Her Life Was Her Message

My bonus mother, Winnie, left her mortal body on February 19, 2021, after two days of being unresponsive. At age 97, she left behind 71 descendants and countless others who dearly loved her and felt joy in her presence.

I first met Winnie when I was 18 and she was 45. She had birthed 9 children and grieved 4 miscarriages. When I met her, she and husband Herb were in the midst of raising these 9 and life was a whirlwind of activity. What most impressed me and intimidated me were her life disciplines and her spiritual disciplines, but mainly her life disciplines. Those I witnessed as a particular way to do laundry, dishes, set a table, iron clothes, grow plants, chop vegetables. She did it all with care, intention, and dedication. It all mattered. She was a hard worker from very young. She never shied away from any job no matter how hard, whether it was plowing a field with a horse and plow, washing clothes for 7 by hand with no running water, or baking ten or more loaves of bread each week. I was a young woman who did not much enjoy housework so had not given it much thought or attention, I just did what had to be done. Winnie raised and taught her gang of 9 with these disciplines including the admonition to carry a hanky, wear clean underwear, say the Memorare, and show gratitude, always gratitude. 

Winnie’s spiritual disciplines at that time included attending Mass, praying the rosary, morning and nighttime prayers, mealtime prayers, and countless other ways of prayer in the yearly cycle. Her spiritual disciplines included treating everyone they met or who came to the door, relative or stranger, as if they were important, as if they mattered, and were expected. This was a large and growing family who lived for a number of years on meager income, got their Christmas tree free late Christmas Eve when all the stock would be gotten rid of, received the undesirable cuts of meat from the butcher for free or at low cost. My husband Leo remembers Karo syrup sandwiches for lunch. The family grew almost all their food and when someone would show up at the door and it was mealtime another place or 10 places were set, and jars of canned food would be brought up from the cellar to supplement the meal and no one would be the wiser that this was not planned ahead of time.

In later years, Winnie’s spirituality and hospitality would bend with the changing times; children did not stay in the Catholic fold, divorces happened, and disappointments were felt. She never bent in her personal disciplines of prayer but allowed for another’s choices in their own path of life; we were never out of her love, her gaze never faltered. As life slowed for Winnie, living a path of love deepened within her; she exuded love. When Leo and I would bring her to Mass or any other event in the community, it was an occasion for all who knew her, each individual approaching her wheelchair or walker with delight and receiving her hug, the holding of a hand, and a ray of love. Even if she could not remember your name, you were her one and only for your time with her. 

Each of her 71 descendants and their spouses received the same. When you were with her you received her blessing through her touch, hugs, radiance of love and you felt like you were loved the most. Every summer the whole family has a three-day campout. One year we were all sitting around the campfire and it was time for Winnie to be brought back to her apartment. Without a word or a plan, all 50+ who were there at the time stood and formed a column to the waiting car, a path she walked down, turning to each one individually and giving her love, her final touch, her gaze of love, her giggles. I have only witnessed this with my guru, Amma, who people flock to for her gaze and her touch.

When I first met Leo and the family and we decided to marry, I knew then that I was not only marrying Leo; I was marrying this family. They were also my choice. He did not come without them. We have made our own life, our own unique way, but, and also, the family, particularly, Winnie, are never far from our mind and heart. Winnie was the bonus I did not always see fully or appreciate for her teachings. Later, I was 22 and full of my own life and drama and Leo was mine sweeping in Hai Phung Harbor during the Vietnam War. I was back here in Minnesota, worried, fearful for his safety and as mail was sometimes slow, I had not heard from him in some time. I went to Winnie with my pain and fears wanting some comfort from this mother, a cry on the shoulder, a pat on the head, “oh, so sad dear”. She looked at me with an attempt at patience with the words akin to, “Why do you worry about something you have no control over, that is beyond your scope of view, and has not happened. Life is right here before you, that is what you need to focus your attention on.” This woman who was still raising 5 teens in the house, working at St. Ben’s, and involved in countless community projects, then put me to work peeling potatoes or some other much needed task. Well, I was not too pleased with this response. I wanted her to massage my pain, wallow with me in this story created in my mind. It was only later that I could see her wisdom. This moment is what matters. It is the only one we have. Why create suffering when there is work that needs to be done and laughter to be felt – now.

