“I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of.
If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
~ Eric Roth (from “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”)
After three years of regular weekly posts, it’s nearly a month since my last blog. I never know what I’ll write before I start. I’ve learned to trust the process, go with whatever’s up. And this past month, a thousand words simply weren’t enough to contain what mattered – the realizations, decisions, and changes inside me.
This week what matters came wrapped in one day – Christmas Day.
Two friends and I went to the traditional dances at Santo Domingo and Cochiti pueblos. Not celebration dances or tourist events as some think. Moving prayers that go non-stop for 24 +/- hrs. Prayers for abundance in what sustains the health and welfare of the entire pueblo: crops, the hunt, Earth itself.
The day started cold. I bundled in two layers of shirts and scarves, long underwear under my corduroys, a high collar on my coat against the wind. The sky was three shades of blue. The clouds seemed to stretch out in three shapes. We were lucky as there was no breeze to slice cold thru our clothes.
Shifts of pueblo residents, men-women-children, ‘performed.’ The drums, songs, movements steady, rhythmic, and constant, even as they transitioned group to fresh group. Those not dancing quietly sat or stood encircling the plaza as witnesses. Many of the women wrapped up to their chins in blankets with colorful native designs. It’s a community prayer. Even positioned a distance away at the far end of the plaza, I felt the beat of the drum inside me and my legs felt to dance with them.
‘I wish we’d been closer,’ I said as we left. And at the next pueblo, as if my wish was a prayer to be answered, we unknowingly stood on the path where they exited the plaza to turn it over to the next group. Little children (deer and ram) darted toward me in streams of 3 & 4. They would’ve stepped on my toes if I hadn’t backed up. They stopped inches from me, bent forward, leaning on stick legs, waiting. Their bodies pulsed with the drum. I could easily touch their greenery festooned heads. I was in their cloud of prayer. As the ‘hunters,’ drummers, & singers who followed came close, they darted away. One little body behind the other, like lights of a firefly trail. Song & sound filled me. My body dissolved. I knew then how they could dance for hours. Community and the earth matter.
It’s the day after Christmas as I write this. Here’s the thing, I went to the dances knowing I wasn’t 100% well in my body. And today I’m under the weather. I felt the exact moment it happened, too. Feeding birds outside, not bundled against the 22° morning. My ears unprotected against the wind. I fooled myself with thinking ‘I’m only out for a few minutes.’ Right before ‘oh-oh.’ It was weird. Like I felt my cells wobble off a too-close edge. This pushing my body with my will is an old pattern. I’ve done it for goals, for others, and this time mere lazy convenience. As the day wears on, a Thank You settled inside for the reminder that presence to what’s important is conscious action, not random thoughts. My health is important.
Nature plays tricks on the eyes in New Mexico. The mountains can move forward, appear huge & very close. Other times they’re distant horizons, and appear as crooked lines against the sky. After the dances, we picnicked at Cochiti Lake. Our backs warmed by the sun. The sound of lapping water like a background song. No one else was there.
Built in the 70s, the lake is a very deep & large reservoir. For perspective, 28’ sail boats are drydocked nearby. Even so, it didn’t appear far to cross. Not until I spotted people on the opposite side of what I thought was a narrow inlet. They were tiny. So tiny they were hard to see! So many illusions. It matters what perspectives we hold. They affect how we see things.
I got seven holiday cards this year. A rarity. Three are handmade. The other four contain touching handwritten messages. My grandson (the official card sender for the little family in Taiwan) included a drawing of Santa in his. They’re connections and precious gifts to me. I have the one from my 98 yr. old friend on my desk. The others are on display, along with a gift from the dances.
To say I was surprised when Santa showed up while they danced is an understatement. I watched as he casually walked in front of the spectators, his back to the ceremony, tossed candy in wide arcs. Every now and then, he paused to reach into his bag and pull out an unwrapped something he handed to someone. Small things, like a cardboard can of Playdoh. To my mind, a reminder not to take things too seriously and appreciate small gifts.
The three of us anglos sat on a bench, me in the middle. He paused in front of us, looked for a moment, then reached in and handed the gift to me: a large gold-foiled holiday popper I’m told contains a tissue-paper hat, a toy, & a fortune or blessing. Makings for a celebration. My God, I know the angels are behind this. So much this past year deserved celebration, and I’ve haven’t.
Celebrations matter. They’re like Thanks You’s & attagirls. I teach this. The popper is my reminder. I’ll know when it’s time to pull the ends, and celebrate.
Another gift of the day sits on my kitchen counter. 4-1/2″ high & so large it fills a dinner plate. Baked in a traditional wood-fired adobe horno oven shaped like a large old-fashioned beehive. The man at the Santo Domingo church who greeted us gave it to me.
The church is also an optical illusion. Outside it looks quaint, even small. It’s made of wood, which is unusual here. Painted white. Simple painted images on the front. When you walk inside, it’s a long, large, dimly lit rectangular hall with very tall, plastered walls. Doors off the sides open to rooms with low ceilings. Perhaps they set up chairs on regular church days, but there was no seating. Perhaps that added to the expansive feeling. That, and the prayers of the dancers that still hung in the air.
We walked the length, oversized modern Christmas decorations above our heads, to an alcove where a small Mary, maybe 15” long, lay on a bed with baby Jesus, a little blanket covering them so only their heads showed. Tiny faded silk flowers at their crowns. An honoring of the human Mary (of course she’d be in bed) that felt sweet. As we were leaving, the man brought us bags of bread. My bag held the giant loaf in the picture, and what appeared to be four huge rolls. My eyes went wide at the abundance. The four rolls were actually another loaf, which I gave to my friends. The bread is a reminder to me of the abundance in my life. How well I am fed.
There’s no Christmas tree at my house. No planned exchange of gifts. And yet, I received a succession of gifts in this one day. Like in a fable. The lessons within the story. Like angels following me, whispering See. See what matters. And here’s the greatest wonder. . .not until I sat down to share with you did I see it all. It took the community of Us for me to fully understand. Isn’t that the blessing of this season?
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