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Stories from the Road

“LAST YEAR” — February 2011

 

The Soul Would Have No Rainbow, If The Eyes Had No Tears.
Native American Proverb

“Proverbs are time-honored truths which condense the collected wisdom and experience of a people and their culture. If you want to know a people, the saying goes, know their proverbs.

Proverbs often serve as a means of instruction in the rules of conduct and ethical behavior expected by all members of a society; what makes them an effective tool is that they are based on a keen observation of human nature and behavior rather than an idealized and unrealistic standard.

The proverbs collected in The Soul Would Have No Rainbow If the Eyes Had No Tears are those of people who love the land and regard it as sacred, who see daily prayer as a duty, and have no need to set apart one day in seven as a holy day, but rather observe every day as God’s day. They recognize and honor women in their roles as mothers, teachers, artists and in governing the tribe.

The Native American tribes’ models of eloquence are to be found not in books but in the living orators of their local and national assembles and tribal functions. They are the true authors of this volume, which makes a small attempt to honor their great oral tradition.”

Preface from The Soul Would Have No Rainbow If the Eyes Had No Tears And Other Native American Proverbs by Guy A. Zona

 

Last year was the worst and one of the best of years. The Yin and the Yang, the Light and Dark side of The Force, if you’d like to put it in that context. The Dark side was due to a spurious lawsuit against Lucasfilm for pregnancy discrimination in which I was one of the defendants. The case ended, in my opinion, in an unjust guilty verdict, and of course the company is appealing. But the experience created symptoms within me similar to those of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which were physically and emotionally very disturbing at the time. I felt like I was in a Hell Realm.

Yet, during the last week of the trial, I listened to a virtual teleseminar hosted by Stephan Dinan of The Shift Network (http://www.theshiftnetwork.com) with a woman named Jyoti, the Spiritual Director of the Center for Sacred Studies here in California, and several of the members of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. It was during the time of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There were over 18,000 people from 68 countries all over the world listening on the phone or internet to the prayers and words of wisdom coming forth from Jyoti and the Grandmothers.

There was much talk that day about water, the oceans, the rivers, lakes and streams, being the life blood of Mother Earth. We are killing Her by our reckless pollution and unprecedented destruction of nature and indigenous ways of life. No clean water, no life. If She dies, we die, and every living thing and being on the planet would most likely be unable to survive. It was very clear that clean water is one of the most important global issues we face as a species. One of the Grandmothers prophesied Water Wars in the not too distant future.

Throughout the teleseminar, there were prayers for peace, chants, and songs offered to heal the planet. An hour and a half later, at the end of the program, Stephen offered the listeners an opportunity to participate in discussion groups of eight people, randomly connected. But, before disconnecting, if you were interested, you could press 2 on your phone to make a contribution to the Center for Sacred Studies (http://www.sacredstudies.org/) to help the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers continue their global work through prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children, and to protect the indigenous people's diverse cultures, lands, medicines, language and ceremonial ways of prayer. The Grandmothers believe the teachings of their ancestors have great relevance in the world today and will light our way through an uncertain future. I pushed 2 and received an automated email reply to make a contribution. I donated $1,300, a hundred dollars in honor each Grandmother. In that moment, a door opened in my consciousness, and I walked through it into the Light.

Within a week, I received a voice message on my home phone from Jyoti, saying Stephen Dinan had suggested she call. She didn’t know why, but when we talked, we both felt a sense of SynchroDestiny (as Deepak Chopra calls it) that there was a purpose for us to connect that would be revealed in the weeks and months to come. I began reading everything I could find on the internet about the Grandmothers (http://www.grandmotherscouncil.org/) and the work of the Center for Sacred Studies, and my heart was stirred with the excitement of a new beginning.

Against the very sensible advice of friends, economic advisors and scary headlines in the New York Times that the real estate market plummeted 25.5 percent in July, I sold my sweet little casita on Otero Street in Santa Fe this past summer for a handsome profit. I had never thought of it as an investment. It was a sanctuary, a place to go to restore my energy and spirit, to clear my mind and nurture my soul from the wear and tear of daily existence. It was not an easy decision, but I had begun to feel out of balance from the stress of being an absentee homeowner, and it was becoming more responsibility than I wanted. At this age, I’m preparing to simplify my life, and spend more time writing and cultivating my spiritual practice.

After staying at La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe on several occasions last year due to having a tenant in the house, I discovered the luxury of having room service any time of day, and having someone else make my bed if I didn’t. This was very appealing. And the people who work at La Fonda are genuinely warm and friendly, not to mention the historical significance of the place with its authentic old world ambience. So from now on, I will be “living” at La Fonda for Christmas/New Years and in August for Indian Market and the dances, and possibly in May when the lilacs are blooming to celebrate my birthday. It will be my “Home Away from Home.”

On the day we closed escrow, after all the papers had been signed, and we came to the last page of the documents, I was so surprised when I realized what I would receive from the sale of the house that I burst into tears. I flew back to California the next day amazed by my good fortune.

That weekend, Jyoti came to my house in San Anselmo along with several other friends including Darlene Hunter, the Executive Director of CSS, Carole Hart the writer/director of the documentary film, For The Next 7 Generations, about the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, as well as two of the Grandmothers themselves, Grandmother Agnes Baker Pilgrim, Takelma Silet, from Grants Pass, Oregon, a world-renowned spiritual leader and Keeper of the Sacred Salmon Ceremony for her people, and Grandmother Flordemayo, Mayan, who was born on the Nicaragua/Honduras border in the highlands of Central America with the gift of seeing visions and the ability to heal which was recognized at an early age.

Flordemayo’s father was a local shaman and her mother was a midwife and a healer. Growing up, Flordemayo was trained by her mother in the healing arts of the curandera, healers or shaman, dedicated to curing physical and spiritual illnesses, in the traditional way, passed down orally from mother to daughter, generation after generation. The lineage of the curanderismo is over five hundred years old and began with the arrival of the Europeans and slaves from Africa, when it evolved into a mixture of African, Christian, and indigenous teachings. Midwives, bone setters, masseuses, and herbalists can all be curanderas. Curanderisma is practiced in Mexico and throughout Central and South America. Flordemayo studies under Don Alejandro Oxlaj, a head of the Mayan Council of Elders, and considers her Mayan heritage a keystone of her work (http://flordemayo.us/).

Molly Blackwell, one of the friends who came with Jyoti and the Grandmothers, brought over fabulous food and we sat at tables in the garden for an early dinner. The fragrance of a dozen different roses bushes in full bloom, and the sweet smell of a freshly cut thick, emerald blanket of grass which lay under an ancient oak tree, filled the air amidst the lushness of pink, blue and white lace cap hydrangeas. In the pocket of my dress was a gift card with a Cherokee Blessing Prayer printed on the cover.

May the warm Winds of Heaven blow softly on your house.
May the Great Spirit bless everyone who enters there.
May your Moccasins make happy tracks in many snows,
And may the Rainbow always touch your shoulder.

 

Inside the gift card was a check made payable to the Center for Sacred Studies in the amount of one-third of the proceeds I had received from the sale of Casita Juanita in Santa Fe which would enable me to become a Vision Keeper Sponsor for the Center. When the appropriate moment arose, I took the card from my pocket and handed it to Jyoti. I said, “With this gift, I commit myself to support the work of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, and to be of service in any way that I can for the rest of my life.” Grandmother Agnes went into spontaneous prayer calling on Creator, and I was encircled by all the women and showered with blessings and love. It was an incandescent moment of bliss.

Christmas Tree in La Fonda Hotel Lobby
The Plaza at dusk

During the ten years that I had Casita Juanita, I would have a winter holiday party or a summer garden party and some years both. It was a tradition I wanted to continue at La Fonda, and sent out invitations in November to my closest friends in New Mexico to attend a party to celebrate the Holy Days to be held in the Santa Fe Room at the hotel on Wednesday, December 29, 2010. It was going to be a more formal occasion, dressy/festive attire and a sit down dinner at a long banquet table.

Around sunset on the day of the party, it started snowing for the first time in weeks. A storm was forecast for later that night. Fortunately, Elizabeth Daley and her husband, Jamie Hindman from Taos had booked a room at La Fonda, but others braved the elements from as far south as Madrid and Galisteo. Even the locals were concerned about the icy roads, but only a few friends weren’t able to make it. My beloved sister, Kitty, and her partner, David Samuels, arrived from California earlier in the day and stayed with me at La Fonda through New Years.

The catering staff at La Fonda was fantastic to work with. The chef was willing to prepare the sea bass with the summer recipe which I liked better than how it was prepared on the winter menu. And they special ordered my favorite sparkling wines, Schramsberg Brut Rose and Blanc de Blanc, for the reception in my suite before dinner and with the dessert after dinner.

Shane Cronenweth & JoAnn Balzer – Reception in Casita Juanita de la Fonda before dinner

That afternoon, Judy Broughton came over to the hotel with crisp white place cards and a black calligraphy pen that she used to write the name of each guest on. We put the place cards on the elegantly folded terra-cotta colored cloth napkin for each person sitting at the table.

In the future, I’ll have the option to stay in the same suite for Christmas and New Years every year. I’ve named it Casita Juanita de la Fonda because the bedroom and living room look just like they did at the house. I brought in all my serape blankets and pillows, the entire antique glass bottle collection with crystal crosses on top that had been on the fireplace mantle at the house, as well as artwork, candles, other decorative objects, and books that are kept in storage to be brought to the hotel on every visit. I used a dozen of the tallest glass bottles as centerpieces on the banquet table for dinner, along with votive candles in small tin containers. There was a sparkling ribbon of light from one end of the table to the other.

Kitty w/server Pearl, Judy Broughton
& Ralph Tingle
Joanna Lovetti

The Santa Fe Room is La Fonda’s hidden jewel with its 25 foot high cathedral ceiling, lovely hammered tin chandeliers, striking terra-cotta wall reliefs, a hand-carved wood-burning fireplace, and original 1920s artwork. It has an intimate and charming feel that was perfect for the occasion. Marianne and Bob Kapoun were married at La Fonda thirty-five years ago and had their wedding reception in the Santa Fe Room, which holds fond memories for them.

The menu was sent along with the invitation for my guests to make their selections in advance:

 

Duck Confit Quesadilla
With asadero cheese and served with chipotle sour cream,
pico de gallo, and guacamole
OR
Vegetarian Quesadilla

La Fonda Signature Salad
Grilled pear salad accompanied by petite greens, pomegranate vinaigrette, shaved Manchego cheese, and paprika-smoked Marcona almonds.

Sea Bass
Pan roasted filet topped with Serrano/Basil/Marcona Almond Butter and served with roasted pinon couscous.
OR
Classic Chicken La Fonda

Breast of chicken filled with bacon, red onion, green chile, Jack and cheddar cheese, lightly breaded, flash fried, and oven baked Accompanied by mild green chile cream sauce and garlic mashed potatoes.
OR
Vegetable Plate

Roasted chile poblano filled with roasted root vegetables, leeks, tofu, and shiitake mushrooms Accompanied by endive and red onion salad, sautéed spinach and turnip greens,
saffron couscous, yam mash, and roasted red pepper coulis.

Dessert - Key Lime Pie

 

Flordemayo & Jane
Opening Remarks
Jane laughing

When everyone had assembled in the Santa Fe Room and taken their seats, I made my welcoming remarks from the head of the table, thanking everyone for coming.

Some of my friends in New Mexico whom I’ve known for more than thirty years were at the table with several of their grown children, as well as newer friends. Flordemayo was seated to my right with her husband Marshall Hall.

Cyndi & Tsali Hall

To my left was McClellan “Mac” Hall, father of Tsali Hall who is married to my dear friend Cyndi. I met Cyndi the year I bought Casita Juanita when she was working at Simply Santa Fe, a unique clothing and home furnishings store recently gone out of business. She helped me decorate the house from top to bottom with dishware, artwork, Zapotec Mexican rugs, lamps, as well as a Double D Ranch alligator chair. Though there are many years that separate us in age, we immediately forged a bond and found there was much common ground between us from our childhoods being raised in the South. We are like kinfolk.

I had spent Christmas Eve at Cyndi and Tsali’s house, enjoying the laughter and excitement of their young children and the warmth of family. And after several years since first meeting Mac, I finally had an opportunity to spend some time with him talking about his work. Mac is a Cherokee man with roots in Oklahoma and North Carolina. He’s a former teacher and principal of two tribal schools, and the founder of the National Indian Youth Leadership Project (http://www.NIYLP.org) which he has led for over 30 years. He is also the co-author with Stella Raudenbush of the book Wisdom Teachings – Lessons Learned from Gatherings of Elders.

With feminine wisdom to my right and masculine wisdom to my left, I felt emboldened and inspired to speak my truth, and went on to say, “Tonight is going to be a night of storytelling. I will be the narrator and between each course of our meal, I’ll tell you a chapter from my life in 2010, the good, the bad and the beautiful. We will be celebrating a new beginning that starts tonight at this table, in this magical setting. I never had the chance to talk to each of you at the Otero Street parties, so I’m delighted to have you as a captive audience this evening. Everyone will get to hear the whole story. And by all means, enjoy the wine and delicious feast before you.”

As the Duck Confit Quesadilla was being served, I talked about the lawsuit and ugly consequences that arose during the trial, and yet, from the mud, a lotus blossom emerged when Jyoti and the Grandmothers came into my life. I had initially learned about the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers several years ago when Shana Chrystie gave me a copy of the book Grandmothers Counsel the World – Women Elders Offer Their Vision for Our Planet by Carol Schaefer with a foreword by Winona LaDuke. But it wasn’t until Christmas Eve 2009, when Kitty, Shana and I were in Taos that I learned about the documentary film For the Next 7 Generations – 13 Indigenous Grandmothers Weaving A World That Works, directed by Carole Hart and her late husband, Bruce Hart which Shana gave me that night as a Christmas gift.

I had rented a suite at the Taos Inn. None of us had ever been to the Pueblo for Christmas Eve Mass and the bonfire procession around the plaza following the Mass. It was something I had wanted to do for years as a “life experience.” And it was a powerful one. When we got back to the Inn, we decided to eat our dinner in the suite around the coffee table in front of a kiva fireplace. The Pinion wood started to smoke and we quickly opened the doors and windows to clear out the rooms, however, there was something about the smell of the smoke that seemed to “smudge” us and brought some of the atmosphere and images from the Pueblo into our rooms.

After dinner, Kitty suggested we watch the film on her laptop which she set up on the coffee table. The film resonated so deeply within me that I knew intuitively I would be connected with the Grandmothers in some way, some time in the future, but returning to California in January 2010, preparation for the lawsuit began in earnest. Six months later, however, at Shana’s suggestion, I listened to The Shift Network teleseminar with Jyoti and the Grandmothers, and the rest is history.

Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers - New York 2004

While the La Fonda Signature Salad was being placed before us, I continued to tell the story about my burgeoning relationship with Jyoti and the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.

In October of last year, I went to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York to attend a workshop/retreat with the Grandmothers. Jyoti stayed in California to keep vigil at the bedside of her baby granddaughter, Dyllan, who was waiting for a new heart in the hospital at Stanford Medical Center. Throughout the week at Omega, the power of prayers for Dyllan was palpable, as well as for the child whose heart she would receive. It came to her shortly after the workshop ended, on the day the Grandmothers left the United States to fly to Japan. As I write this story, Dyllan is at Ronald McDonald House preparing for the transition, shortly before her first birthday, to return home to her parents and sister. Miracles do happen, all around us.

The retreat at Omega began each day with a fire prayer ceremony. There were three fire prayer ceremonies, morning, noon and night, with a different Grandmother presiding over each ceremony with prayers and rituals from her unique wisdom tradition. John, the fire keeper, kept the fire going twenty-four hours a day throughout the retreat, even on the day it rained. Songs and chants and drumming were offered by several women most notably, Imani, who usually sang and drummed at each ceremony.