I have many profound teachers who have brought me along in my spiritual life. I consider Winnie one of those teachers. Winnie was very human. She could make my head swirl with her hundreds of clippings, all that caught her eye and spoke both to her spirit and to her inner historian. She wanted us to read each and every one. These were how she shared her inner life with us as she did not have the words. She could also get lost in old pain, places that were hard for her to let go of and could still bring her to tears. But mostly I see her spiritual life. She was an oblate of the Benedictine Sisters in St. Joseph and I feel privileged to have her Benedictine prayer book that is full of her notes and highlights, marking what is most important to her. The name of the book is Work of God. It is a fitting title for this woman who embraced her life, always, as work of God. Who countless times offered up her day to God. I define God not as an out there being but as love, an all embracing, penetrating energy that imbues and connects all life into One. Winnie’s life was a work of love. Winnie became a vessel of love. It is hard to find all the words of gratitude for this dear woman, the ‘Queen Mum’ of our family. I hear her giggle and say, “It’s all good. It’s all gratitudes, gratitudes, gratitudes.”

Walk Slow/Breathe Deep

“Walk slow and walk like you’ll never be back again."
Loni Bergqvist, as stated by an elder on El Camino
Day 3: El Camino de Santiago

I do not personally know Loni, but I felt her fellow pilgrim spirit as she shared her story recently. She walked the Camino in 2013 and I walked in 2017. As do many, she was walking at a fast clip toward her destination, Santiago, and her feet were “rotting away, filling with blisters, cuts, and deep pain.” She sat on the side of the road and wept. Along came an elder gentleman walking with a cane. As he stopped to inquire on her state of being, he stated that he has walked the Camino 6 times. His sage advice was, “Walk slow and walk like you’ll never be back again.” She did and she healed.

            This story brought forth the memory of a visitation from my dad seven days after his death on December 2, 2003 and recorded in my journal. 

I am driving a car and dad is in the passenger seat. I am maneuvering through a winding, precarious maze. I look over at Dad as he looks deep into my eyes. He says gently, “You can slow down, take your time.” I smile and feel comforted. I awake and sit bolt upright. The dream was a visitation. Dad is a wisdom guide. I can go slowly. I have always felt a need to rush through my life like I am being chased. Thank you, Dad.

In these days, which have been termed a polycrisis, we are reminded to slow down, to assess where we are in our own individual life, and how we are connected to this web of all life. To gaze deep into our own eyes and say, “Walk slow and walk like you’ll never be back again.” While we are steeped deeply in a grieving world, now is precious time for all of us to assess, take advantage of this imposed slowing down on a global level, and be fully in this time, a time that may not be here in the same way again.

What do we want in our individual life of relationships, work, creativity, and our penetrating connection to the plant and animal world within which we live? Are we allowing that which is outdated within us to die off while giving ourselves space and support for opening to new ideas and new ways of being? We won’t know what the outcome will be in any of our inner or outer work and that is the treasure, allowing growth from these seeds we plant today as we attend, bring attention to, and create conscious intention in the process.

Follow the arrows of the heart;
they know the way.

Life in Sameness

Welcome back to my Riverspiritwalks.blog site. I have refurbished this site and will be using it going forward rather than blogging on my fine arts site. My art site will be reserved for art related posts only and I offer a link in my menu here to navigate you to my art over there. In this site, I hope to continue on in my desire of offering reflections on our embodied existence. Blessings on your journey! Jan

Seeking Connection

8×10 Acrylic


Janis Dehler

“One has to be in the same place every day, watch the dawn from the same house, hear the same birds awake each morning, to realize how inexhaustibly rich and different is sameness.”                                                                                                                 Taoist Philosopher Chuang TZU

            A sage reminder and words of hope in the midst of a global pandemic. As I contemplate these verses, I reflect on my morning routine of waking and climbing the ladder to our cupola for a few yoga stretches, journal writing and meditation. The ladder is called a monk’s ladder as it is created in the style of each step, left and right, being at a different level. The cupola sits at the top of our geodesic dome home and in this way, I am sitting on the roof of our house in an enclosed space with windows in all directions. This daily journey to the top brings me comfort in its sameness and grounds me in this new day. 

