May Laura entered the world and like most babies knew only enough to scream for some food, and maybe a bit of heat. What she didn’t know–wouldn’t realize for some time–was that she was swaddled immediately by family. Six older siblings would plant their first kisses; parents of her parents would come coo a lullaby. Aunts and uncles and cousins would bring gifts and greetings as the the muddy roads permitted. May Laura Stevenson, born April 29, 1874, would grow up along the Monongahela River, just outside the bustling town of Greensboro surrounded by her kin, and by the memories of those who had lived along those banks for decades. Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson came from settler stock, and among their ancestors were distillers and fullers, iron furnace operators and glass blowers, hotel owners and farmers. Phillips, Gregg, Stevenson, Eberhart, Jones, Rhodes–all families that had shaped the life along the Monongahela since 1800. Baby May would find great comfort in that sense of place, in that network of love. Life would hold some very hard lessons.
No Mud. No Lotus.
ON a cloudy September Sunday, I attended a Day of Mindfulness, led by the incredible teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. His dharma talk examined the nature of suffering, that most human experience that grounds us all. By focusing on the present moment, he said, we provide the space in which we can focus on our suffering, to cradle it as we would a small baby. By paying attention to what pains us, we can transform that suffering, into compassion – for ourselves. This compassion is the foundation of happiness, joy; a base for healthy communication and compassion for others. Without this mud – this suffering – there can be no flower – joy, happiness, and compassion.
This last year has been very, very muddy, and I am looking for flowers, for trees, in fact, with root systems to stop the erosion of this rainy life season….And I keep smacking into the words of Thich Nhat Hahn.
The suffering inside us contains the suffering of our ancestors, who may not have been able to transform their suffering…and transmitted their unresolved suffering to us. If we are able to understand that suffering and thereby transform it we are healing our parents, our ancestors, as well as, ourselves.
The Art of Communicating
I have found the mindfulness exercises to be moments of peace and comfort. I focus on my breathing and in that space acknowledge my sorrow. I don’t always feel better, or happy, right then. But I can tolerate the pain, and see a path forward, and with relief know that I will heal, and joy will come.
This Thanksgiving day I am grateful to have experienced human compassion, a listening ear, a tight squeeze of love. I am grateful, too, for the opportunity to offer that compassion to others, and to my ancestors, as well. Their suffering is the dirt of my family’s trees, and with mindful genealogy perhaps I can transform their suffering into understanding and compassion – for my grandparents, my parents, for me, for my present companions.
People may call me a hoarder, a sentimentalist, a pack rat. But I prefer to think of myself as a Keeper of the Lore, continuing the work of my brilliant ancestors who kept receipts, photographs, letters, cards, documents, books, and negatives.
YES, NEGATIVES ARE A POSITIVE
Today, I felt like fossicking through my
Like magic, an image has appeared without chemicals or dark room!! Save this jpeg file to your computer, and you can spiff it up with a bit of photo editing. I prefer to use the online service, PicMonkey.com. Ultimately, I end my morning with this great shot:
Anyone else have some negatives to share???
“Do you have any photographs of you, as a kid?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised by what I have,” said my mother.
I inherited fourteen assorted boxes and two trunks of photographs, documents, and special items at my mother’s death. As I unpacked each one, layer by layer, and recorded its contents, I was swept by regrets and wistful desires. So many stories, seen too late! Why didn’t she share her doll cradle? Or show me her baby books? What tales did she learn on her Aunt Anna’s lap?
I have finally completed this preliminary inventory, and have begun brainstorming a list of archival supplies that I will need to conserve this collection. And I have shed the regrets for stories lost. I have enough ingenuity and curiosity to play family detective, as well as, family curator.
I have scanned a number of family photographs from the early 1900s recently. I paused over this one, and returned to gaze upon this scene, time after time. The baby of the trio, Paul, appears to have pulled the book, hard, his way, so that he can see what Ivan and Janet are smiling about. Click on the photograph, to the attachment, and take some time to enlarge this group shot. The children are not reading a book aloud, to keep Paul still. They are looking at a photograph of three children. I imagine Paul, clambering up on the table while yelling, “Let me see! Let me see!” When at last he sits still, photograph in hand, little Paul shrieks with delight. “That’s ME!”
Then, in that moment of still recognition, Al Eckerman captured his subjects in this beautiful portrait.