09 June 2014

Songs of Gratitude: On Being Seen

I keep circling back in my memory to the sweet eddy of time when I met – re-met, that is – my friend Hari at Olompali last month. It gives me joy every time I think of that moment:
“You're Flower?”
“I'm Hari, and I remember you.”
“You do?” I was tearing up by this point, seeing him in tears.
“Yes, I do. You were my favorite kid!”
Now we were both crying. The way Hari then so carefully and lovingly described his memories of our family told me he not only knew me but that he saw us. He saw each of us, and all of us together, which still moves me. He was among the community that was affected not only by our tragedy, but also by our presence at Olompali before that.
Every one of us is creating and always has generated those circles of ripples traveling outward, all the time, and my and Hari's wave circles overlapped in the late 1960s and are rippling into new patterns once again. I find more overlaps the more I peer into our pasts – Hari spent time in almost the exact spot in India where our child was born. He spent time with Thomas Merton, who had been a writing partner of my grandmother, my mother's mother, Paula Hocks.
Thinking about these warm waves still traveling toward me makes me remember another source of warm energy and care who rippled briefly in our lives. After looking through old photos with my mother recently, I have been remembering the year I lived in Venice, California with my parents, when we moved there together after I graduated from high school. I had a gap year, during which I worked a couple of jobs and not only saved money for college but also gained California residency.
My mother had been a home-birth midwife in Boulder and was determined to continue her practice in L.A. She started talking with doctors and trying to find backup like she'd had in Boulder – Ob/Gyns who were willing to go to the hospital on call as backup were she to call from a home birth that wasn't proceeding as it should. She'd had several doctors willing to meet her at the hospital in Boulder, but these doctors weren't so easy for an unknown, unlicensed home-birth midwife to conscript in L.A. So my mother had to be super-cautious and deliver babies at home only for people who swore they would call an ambulance or go to the hospital now if she said “It's time to go to the hospital.”
During this time, my mother delivered a few babies, and acquired an apprentice midwife named Lana. Lana lived in Sunland, a deserty suburb far north of the sprawl of Los Angeles-proper. We visited her there once, and she came to visit us in Venice a couple of times. We have photographs of her and my mother, both gorgeous women at the heights of their powers, with wise eyes and beautiful smiles.
While my mother was the essence of prepared and coolheaded in a crisis and had gifts for knowing how to make the pregnant women comfortable, keep labor moving, and help other members of the family feel useful and secure, Lana had another gift that to me seemed perhaps less pragmatic but was no less intriguing: she read palms.
Lana held our hands, looking closely at them, seeing the lines hatching a different set of patterns on each one. She described how the shapes and planes and intersections of lines predicted our fates as if our hands had each been inscribed at our births and we were each simply following our own hand-maps into the future.
I never saw Lana again after our few visits, but some of the things she said have stayed with me ever since. Like Hari, I feel Lana saw us, for who we were, what we had been through, and what we could become.
Lana said to me, “You are innocent. You have seen terrible things, but you will always have an innocence about you. You will never lose that sweetness.”
I will always be grateful to Lana for saying these things to me at that time, just before I set off and became independent. Her words gave me glimmers of hope for the renewal of my soul and openness of my heart in moments when darkness pulled me downward and muted my color and voice. Lana, I hope you know that you helped us so much, even though I feel we hardly got to know you.


Lynn said...

Well written and interesting. Makes me want to hear more!

JoAnn said...

Rise, have you ever submitted to NPR:
This American Life?! You should!!
Love You and Your Writing,
Aunt Jo

vanillagrrl said...

Thanks, Lynn and Aunt Jo! And I am working on stuff to submit to This American Life... :)

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous!Love your writing, Rise and I agree with JoAnn about submitting this! Such beautiful recollections --