I take down the generic
white jug from the shelf,
the one made with ten thousand
others in a factory in Taiwan.
I wish it were the Meissen porcelain one
with the blue onion pattern that survived
two world wars, but not my need
for funds to finish graduate school.
I long, too, for the cut crystal bowl,
etched with delicate flowers
in which you served ripe, sweet berries
but was later sold to pay for books.
Or the silver set with your initials
engraved on the handles, I imagine
a stranger now running her fingers along
the grooves those letters make.
I only held onto the coffee cups from which
you sipped your Kaffee in the afternoons,
a slow pause in the day, your eyes looking
far into the distance.
—Christine Valters Paintner (first published in Skylight 47)
Dearest Monks, artists, and pilgrims,
The photo is of me as a young girl sitting with my father on a bench in the Austrian Alps, taking a break from one of the many hikes we took together in the summers. I have shared some of my journey with him here before – his layers of addiction, his inability to offer unconditional love, his narrowness of vision. This is a part of my inheritance that I continue to name and own. His grief and despair flow through me, rising and falling like the tide, and I make space for them within me.
Joy and wonder are there too. I hold the objects that belonged to him like a talisman pressed into my palm, pointing me in the direction of a wide landscape of unlived possibility. I follow this compass for him and for all of my ancestors who were bound by fear and a rejection of their deepest longings. I live into my own delight for his healing and for my own.
My father died 22 years ago. Several summers ago I journeyed to Latvia, the land of his birth, a place he had to flee at age twelve, not knowing he would never return again. There I encountered the vulnerable little boy he once was. A boy who walked barefoot along the edges of the Baltic Sea, whose heart must once have been as wide as the ocean and raced with excitement in his chest in wonder at the beauty of it all. And I discovered he is still very much alive, running across hot summer sand, relishing the cool breeze through his damp hair, arms spread wide, eyes closed, turning slowly. In quiet moments I turn with him, revolving around a stillpoint within, and I hear him whispering that he is free, that I am free.
If you want to make time and space for remembrance of those who have walked before you, please join us for our online retreat Honoring Saints and Ancestors (starts tomorrow!)
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE