She didn’t read books so she didn’t know
that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop.
–Zora Neale Hurston
Since my mother died over a year ago I’ve worn her jade ring as a reminder that she’s still here. My mother loved beautiful objects and somehow these objects, her jewelry and the quilt she made me and the African violets she grew and even her dime-store spiral notebooks, continue to hold that love.
As do I. Sometimes I feel more my mother than myself—her loud hiccups, her bad gynecological genes, her late night worries and self-pitying whine, and her fondness for home, for a lingering, elegant meal, for libraries, for generous giving. Her goodnight kisses, her pride at my work, her inexhaustible love. These were in me before she died I know them more poignantly now.
None of us, it turns out, are separate, siloed identities. We’re all mash-ups of each other. I’m formed by my daughter, who’s far more gregarious than I and so challenges me to interact with others for her sake; I’m formed by my dancer-partner, who has opened me to a new understanding of embodied holiness; I’m formed by my college friend who asked me during a dark time, “Elizabeth, are you writing?” and by my beloved congregation who showed me I could be both bisexual and Christian. For that matter, I’m also formed by a rotten social studies teacher who told us the commies were spying on our classroom; he showed me how the harm done by paranoia and prejudice. Our neighbor taught us to raise monarchs and thus influenced our garden and the ecosystem of our whole block, so she’s part of this place even though she moved away. Our friend is friends with an Amnesty International tech guy just arrested unjustly by the Turkish government, and now the human rights abuses in Turkey dwell in my consciousness and I’m Ali, too, indefinitely imprisoned, aching for his poet wife…
Yesterday I served a meal to a homeless woman; we got talking about writing, about the power of others’ stories to influence our own, and afterward I sensed her walking the hot streets of Minneapolis and sparking in the synapses of my being. This was true before we’d met; I just wasn’t aware. When I think of myself this way, I’m boundary-less, I’m fluid. Which is true; I’m mostly Mississippi River water. And stardust. So now I’m awed by the entities I don’t even know who are already in me, the carrots and milk and chickens who have become my flesh, the soil that nourished them, the farmers who tended them, the city workers who manage my waste, the engineers who clean it, the Chinese laborers who built some small gadget in the waste water treatment facility, the heron who flies away with a drop of me in its gullet… This vast, interconnected web makes me me. I can choose to participate in it; all of us can. And the entire, vibrating whole of it is holy. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
This fall is brought to you by…revision! Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice, comes out in October. You’re invited to help me celebrate on the evening of November 17th at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, when I’ll host a Revision Revival with testimonies from Susan Power, P. S. Duffy, Kyoko Katayama, Vanessa Ramos, and many others. Save the date!
Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., beginning in September: Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality. Topics to be determined.
September 25, 2017: Talk on memoir at the LEAFS Life Enrichment Adult Forum, Christ Lutheran Church, Blaine, MN.
October 25, 2017, 6:30: An evening exploring spiritual memoir at The Retreat with Women In Recovery.
October 27, 2017: Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice day-long workshop at the Loft Literary Center.
September 24-28, 2018: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.