There were “teaching sessions” between the fire prayers each morning and afternoon on various topics such as “Feminine Wisdom” and “Plant Medicine” as well as panel discussions on “Healing Mother Earth.” Several Grandmothers would talk from their tradition at each session which was usually moderated by Ann Rosencranz, the Program Director for CSS. Ann is blessed with a beautiful, powerful voice and sang many Native American chants throughout the retreat. She is in tune with the rhythm of Mother Earth, and the vibration of her voice radiated out in concentric ripples touching the heart of everyone in the circle.

Everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round… The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves…
Black Elk, Oglala Lakota (Sioux) - (1863-1950)

As the main course of Sea Bass, Classic Chicken La Fonda, or the Vegetable Plate was served, I told a story about Grandmother Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance. Grandmothers Beatrice and her sister Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance are Oglala Lakota. They are descendants of Long Visitor, and are members of the Crazy Horse Band, named after Crazy Horse, one of the most revered Oglala Lakota Indian Warriors. They live on the Pine Ridge Reservation in southwestern South Dakota, which is considered to be the most overwhelming impoverished place in America.

During one of the morning sessions as Ann Rosencranz introduced the various Grandmothers seated on the stage, we all realized that Grandmother Beatrice was not there. The Grandmothers decided to carry on and about ten minutes later, Grandmother Beatrice entered the auditorium being supported as she walked by her son, Aloysius. She was hunched over and softly weeping as she took her place on the panel. Ann and the other Grandmothers went to comfort her and Grandmother Beatrice decided to speak. With a trembling voice, she told us she had just learned that her twenty-two year old grandson, Shiloh, had died in the middle of the night before. He suffered from asthma and was awakened from his sleep with an asthma attack. Shiloh called out for his father to bring his inhaler, but by the time his father got to him, Grandmother Beatrice’s grandson was gone. She said, “I don’t want to be here, I want to go home.” Aloysius helped her off the stage and they left the room. We were all broken hearted by the news.

The next morning at the fire prayer ceremony, I was surprised to see that Grandmother Beatrice was still there. She hadn’t left because it was her morning to lead the prayers. As everyone gathered in the circle around the fire pit before the ceremony began, Aloysius sang a chant in his native language accompanied by Imani on her drum. There were frequent references in the song to Shiloh, and also to the “soldier boys and soldier girls” which would soon become clear.

Grandmother Beatrice was seated on a large brown bear skin in front of the fire pit with her peace pipe and an incense bowl filled with juniper in front of her. John, the fire keeper, lit the incense with a hot coal he picked out of the fire with his bare hands, and smudged Grandmother Beatrice with the incense smoke. One of the attendants smudged all the other Grandmothers and their guests in which I was included, then walking in a clockwise direction around the fire, smudged all the others attending the ceremony.

Grandmother Beatrice told us that before she left to come to Omega, she had asked Aloysius if she should bring her peace pipe. She was worried that it might get confiscated at Customs when they arrived in Japan, where they were going after Omega for the home gathering of Grandmother Clara Shinobu Iura, Santo Daime, (Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil) who is the daughter of Japanese immigrants.

Grandmother Beatrice said she realized now why she had brought her peace pipe with her so she and the other Grandmothers could smoke for Shiloh and pray for world peace. At that time, Aloysius invited a young man named Robert Davis to come and sit beside Grandmother Beatrice on the bear skin. Robert knelt down on his knees beside Grandmother Beatrice to prepare the peace pipe with tobacco. Grandmother Flordemayo brought Robert’s mother to sit behind him.

When Robert handed the peace pipe to Grandmother Beatrice, John held a slender stick of wood with a small flame on the tip to the bowl of the pipe to light it. Grandmother Beatrice drew the smoke through the pipe and exhaled it several times, smudging herself with the smoke, then handed the pipe to Robert Davis who repeated the ritual. Aloysius smoked, and then the peace pipe was passed to each of the Grandmothers to smoke. It was a solemn experience, but one filled with amazing grace and reverence.

