rather confirmed my suspicion that this little spider had probably and sadly not survived the day.
But spiders can be a hardy lot, despite their appearance of faintness and fragility. So I watched this one closely, and breathed across her repeatedly in an attempt to help her revive. When I got out of the bath, I gathered her onto a bit of tissue and put her in an open windowsill, hoping the sun might dazzle her back into being. And then I left her there, wrapped in a cloud of softness and sunshine and good thoughts.
A short time later, I was attending a “Midday Mindfulness” session under the guidance of Dana Rideout, a wise woman filled with beauty and lightness. Toward the end of the class, during a quiet time of imaging and mindfulness, at the very edge of meditation, I was lying on my back on the floor, my legs propped up against a wall; and, quite suddenly, my spider came vividly back into the forefront of my mind.
She was the perfect symbol, the ideal allegory for me. A spider is a terribly “mindful” creature, after all. Perhaps mine had intersected my life with some purpose, some message of intentionality, some secrets just for my heart.
I imagined her in life. I envisioned her web. I know that not all spiders weave webs, but I felt certain that mine would have. Without anyone to show her the way, she would have spent what little time she had allotted to her creating a most intricate and beautiful piece of art and remembrance. Relying entirely on instinct, she would have crafted her silken home … her source of nourishment, her place of rest, her expression of being and creating, her legacy, her witness that she had existed.
I focused on the fact that the spider’s silk is considered to be the strongest material in the world – with 10 times the strength of man-made steel. It is enhanced in resiliency by its absorption of the dew and moisture in the air that surrounds it, and it can ride on the wind for miles at a time. It has the power to heal human skin and wounds. Yet it cannot be replicated by human technology.
I thought about how spiders can decide to make their webs sticky or smooth or stretchy, as needed, and then they recycle the leftovers. And I remembered that they use strands of silk to keep themselves tethered to the world around them – connected to the reality of nature – as they travel and explore through life, and to keep themselves safe during storms. Some make and remake new webs every day.
It doesn’t surprise me that most cultures have myths and folklore and stories that started long before written history – about the spider and her webs of intention and beauty for its own sake. Some believe it was a spider who “thought” the very world into being when she wove the first web. Spider webs created curtains of protection and safety for David in Jewish tales and for Mohammed in Islamic ones. Buddhist beliefs and the Vedic philosophy of India share the same sort of spider story roots and remnants. Native Americans learned to weave “dream catchers” when their people moved so far away from their homelands that they feared the spider goddess could no longer protect all the children as they slept.
I returned home that day with my heart filled with mindfulness and life examples, hoping my spider had recovered, but she had not. The breeze had dried her legs, the sun had warmed her back, but that was all. I said goodbye as gently as I could. I hoped it was enough that, in the end, she had been wrapped in softness and compassion. And that I cared that she had lived, that I had understood her lessons and would remember.
I suspect that may be all that really matters for any of us. Not the size of the splash we may make, but the beauty of the strands we weave while we’re here, the sense of strength and purpose we leave behind. And someone to remember.
I am lying in bed in the not-quite-dark, listening to the voices. It is in that shadow space between night and daybreak – that fog-wrapped existence bridging sleep and wakefulness. The voices creep into my consciousness, and I lie very still, listening to their whispers. But no matter how hard I try, I can never quite understand the words; I simply hear the voices. more “The Mystic of the Human Imagination.”
The man was handsome. Rather shy. Slow smile. Strong arms. Skin that was tanned naturally from the sun and wind. That kind of handsome. But what I found most attractive and frankly captivating about him was that he was wearing an apron. more “Apron men and women wearing Wellies.”
I once had a friend who was Lakota. We used to talk often about many important things, like respect for the earth and its gifts to us and the connectedness we humans share with it. I remember in particular him telling me that Native American moccasins were soft-skinned and lightweight to protect the earth mother from harsh footfalls, and that they were thin to create the least amount of separation between the earth and the foot itself. He talked of how most Natives – Lakota in particular – always walked and sat and laid directly on the ground to be able to receive the nurturing of the earth back into themselves. It was an old practice, he said. A timeless generational wisdom. more “The benefits of dancing with bare feet.”
“Seek out the child that needs you. Take his hand, give him comfort, make him safe. Do not turn away. He is the past where you, too, were vulnerable. He is the future where you cannot go.”
I spent the day at Thornwell recently. I’ve been trying to find the words – to know how to write about it – ever since.
Thornwell is located in Clinton, South Carolina, and was established as an orphanage shortly after the resolution of the Civil War – in the shadows of the war’s devastation of families and communities and society especially in the South. more “Thornwell and the child.”
All living things have auras, it seems. And not long ago, I had my aura read. more “Quincy and the aura reading.”
When I was very, very young, my mother made Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls for my sister and me. Raggedy Ann was my sister’s; Raggedy Andy became my special friend. He always sat on my bed and slept at my side and heard my prayers and kept my secrets. He comforted me when I was afraid, attended countless tea parties, listened to me learn to read, and dutifully soaked up many tears in his soft cloth body. Faded and musty and worn bare with love and childhood, Raggedy Andy is now gently wrapped in tissue paper and rests in an old family trunk.
When my mother made these dolls for us, she carefully sewed a small candy heart inside each one of them. And, somehow, I believe that made all the difference. They were never mere stuffed creations to us; they were transformed with those hearts into genuine “spirit dolls.”
Of course, I never knew to apply that name to them back then. But recently, a great friend of mine brought me a Native American spirit doll from her travels out west, and the similarity and recall suddenly came rushing back.
According to tradition, spirit dolls are ancient talismans against all negativity and evil. They embody spirits that have gone before – representing their strength and energy and beauty.
The particular spirit doll given to me by my friend is rich with character and personal story. She is not old. Nor is she particularly skillfully made. She lists slightly to one side and one of her earrings is missing entirely. And there begins her charm.
She wears puffy blue shoes with bells fastened around her ankles by strips of leather. Her hair is long and braided down each side of her head – the braids branch out in a rather unique, unruly fashion. I imagine her beaded headband was put on in a rush, the feather tucked in quickly, as she is anxious to start her day. She has a somewhat odd shape to her body, telling me that outward appearances have little to do with her values. The small carved bone or antler “gourds” she wears around her waist and along the hem of her dress make me think she is a “nourisher” of others – perhaps physically, perhaps spiritually (the bells on her feet announcing her coming to them, bringing laughter and dance and courage).
My small spirit doll is entirely handmade. And I have pressed carefully on her body to try to feel the “heart” within her. I am quite confident there is one. Perhaps not a candy heart, but a heart nonetheless.
My Raggedy Andy doll represented and honored my childhood. It was my mother’s love, her hands that made him, his secret heart she placed inside. He was there when I was punished, and cared when my own small heart would break, he believed in my dreams, and understood when he was left behind.
My new Native American spirit doll has much the same qualities – lovingly made, a celebration of imperfection, a mix of purpose and joy.
As I am writing this story, we have just taken the first few steps into a new year, new beginnings resting on the old. I believe I will unpack my old Raggedy Andy doll and place him with intention next to my new Native American spirit doll, and keep them both where I can be reminded of all that has gone before in strength and positive energy and beauty – and all the promise of these things yet to come.
I wish for you all in this coming year: bells that ring on your feet in happiness, braids that fly in energetic purpose, one earring lost in courageous acts, gourds to nourish others along the way, and a heart sweet with secrets and the trust of someone you love.