Friday, October 16, 2009

"Ancestors:" A Meditation

It's my grandmother Borgmann's 95th birthday next week. Our family is gathering from all over the Midwest - and beyond - to celebrate this matriarch of our clan who resides in Osmond, Nebraska. Ninety five years. What has someone seen in 95 years? Whew. What have they lived through? Makes my head spin trying to imagine.

Grandma Adeline's youngest child, my aunt Marian, has been compiling memories of Grandma B. As the last in the brood of 11, Marian is sort of the family historian. She began a book project for her mother - that includes a chapter devoted to each of her eleven children. These pages swirl in my mind this morning. I can see the pictures and bios of all my aunts and uncles, each of my cousins making an attempt to document their lives. It's an act of deep regard, reverence, I think. The book is a way to honor Julia Adeline Schilling Borgmann's time on the planet. It's a way for each and everyone of us to take stock of where we come from. In the same vein, I think it is also an equal invitation to consider where we are going.

Where will we be at age 95? How many of us will be around? What will we have witnessed? What will we have created? What will we have let go? What will our homes and hearts, families, careers look like? Where will we reside?

Enter: Today's poem. Harvey Ellis' work, "ancestors," shared this day on "The Writer's Almanac," thrusts me smack dab into the middle of all these questions. I am surrounded by contemplations of not only Julia Adeline, but of her spouse, Johnny. I can see the sapia-hued photographs and skin tones of Edna Bell Arduser, Great Grandpa Liewer, the scads of boxed images of my mixed-German-ancestry. I wonder if a picture of Clara or Matthias is contained anywhere - as the original owners of my engagement diamond? I know Great Grandpa Henry is there -- the boxer who rode the train from Cincinnati. I return to Grandma B, and recall her own train ride tales over the US landscape. I can hear her deep, baritone voice, tell me about traveling from Reno and back, with a divorcee, (whose name was Rose?). I recall my own awe-struck silence listening to her first hand account of meeting Amelia Earhart at a Chicago Luncheon while visiting a cousin. I see her sewing and making sandwiches for a Jewish family she nannied for on the east coast, prior to her own married and mothering days. I try to fathom my own life, with her alongside me. Her blood and marrow in my own bones. Her parents - and all of my other Borgmann/ Schilling/ Liewer/ Arduser ancestors - filling out the sinews of my body. Their lives informing mine. Their steps, tracks, train rides, boat-rides, guiding mine.

It's something to consider, you know?

I invite you to read Ellis' poem copied below. Drink it in. Meditate on your own ancestry. Who is beside you? Who is breathing within? How are you moving and stretching and making things happen today? What parent, aunt, uncle, great-great, do you want to draw on in your journey at this moment? You know they are close by.

Happy Contemplating!


by Harvey Ellis

my ancestors surround me
like walls of a canyon
stone hard
their ideas drift over me
like breezes at sunset

we gather sticks
and make settlements
what we do is only partly
our own
and partly continuation
down through the chromosomes

my son
my baby sleeps behind me
stirring in the night
for the touch
that lets him continue

he is arranging
in his small form the furniture
and windows of his home

it will be a lot like mine
it will be a lot like theirs

"ancestors" by Harvey Ellis from Sleep Not Sleep. © Wolf Ridge Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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