I excitedly walked among my ancestors today. Not necessarily ‘mine’ but those who made coming to this city a possibility. I’ve heard stories about their lives, their families, their trials, ever since I can remember. I took pictures of their headstones. Pictures of those who lead me, taught me, fought for me, and sacrificed everything for me.
I’m sure they didn’t know they were fighting for me. They probably thought they were fighting for themselves, for their own freedom. Silly people. But it is because of their efforts that I am here visiting their tombs, feeling free to be me, not hiding, not diminishing anything about me, just whole-heartedly me.
As I stand among them, I can’t help but wonder about those whose spirit resides far above but bones rest below. Do they take an occasional glance down to look upon all those that were affected by their decisions? Do they look at us as one large group and find themselves amazed, inspired at the repercussions of their own quiet leaps of faith or do they look at us one by one?
If they do look at us one by one, do they notice the small, white haired woman quietly sitting in front of her television? While next to her naps her white-haired husband, with a book resting on his chest? A woman, like them, that had no intention of taking on the world, but simply wanted to live her life in a manner that let her live it truthfully, with purpose and fulfillment?
Do those looking down know that because of what they did, giving up their comfortable lives, giving up everything to travel across a continent in order to create this place, do they know how it changed this woman and this woman’s children and her children’s children?
Telling you about the multitude of lives affected by each heroic, forgotten individual is an impossible task. So let me just start with that small, white-haired lady. Except I think I’ll start when she was much younger. When she was a mom barely 23 with two children under the age of 5 and more on their way. Although her fight was different from those who sold all they had and risked their lives and family for a life outside the norm–quieter-I imagine. For her, it was just as exhausting and difficult – because it was one long, continuous, relentless, lonely fight.
She, alone, dragged and battled her reluctant children week after week, year after year, to this church created by those ancestors. She taught her children the importance of its teachings and never relented. Had she not done that, she wouldn’t have helped them find direction within the confusion of the world. The world that tells you to go this way, than that way, over here and then cris-cross to back over there. A world that says destructive means of coping are fun and anything fun is worth doing, but leaves out the ugly consequences. She wouldn’t have known how to give them the ability to look beyond this world, find truth and thus, save them from themselves. And had she not done that, one less person would be occupying this place. Which may not mean anything to the multitudes, but it means everything to that one person and that one person’s descendents and to that white-haired lady.
She wasn’t firm about most things. Except, of course, about what had she had been taught by two 19 year-old boys. Those ideas, those teachings, were wholeheartedly accepted and were a constant presence in her home. She made sure her children knew those teachings as well.
Some of the children went on to find out for themselves if what she heard was true. Some blindly followed. Some believed, but liked the chaos of the world better. Some just didn’t care whether it was true or not.
One child in particular found the world an exceptionally confusing place. So many choices, so many different directions to go for a girl who didn’t know what she wanted or where she wanted to go. What does a girl like that do when she is surrounded by so much and no one to show her the way? I suppose she begins by taking the closest, easiest path, the loudest path that seems to be the quickest way to fill her empty holes of wanting more out of life, more success, more love, more peace, more self-worth but not knowing how to get there.
The paths that were the easiest were actually only distractions. And distractions never get you anywhere except to a dead end. And although she was warned about distractions, she wasn’t sure about her intended path and so often couldn’t differentiate between the two.
So she aimlessly set out, following this distraction and that–staying out all night, experimenting with unhealthy habits, unhealthy relationships, surely there was something/someone out there who could fill her holes?
Nope, just another dead-end.
And then after too many dead ends, too many uncertainties too many wondering if she were finally on her way and then discovering it was only another distraction, she recognized she wasn’t any further than she had been when she set out so long ago. Except that the holes, now, were larger and had reached beyond her borders and had become other’s holes as well. She wanted more. Knew more was out there but still didn’t know how to get it, didn’t know where to find it. Life was just as confusing to a woman who doesn’t know herself as it is to a girl who doesn’t know herself.
The day she opened her eyes was the day she decided she was tired of the chase. Tired of going in circles. Tired of the holes that seemed impossible to fill. How was life so easy for others and yet so confusing for her? With no hope for anything better she ended it with a distraction.