All the things of the universe are joined with you who smoke the pipe – All send their voices to Wakan-Tanka, the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe, you pray for and with everything. The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us…
Black Elk, Oglala Lakota (Sioux), as told to Joseph Epes Brown in The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux.

It turns out that Robert Davis is a soldier in Afghanistan who had recently completed his second tour of duty. He had been scheduled to come home on leave in a few months to marry his fiancé, but will return to Afghanistan for a third tour after their wedding. Robert had heard about the Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers convening in New York and asked for and was granted permission to come home early to meet them at Omega.

After the fire prayer ceremony had concluded, I remained in my seat in the tent in the row behind the Grandmothers, transfixed by the experience that had just occurred. Prayers for Shiloh, prayers for the dead from war and sickness and for those whose lives are in harms way every minute of every day around the world. Suddenly, someone, I don’t remember who, broke the trance and said, “Jane, you should talk to Robert Davis,” and he sat down beside me.

We immediately began a conversation telling each other some of our life stories. Robert said that he has found himself in an unusual situation in the military. Robert’s commanding officer had asked him to talk with some of the young soldiers before they talked to a chaplain or medic, both men and women who were having psychological problems due to the trauma they were experiencing in the daily environment of war. Robert said, “They sometimes feel more comfortable and can talk more easily to someone their own age, a soldier like them, who has gone through similar experiences in Afghanistan.”

Robert has had no formal training as a therapist or counselor, but is a good listener. And he said, “I tell them they are not this war, this is not who they are and they should never lose sight of that, or where they come from and who their family is. Military service is a job they are doing at this time, but war is not their life.”

Robert went on to say that he has started to study different religions and spiritual traditions in hopes that it will help him help others. That is what compelled him to find his way to meet the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. He wants to better understand how despite our apparent differences, it seems that at the heart of every religion is love and compassion. I said, “Robert, you’re beginning to sound like a Buddhist.” He smiled and said he has been very interested in reading about the Dalai Lama who says that his religion is kindness.

“I have something I want to give you, Robert,” and pulled a Filofax out of my large handmade needlepoint purse, lined with old Afghanistan coins around the opening. I once met an Afgan man in a gas station in Marin County when I was paying my bill who said that one of the old coins was worth about $100 now.

President Obama & the Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama & Hopi Elders

Anyway, I handed Robert a photo I took out of one of the compartments in the Filofax, and said, “I have carried this photo of President Obama and the Dalai Lama in my wallet for some years since the two men met at the time Congress awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to His Holiness. Now President Obama is your Commander in Chief, and he and the Dalai Lama are both men of peace. Remember this, Robert, because they have the wisdom and compassion to help guide you.”

Also in the Filofax were other small photos and cards that I had laminated, some about the size of a business card, of Our Lady of Guadalupe, my astrological chart, the Buddha, and a photograph of the Dalai Lama shaking hands with one of the Hopi Elders gathered around him when he came to the United States for the first time in 1979.

I hesitated for a moment, realizing that the photo of His Holiness and the Hopi held a greater significance for me and I felt that old pang of attachment, just briefly, before saying to Robert, “This photo is very special to me, but I want you to have it because of the ceremony we have just participated in together. These are your people now, Robert, and we are all from the same soul tribe.”

Facing camera from left: Bob Kapoun, Ralph Tingle & Marcia Keegan. From right: Kitty, Jamie Hindman, & Elizabeth Daley

Looking down the long banquet table in the amber glow of the Santa Fe Room at La Fonda Hotel, I saw tears in the eyes of several friends. Glancing at Harmon Houghton and Marcia Keegan, longtime friends, and the publishers of my books, Precious Jewels of Tibet and Love & Loss, I told the gathering, “The photographer who took the photo of the Dalai Lama and the Hopi Elders was Marcia Keegan.” Marcia didn’t hesitate and said, “Don’t worry, Jane, I’ll get you another copy.”

As we approached the last course on the menu, the Key Lime Pie, I began to tell the final chapter of the story.

