Monday, July 11, 2011

I'd like to tell you a story. It's like all the other stories, but a little different, so listen closely. It bears telling, this story, so that we all know what has brought us to this point. You may have heard part of it before; you may have lived part of it; you may have wished you lived part of it; you may be lucky enough to have been sitting by watching it all unfold. Now you will be a witness to the telling.

As many stories do, it starts with a baby. A sweet even-tempered, blueberry-eyed boy who only had two real difficulties - eating enough, and going to sleep. The baby fit himself into his parents' lives quite well - teaching them patience, and flexibility, and wonder. There came a point, not long after his birth, when the parents couldn't remember not being with the boy. And that was good.

So the boy ate, and grew, and ate, and grew, and eventually learned to sleep on his own. And he and his parents set out to explore the world.

Now it happened that they were visiting a mountainous place, and they stopped in a meadow for lunch. The meadow was huge - acres in all directions. The sun was hot, but the breeze was cool (as it often is in the mountains.) The scrub around them was filled with clicking sounds and once they got out of the vehicle, they saw that what made the sounds were not grasshoppers but hundreds upon hundreds of hummingbirds.

The boy ran after them on chubby 2 1/2 year old legs, trying to catch them, but never quite succeeding. Time became nebulous in that meadow: the blue of the sky matched the little boy's eyes - the smell of hot rock and crushed sage - the clicks and whirs of the birds - all melding together and somehow redefining the rules of time and space.

They returned home, filled with the magic of the mountains, and family, and hummingbirds. Later that year another blue-eyed boy joined the family - this one with eyes the color of a crystalline lake, or the light blue afternoon sky. And the blueberry-eyed boy took on a new role: brother.

He was a good brother, helpful and kind. He started school that year as well, and learned about sharing, and numbers, and frogs, and words. When he learned about words, he also learned about stories. There was one story in particular that he often shared with his parents. His stories always started "Remember when..."

He'd take a deep breath and tell story without pausing:

"Remember when we went to Colorado and I got stung by a hummingbird and it gave me special skin which is tougher than your skin so I don't feel cold like you do and I don't feel pain like you do? Do you remember that? Do you??"

And the parents would say "Yes we remember the hummingbirds, but we don't remember you getting stung." And the boy would shout "I did! I did!" and tears would come and threaten at the corners of his eyes. So no more was said of it by the parents. But when they'd press a sweater on him, or comment on cuts they were bandaging, the boy would look up at them with serious blueberry-eyes, and say "Remember when? Remember my hummingbird skin?" and the parents would smile and nod their heads, and set aside the sweater with a grin.

The boy was an observer. He'd sit back and watch with those big blue eyes. He appreciated scientific theory and logic, and yet, still hold onto the magic he'd found in the hummingbirds. He clung to black and white expectations for others: teachers *should* know more than their students; other people *should* be fair; little brothers *should * know not to touch his stuff.

When the boy was 6, and the brother 3, a sister joined the family. She had changeable eyes, sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes the dark grey of the sea in winter. Now the family was whole and complete, and somehow bigger than 2 plus 3.

The brothers were extraordinarily proud of their sister and she, in turn, was fascinated by them. They found a rhythm in their days, and in their lives, and it was comfortable.

Even with a sister in the family, the boy was dismissive of girly things. He'd use the term "whitish-red" to describe things that were pink. He'd put trucks and blocks into his sister's hand, hiding dolls and animals when he could.

He went to school, asking why or why not as the case may be. He read voraciously and remembered more than most. He told jokes, and ran races, and was pretty patient with his siblings.

Life moved on like it's been know to do. The boy grew in mind and body. Sometimes more in mind, sometimes more in body. Always stretching; always watching; always growing; always questioning.


And so we find ourselves here, at this point; where the meat of the story truly begins. We've finished the prologue for the most part, and are now eagerly anticipating "what's next".

In some cultures this is where the boy would go off into the woods for a week or so with a pipe, and some water, and no food, and wait for his totem to speak to him. In other cultures he'd train a bird to hunt, and when it was successful in the hunt they would call the boy a man. In this culture there is no recognized point at which the boy gets to move easily or assuredly into adulthood. Sometimes it's based on a number, sometimes its happenstance, sometimes its laziness on the part of the other adults. But this family has chosen: 29 years ago this family decided to start a tradition of recognizing this transition into adulthood.

When I was 13 (29 years ago!! ack!) my aunt Robin brought up this idea, and I was kind of skeptical. First of all it was different, which is pretty much the kiss of death for anything involving a 13 year old; 2nd of all everyone in the family would be looking and talking to me - almost every 13 year old also has a love/hate relationship with popularity and attention.

But she carved this beautiful heron sculpture, and my great-grandparents were there (a 4th of July celebration in Rockford, IL under the oak tree) and it turned out to be exactly right and just what I needed.

The ceremony has continued - all 9 grandchildren, and now Liam starts the next generation. If you will take the sculpture around the circle Liam, each family member will impart some advice, or reflection, or just think kind thoughts toward you. All you have to do is listen, smile, nod, or say thank you.


And so, with this, we say goodbye to the blueberry-eyed boy and welcome the young man who is taking his place....