Summer Soul Quest: Part II The Hidden
"She was quite unlike the island women and some of her ways were so strange. Why, she'd go out on the rocks when the tide was low to talk to the seabirds and seals. And wherever she went on the island the seals were always watching her from the sea while the seabirds wheeled about her, calling her in a language she seemed to understand, for often she'd call out a reply that would set them laughing the way gulls do." - (The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry / Roan Inish)
We went to NY on holiday to visit friends and family...and so that I could attend my 30th (yes) high school reunion on Long Island. I had some trepidation about attending the reunion as I always felt like an outsider in high school. I never had that sense of belonging that others seemed to radiate. I kept to myself unless someone engaged me in conversation. I wasn't athletic, I wasn't popular, pretty, or a brainiac. I was either lost in my own thoughts or somewhere in the art wing.
Yet I felt a tug to go to this reunion because I needed to move outside my comfort zone and examine more closely this discomfort that I recall, the feeling of not fitting in, of not belonging. I needed to sit with those old feelings and rock them. I felt that it would help me connect more deeply with the girls that I teach...girls who are in a very vulnerable position as they stand at the threshold of womanhood.
"How might your life have different, if there had been a place for you?", asks Judith Duerk in her book "Circle of Stones".
This is the question I've asked myself time and again ever since I read her work. The answer to that question is the very reason I launched Mighty Girl Art camp. It is the very reason I pound the stakes into the ground each summer and raise my tipi, The House of Belonging.
During the car ride to NY, I listened to "Seeing in the Dark" by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes whom I am so very fond of. I purchased the audio months ago, but was saving it for this trip. The timing was profound, and the message apt. I soon realized that this trip was a pilgrimage. I would take my son to the places that hold my childhood memories. I would also make it a quest to seek the unseen places and try to find that fractured part of myself and hold her and say, "you're okay...you are now walking this earth stronger than ever".
Upon entering the banquet room where our reunion was held, I noticed a memory board of classmates that have since died. It was painful to look at. I looked at the names and faces and thought, "this is the reason we were all here...to celebrate our lives together, not just for ourselves, but for our friends who are no longer living".
Some time later, a man came up to me and asked "do you remember me"?
I said, "I remember that you were in my first grade class...and you gave me a pin...a kitty with two pink stones in the ears...and I was deeply touched because it was the first time I received a gift from someone other than family and you did so simply because you liked me...I was six years old and I still remember that 41 years later".
He began to tell me about work...and I listened then asked, "What brings you joy?" He smiled then proceeded to tell me such wonderful things about his life.
And so I began mining for joy. Over and over I asked my classmates, "What do you love and what brings you joy" and each time my heart was rewarded. I heard about children, a restored Studebaker and even a houseboat! An old chum told me that no matter how late he gets home from work, and even though his kids are grown, he always goes into their room to wake them with a kiss and tell them he loves them. The wife of a classmate told me a beautiful story of how she met her soulmate. What a gift!
And there were other gifts...
Here, I must rewind to the night before, to a gathering on Swan River, when a man walked up to me with eyes lost in memory and said, "Wendy Cook, you were always on the outskirts". His words gave me goosebumps although it was 103 degrees in the shade. My head suddenly began to spin because I realized that my experience had just been validated. I had found that part of myself and I held her close to my heart.
It took me 47 years to understand why creatives are looked at like they don't belong, why they are pushed to the outside. It's because creatives have other ways of seeing. They move through this world a bit differently. What I did not realize until now, thanks to Dr. Estes, is that we are not really on the outskirts, but rather on the frontiers. As Dr. Estes said, "The trees and the flowers don't grow from the center, they grow from the edges". My perception of feeling like an outsider, and the invisible push was the very gift that nourished my growth. It was not intended to hurt me, it was intended to guide me. Guide me to the places where I could flourish, and lead me to people who could nurture my form of expression.
At the precise moment those fated words left his lips, I looked down and saw a feather and I remembered Dr. Estes' "Prayer for the Outsider"...
"These souls were explicitly created to fly through more than one world and to return, ever return, to tell the stories of what can be seen when one is allowed to soar."
After the reunion we spent another two days visiting some of my favorite haunts. It was a gift to see my son explore the places that hold my childhood secrets. I watched him play with his daddy on the very shore I once played with my own dad. There with one foot in the past and one foot in the present, I gathered a handful of perfectly smooth, incredibly white, egg shaped stones to remind myself of all that I learned. It was soulful teaching to revisit the memories hidden within these sacred places, a privilege to spend some time with family and friends.
As I sit here in my studio reflecting on our trip, I am reminded of these words by Confucius...
Wherever you go, go with all your heart.
Under the rocks and stones
there is water underground.
Same as it ever was...
time isn't holding us" - Talking Heads