“Many of you know that in five months, on May 18, 2011, I will celebrate my seventieth birthday. I will be in Anchorage, Alaska, at the International Council of the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers home gathering for Grandmother Rita Pitka Blumenstein, Yupik, from the Arctic Circle.”

Grandmother Rita’s family was from the village of Tununak, located on the northeast coast of Nelson Island, a four-square-mile island in southwestern Alaska. She was born on a fishing boat on the shore of the barren and bitter cold of the Alaska tundra. Grandmother Rita’s Yupik name means “Tail End Clearing of the Pathway to the Light.”

When Grandmother Rita was nine years old, her great-grandmother told her that some day when she was a grandmother, she would sit on a council with a group of thirteen grandmothers. Her great-grandmother gave her thirteen special stones and eagle plumes, which she was to keep safe until the time came to give them to each of the grandmothers, keeping one for herself. When the Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers initially came together in 2004, with tears in her eyes, Grandmother Rita gave the special stones and eagle plumes, wrapped in red cloth bundles, to the grandmothers and said, “Thirteen stones in honor of the thirteen Grandmothers, the thirteen planets in our universe, and the thirteen full moons of the year.”

Following the Grandmother’s Council in Anchorage, I’m planning to go on a cruise through the Alaskan Glaciers, something I have always wanted to do, which serendipitously begins the day after the council ends. I’ve longed to be surrounded by the crystal walls of ice and to experience the silence of floating across the water through the glacial canyons.

As I have reflected on the significance of the milestone that is approaching, I’m putting the wheels in motion to retire from Lucasfilm next year in 2012 on the occasion of my thirty-fifth anniversary of working with George Lucas. I’ve said many times that it has been My Brilliant Career which is the title of a film, based on a true story, directed by Gilliam Armstrong in 1979, starring Sam Neill and Judy Davis as a young woman who grew up impoverished in the Australian Outback but becomes a successful writer.

Working with George all these years has been a long and amazing journey through the ebb and flow of life, love, and relationships with all its joys and heartaches, an emphasis on the joy. It may seem cliché to say that I have learned so much from the experience, but it’s true, and it has prepared me for the adventures that are to come.

I have found a spiritual home with the Center for Sacred Studies and will continue to support the work of the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, as well as my Tibetan family and other organizations that support the Tibetan people inside Tibet and in exile. I plan to spend more time writing, in meditation and prayer for world peace, and to stay as present as I can in the moment to live life to the fullest each day.

In Mac Hall’s book Wisdom Teachings – Lessons Learned from Gatherings of Elders, there is a sidebar with the question “What is an Elder?” which says,

Often elders are simply defined as older people, but not every senior citizen is truly an elder. Elders are the empowered servants of the people. Elders are those people who throughout a lifetime, have worked to internalize and give expression to the highest value of their communities…

Kitty, David & Cheryl Bass

This is what I aspire to be. I am embracing conscious aging with the intention of being of service to others in every way that I can for as long as I live.

Judy Broughton’s partner, Ralph Tingle, stood up with a glass of Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc in hand and made a beautiful toast. I received a standing ovation and bowed in gratitude.

It had been a magical evening and at the conclusion, Kitty and David and some of the younger folks went around to La Fiesta Lounge off the hotel lobby to listen to Bill Hearn sing his wonderful southwestern songs, one of my favorites being “New Mexico Rain.”

By midnight the Plaza was covered with powdery snow sparkling with the reflection of the multicolored lights strung in all the trees which I could see from the balcony at Casita Juanita de la Fonda. It was a White Christmas after all.

And the New Year began with the realization of infinite possibilities.

Welcome, O life!
I go to encounter for the millionth time
The reality of experience…


James Joyce
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


Photo Credits/Permissions:

Photo of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers New York 2004 used with permission of the Grandmothers
Photo of the Dalai Lama and the Hopi Elders used with permission of the photographer: Marcia Keegan
Photos taken at Holiday Party used with permission of the photographer: Cyndi Hall
Photo of President Obama and the Dalai Lama: Photographer Unknown/Public Domain

 

 
 
©2006 Jane Bay - All Rights Reserved