My Spirit Dolls.

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.

Messages from the heart.

My heart has an extra beat in it sometimes. Not always, but rather frequently, and I can feel it. It’s not a flutter or a skipped beat or a concern. It is simply an extra “thumpity” in the middle of a regular “thump-thump.” It’s rather like when a needle of an old record player used to catch on a scratch in a recording, and a note repeated itself – unexpectedly, out of rhythm, but still a part of the overall melody. I notice it. It draws me into itself. And I think perhaps that’s why it does it. I suspect the heart wants to be noticed. more “Messages from the heart.”

Happily ever after.

“I just can’t wait for her to be able to read.”

It was a young girl’s voice I heard, full of enthusiasm, anticipation. It floated over to me from the far side of a six-foot wall of books. more “Happily ever after.”

Walking with dogs, “friends of the soul.”

In the latter half of the fourth century, there lived a man named Pelagius. He was a Celt, a prominent British theologian. A large man, tall, heavy, slow to move, thoughtful, Pelagius was rather intimidating in appearance, by all accounts, with flowing long hair that was shaved at the sides and back. He loved his food and drink. He adored babies. He found God in all living things. more “Walking with dogs, “friends of the soul.””

The princess in the pink mask.

She wore the golden crown with regal bearing, and it reflected brilliantly in the sun. Her gown brushed against her ankles in the slight breeze that also swept through her hair. Her right shoulder dipped in casual elegance, arm draped languidly at her side. Her left hand rested smartly on her hip, bracelets dangling. more “The princess in the pink mask.”

Saratoga WarHorse and the “shadow” connections.

There were six women seated around a dining room table at a private country club in Aiken, South Carolina. It was an otherwise empty room. There was coffee in china cups. Silver spoons. Pedestaled glasses of ice water. It seemed appropriate somehow to be gathered around a dining table. Because this was a gathering of a few of the Aiken residents who have hosted dinners in their homes for Saratoga WarHorse participants. more “Saratoga WarHorse and the “shadow” connections.”

Fighting Off Lions and Whales.

“Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in a hammock.” – Herman Melville

I am a great admirer of that sentence. Much less so of the experience.

Yet there I was, “lying stretched together with anguish” in an ambulance cot on the way to a hospital emergency room in Charlotte, NC. more “Fighting Off Lions and Whales.”

Singing like Connie Francis in a poodle skirt.

Her stage name was Wee Bonnie Baker, and she performed primarily throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s. She was a singer with a small voice, a voice that resided somewhere at the top of her throat and behind her nose. It was a child-like voice, but clear and sure; and she was best-known for the song “Oh Johnny, Oh” – with lyrics that made vague promises and was delivered with naughty innocence. more “Singing like Connie Francis in a poodle skirt.”

The shadows of things not seen.

I could see nothing of the flying thing except its shadow.

It was an odd sensation watching the small moving shadow flit in a silent lilting ballet in front of me, almost whispering to me to follow. And yet, looking up and all around me, I could find no butterfly or moth or bird or bee or any kind of winged creature or even a wind-swept blossom or leaf to account for this shadow’s existence. Yet there it was – a well-formed shadow; dark-edged, animated, dancing across the ground, across my path. more “The shadows of things not seen.”

Painting life upside down.

The woman had both hands drenched in paint. She pressed them onto the large canvas in front of her. Working with one hand and then the other, sometimes both together, she smoothed and swirled, stroked and shaped, covered and revealed the image into being. It became a face. more “Painting life upside down.”