This morning I talked with my cousin Billie who ended our third call with the oh, so endearing and comforting words, “ We’re Family.” Out of the blue, Billie called me the day of my birthday just three weeks ago creating a bridge from Deep Time to Now.
He will never know what this call meant to me.
Billy and I haven’t seen each other since we met for lunch at my aunt and uncle’s house after my dad’s Memorial Service on January 9th 1994, two months after his death. I had arrived the night before in swirling white chaos – a massive winter storm.
The church was festooned in scarlet; my father would have loved this touch; he was born under the fires of a flaming April sun. A brief service closed what had been for me a lonely two – month vigil. During this time I had prepared his grave-site home in Maine, pruning a natural circle of cedars, removing moist woodland soil and digging a shallow depression to hold my father’s ashes. This fragrant cedar grove was hidden in the woods by a brook that tumbled down the mountain. Even after I had finished preparing the spot, I visited this simple woodland cathedral every single day … Up until this Pottetti gathering I had been mourning my father’s death alone – stuck in liminal space with his remains.
I was so grateful to my aunt and uncle and to Billy for making this gathering possible. My mother, my dad’s wife and his two grandsons (who he adored), chose not to attend…But, that’s another story. On this special day my dad was witnessed and loved by his Italian family and his only daughter… Together we created a tight circle binding together the living and the dead, lighting the way for my Dad’s continued journey… I remembered that as a child my animated father told me bedtime stories about the stars that so fascinated him … I hoped his spirit might be floating around this vast stellular ocean. Soon I would put his ashes to rest in the sweet Earth.
My aunt Terry set the table for our mid day feast after we returned to the house. When we sat down for this repast it became immediately apparent that my aunt had set an extra place by accident or Nature’s design. As this illumination struck us so did the sun that suddenly burst through shark gray clouds as a brilliant shaft of light that slid through the window. The extra place setting and empty seat glowed. It wasn’t until a number of years later that I learned that in some cultures the dead are invited to partake of their own funeral celebrations and a place is set…
I returned to Maine feeling that my father was finally at peace. Every afternoon around dusk for the rest of the winter I slogged through waist -high snow to visit the cedar grove. In the spring I planted forget – me –nots.
I also tried to establish a more intimate relationship with my aunt and uncle. I had loved them both as a child, although I rarely saw them except on holidays. But this intention of mine did not materialize and two years later my uncle died.
I barely knew Alex and Terry’s son Billy except through his parents who adored him and spoke of him every time I called them that winter. What I remember best was the gut sense that Billy was as genuine as his parents were.
Our recent conversations have reinforced that belief. Billy and I have lots of thinking/perspectives in common and I am hoping that this time the family thread will not be severed.
As Pulitzer prize winning author Richard Powers states “ we’re now in the middle of a family emergency…only kin, and lots of it, from every corner of creation will help us much in the times to come. Kinship is the recognition of shared fate. It is the discovery that the more I give to you, the more I have.”
I think Billy carries this awareness keenly. He and his son live 15 minutes apart… he has a baby granddaughter too! Billy regales me with family stories like the one where he splits his own wood and when winter comes, he and his son Michael share bonfires in Billy’s backyard under the stars at night…
Oh, how I hope that one day he will ask me to join them!
A Little More than Kin
“…We’re now in the middle of a family emergency that will test all family ties. Only kin, and lots of it, from every corner of creation will help us much in the terrible years to come. We will need tales of forgiveness… Only stories will help us to rejoin human to humility to humus, through their shared root…Earth. Kinship is the recognition of shared fate and intersecting purposes. It is the discovery that the more I give to you, the more I have…It knows how everything that gives deepest purpose and meaning to any life is being made and nurtured by other creatures.
Can love… hope to overcome a culture of individualism built on denying all our millions of kinships and dependencies? That is our central drama now. It’s the future’s one inescapable story, and we are the characters who will steer that conflict to its denouement.
To find the stories that we need, we would do well to look to the kinship of trees. Trees signal one another through the air, sharing an immune system that can stretch across miles. They trade sugars and secondary metabolites underground, through fungal intermediaries, sustaining one another… across the species barrier. But maybe such communal existence shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, everything in an ecosystem is in mutual give-and-take with everything else around it. For every act of competition out there, there are several acts of cooperation. In the Buddha’s words: A tree is a wondrous thing that shelters, feeds, and protects all living things. It even offers shade to the axe-men who destroy it…”
Emergence Magazine excerpt.