She had seen how the world worked and how she reacted to it. She was sure the above scenario is how it would have been had she not listened to her mother’s words. But she did. She trusted. And because she trusted, she occasionally felt a presence–something so close that she was sure it was within her. A presence that gave her peace when she was distraught, direction when she was overwhelmed, clarity when she was confused. The presence faintly told her, “You matter.” And for those moments, her holes were filled.
She liked that presence. She had more peace, confidence; she felt more acceptance, unconditional love when it was around. She wanted more of it. She wanted to know more about it. She welcomed the presence but wasn’t willing to blindly obey. Where is the independence, the intelligence in blind obedience? No one was going to tell her how to think. So she continued to be skeptical, she questioned, she tested, she watched. And although the presence was welcomed, it was kept at a distance.
At first, it was hard to put into practice what the teachers who knew the presence better than she, taught. Too many fun distractions. Too many sacrifices. Too many cannots and shouldn’ts and shoulds and too much insistence for additional effort. It was exhausting, physically as well as mentally.
But she wanted that presence with her. She had tried many other ways to keep it near but in order to stay it demanded trust. It demanded action. It demanded growth. It demanded that she welcome it not at a distance but whole-heartedly. It demanded she actively try those things the teachers spoke about. And so she did try those things. Sometimes, to her amazement, her additional action, her trust, created better things and her holes weren’t so large. Sometimes she wasn’t sure it worked at all. But even when she felt nothing, saw no immediate reward, upon looking back, to her amazement, it seemed to have all come together after all.
As time when on, the shouldnts and shoulds weren’t so hard anymore, because obeying the shoulds and shouldnts made the presence happy. She felt it. And so it made her happy and thus the shoulds and shouldnts became a part of her. And with that, the presence became more of a companion, a friend, a trusted advisor and was with her continuously instead of occasionally. Its once faint voice that whispered, ‘You matter’, became a strong voice that insisted, ‘You are powerful and strong. Your worth is immeasurable. I am always here with you and you are loved beyond the stars.”
This gave her peace, self-worth and gratitude. Thus, she was able to let go of those inner things that kept her afraid and stagnate and empty. The presence gave her strength, which allowed her to ignore the distractions. Thus, she found her place, her success and she was able to fill her own holes.
She thought that as her life came together, with the help of the presence, it was much like a puzzle. She thought, like most people, that her puzzle looked fairly easy and estimated it should be put together in one afternoon. They never do. They won’t be rushed. They are always completed one piece at a time.
By putting her puzzle together, she learned that sometimes, it’s just a waste of time to search and search for that one right piece. Instead, she should just let go, change sections, and when the puzzle was ready for that one piece, it would show itself. She discovered that all pieces are eventually found, if not on the table, then on the floor, or underneath a chair.
Sometimes a passerby picks up that stupid piece and effortlessly puts it in the correct place, then casually walks away, oblivious of the quiet but magnificent act. Although she was usually glad the search was over, she found it quite frustrating at how difficult and time consuming the search had been. Frustrated that it seemed so easy for the passerby, yet so difficult for her. Frustrated that she could no longer claim full ownership of doing the puzzle by herself.
Upon completion, she let it sit upon the table and shamelessly admired it. She knew it really wasn’t the beauty of the puzzle she was admiring, rather, the effort she had put into each piece–remembering how each came together, the particularly tough areas. It was hard work and she wasn’t going to just throw it back in the box. It had challenged her, stumped her, frustrated her, exhausted her patience and left her, at times, despairing if she would ever see its completion.
That was the puzzle. Parts of her life–her quiet, unassuming life. Did it matter to many? Out of millions, that lone life could have been considered insignificant. Not even noticeable, but only if you are looking at that number as a whole. The presence isn’t looking at the whole, he is looking at each one. So to him, did that one white haired- ladies actions matter? That can be nothing but a resounding yes. Because each life is unique and each life matters to that presence as if his own happiness lies with each. “For who does not leave the 99 and go after the one?”
And so standing in front of the statues of those long passed, for me had much meaning, filled me with gratitude. They were heroes. Quiet, unassuming, courageous, amazing people who, one by one, gave that white-haired lady her life and thus, mine.
And so I send that white-haired lady the pictures of each tombstone, with the heading, “Before they were just stories, but now that I have walked among them, I hope like me, you see solid evidence of heroic lives lived.”
I have a saying, “My mother gave me life and then saved my life”. But she could not have done it without those going before her”