            Through this circle of windows, I look east across the ravine out our front door to the rising sun. I look south to the stately elder birch tree and to the road winding out to eventually meet Hwy 65. I look west to the last remaining oak tree clumps holding a squirrel nest, then let my gaze move beyond our neighbors’ home and back yard to the bank of trees on the other side of the Rum River and to where the setting sun will appear later in the day. Finally, I move to the north with a meandering look following the banks of the river while watching for the eagles who like to fly down to our house and either circle our home or continue on down the river. 

            The windows, the sunrise, the sunset, and the river are present every day when I arrive with each day totally new in its sameness; the sunrise and then sunset show themselves in their daily dependability but different in their reds, yellows, oranges and maybe a hint of lavender or a simple greyness; the air is moving or calm or whipping and whistling; the earth is green or brown or white with snow or covered in deer tracks or filled with dandelions, lilacs, and hydrangeas; the river is full and flowing fast or shallow and slow with the contours shifting just a bit with the level of the water. My pen moves on paper and new words arise each day with varying emotions, thoughts, reflections and gratitude’s. In meditation the breath I rely on  might feel slow or rapid as I settle in and my thoughts might act like monkeys flying from limb to limb or resting like a floating lily pad. 

I look out of the same window and can tell the time of year by the slant of the sun and how it reflects on the trees beyond the river. I can see how the wind will alter this day and what it might do to the temperature. I can see what damage the deer have wreaked in the garden and reflect on the changes this brings to all the work we have put forth. I observe the cardinal pairs with ever surprising awe as they show in their jaunty coats, striking against the new snow on the hardy spruce.

            We did not realize a year ago that sameness is what that year and this new year would bring to us, day after day, and that this experience of sameness could bring us such riches. The day to day ordinary is not always what we want to live in as some days bring forth so much struggle within us to stay grounded and aware that we would rather be able to jump in the car and make a run for it. It is a comfort to know that this experience of my world is available to me if I make myself available to it. If I pause and look. If I breathe and open my eyes. 

Challenging doesn’t come close to describing the pain of these times for so many in our communities and in our world, testing us to the depths of our resilience. I and many have the luxury of staying home and waiting in place but that has its own struggles as well as it challenges our emotions, our psychological reserves, our social needs. Rather than being bored by the smallness of our lives while sheltering in our homes far longer than ever imagined, we can begin to explore our environment like reading a favorite book for the second or third time, different with each reading, finding something I had not understood or felt in the same way, allowing it to surprise me, challenge me, and open me to what I need to see or to learn. We might then, within our own story, find a new way of seeing something as if for the first time. A new perception, awareness, or insight into this one life I am living. This is my life. It looks different and it feels different and it has taken quiet and slow living to see it, but I am alive and breathing and filled with the richness of this moment. All so familiar, abundant and alive.

I am Moving

 

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Greetings followers. This is my last post on WordPress. I have retired and I am moving. I have created a new site for art and blog on FASO, Fineartstudioonline.  You can find me at http://www.janisdehler.com. I am excited to be part of a broader artist network with more capability for showing and connecting and writing.

For those of you who have come here from FASO and wish to see my Camino journey posts, navigate back to the beginning and enjoy the journey.

If you would like to follow me at my new FASO site, you can click on “add your email” and that should do it. The “Follow” button only works if you have RSS feed on your server. I will try to post once a week and you will receive it as a newsletter in email.

I have appreciated your following this past couple of years. It has made the journey interesting and fun, Be sure to go to my art section in my new site and click on the “Camino Series”. It has my art and reflections related to that journey as I have lived them over this past year.

Happy Spring! It is such a joy to see the sun these days.

Jan

 

A Unique Flavor

This week we are up on the North Shore of Lake Superior. The previous week we were in Upper Michigan sleeping along the shore of Les Cheneaux (the channel Islands) in Lake Huron and drove by and played in Lake Michigan. It feels both a privilege to be in the presence of such bodies of water and humbling at the enormity and power of each while we experience them with their own unique vegetation, shoreline, and personality.

Between these lake visits, I attended a funeral for Walt, a man who had been both a client of mine and a hospice patient. A large gentle man, bound to his wheel chair and oxygen, who deeply grieved the loss of his wife the year before. It took almost a year for Walt to go out to his workshop alone as he was always with Sharon even while he was out tinkering and inventing. He is now resting in peace next to his beloved and the thought of him brings a smile as he touched the hearts of our whole team who grieve his passing. As I write this, I pause as it is challenging to paint a portrait of this man not knowing the day to day life he lived previously. I can only say it was his gentle tears, his inability to put his feelings into words, it was his smile, his loss of his beloved lab, Mitzi, along the way, his passion for good toffee, his decision to bring the outdoor cat in the house after Mitzi died and the cat’s partner died and admitting he didn’t really like this cat but felt sad for the cat’s loneliness in its loss, his deep appreciation for all the attention he received in his illness and loneliness, and in the end maybe it was the peace we all felt when leaving his presence that brings such life to his memory.

I purchased two books this week that are entertaining me between bike rides, hikes, fishing, and exploring along Highway 61. The books are by Kathy Rice, owner of the now closed Pie Place Cafe in Grand Marais, MN. Delightful cookbooks with many of their famous and favorite recipes of salads, sandwiches, soups, fish, and of course pie! I loved that she wrote that she did what she had a passion for, which was make pie. We share that passion. I could have a bumper sticker that reads, I brake for pie. Each recipe begins with a portrait and a story of an individual who entered Kathy’s cafe. Some were local and some from other locales but each captured her imagination in some way with story, art, personality, and life history. Many became life long friends.

In the end, we become a smattering of who, what, when, how many kids, where did I work, who is left behind and on and on in a dry list offered as some form of identity in the newspaper or funeral program. Reading Kathy’s portraits of individuals she has met, I realize each portrait of a life she offered us could be the obituary for that life lived. Kathy captures, as best she is able, the soul of the individual through her words. It puts me in mind of Heather Lende (heatherlende.com) who was introduced to me by my sister, Di, and who is, among other talents, an obituary writer for a local newspaper in Haines, Alaska. Heather’s obituaries paint a portrait as do Kathy’s words. I would say each has a passion for people and take the time to open their hearts and minds to that one before them or the one who is being grieved for by a loved one.

Kathy states “the soups flavor will vary according to what you choose, but that is part of the fun.” Thoughts: What am I choosing this day, this month, this year, this life, that flavors my life? My grandson loves making soup and throws in many questionable items without a recipe. Most often it works, sometimes not. It takes courage to choose but if we do not choose others choose for us. To paint a portrait that captures the essence of the person we have to have the courage to see and portray what the individual might perceive as a flaw. Maybe that is what creates the wholeness of a life. Maybe it is merely that particular “spice” that adds the flavor to a life well lived.

Les Chêneaux, Lake Huron

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Lake Michigan

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Lake Superior

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A Blessing and Blooming

The pavement rose bushes are in full bloom and the waft of rose scent in the air feels like an intake of blessing on each breath. I missed the peonies as rain hit hard on their opening. The lilies are in bloom with splashes of color everywhere.

The last couple of weeks have simply been hard labor with scooping a few ton of rock into our landscaping around the back of the house. What seemed insurmountable in the beginning is now two thirds complete, one shovel of rock at a time. My body still holds a few aches from the job but also pride in accomplishment while realizing the enjoyment of sweaty dirty focused labor. The job was made fun with two grandkids to help us, keeping us focused and laughing in the midst of it all.

During the week, I called Margie, a newly bereaved late 70’s woman whose husband died a month ago and has been told she needs to vacate her rental as fast as possible as it is being sold. Distress, tears, disbelief, stuff to be sold or given away, no time to grieve, panic, all this I heard as I visualized Margie trying to move a ton of rock with very little support. I remember those first weeks of deep grief and the fog we move through as we try to find our bearings with a brain not functioning well as we forget things, have a hard time focusing, and find ourselves melting in tears at the small reminders of our loss. We can feel buried under an insurmountable weight.

For many of us it is the people surrounding us who help us with each shovel load, helping to ease the burden, keeping us focused, and we are grateful. At other times we find ourselves alone in our grief, sadness, and confusion. Whether we are alone or surrounded by loved ones, we ultimately find we must look within to our own resources, that which guides us daily. Finding in our own stillness the quiet moment releasing the waft of roses arising from our own heart, that which is connected to all life and loving and living and that which draws us forward to live and grow into the only thing to which we can become, ourselves in full bloom. Our own wholeness of being.

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