Sometimes it’s difficult to find out where things on the web originate. I came across this photograph this evening on Facebook.
The Dream of Margaret Oenpelli
I think Margaret is a native Australian Aboriginal woman. Her photograph and dream touched me very deeply. I never met either of my grandmothers. I have Muscogee blood on my father’s side of the family, but don’t have any connection with any of my Muscogee kin or culture. This saddens me.
I wrote the following Fairy Tale about three years ago when I was a member of an online community called Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist. This post has been sitting in my ‘Drafts’ box for two years. Maybe waiting for this moment. So here it is:
Las dos Melindas
Melindy Crabtree and Melinda Schwakhofer
Once upon a time, a baby girl was born. Her parents named her after her great grandmother, Melindy Crabtree, a woman no longer alive. These were some of the stories they told about her:
She and her mother and her mother’s mother came from a fertile land thickly wooded and criss-crossed with free flowing rivers. She could speak the language of the forest and knew where to find medicine plants. At the full moon, she would go to a well and talk to a wolf, there in the silver moonlight. . . . . But now, her language was forgotten and the places of these happenings were long gone. Her eyes which had lovingly witnessed the forest and rivers and all of the inhabitants there – two-legged, four-legged, winged and scaled, and held them in her care, had closed long ago.
But this newborn babe has her great grandmother’s eyes and sees the beauty of the world in the morning sun slanting through the bedroom window. She has her grandmother’s ears and hears the language of the forest in the windy trees. The breeze and leaves whisper to her,
‘We have given you her name.
You are the child who hears the call to home.
The one who can speak the ancient language,
The one who remembers.’
Then, a few years older, up and out at dawn. A backyard explorer. The little one who finds red salamanders beneath the stones, collected from a desert river . . . . .
Exploring a sunflower
and lily of the valley growing secretly behind the garage. Rising early and into the sleepy garden to listen to spiders spinning stories and to pick the dew-dropped roses.
The girl who halts the games of tag and hide-and-seek to watch the sunset and climbs onto the roof at dawn to see a comet. She has not forgotten.
When she was twelve, only once ever and never before that day and never after that day, a vee of geese flew honking far above the suburbs, flying south.
‘Don’t forget’, they say, ‘soon you’ll stop hearing and seeing the beauty all around, but deep in your soul you won’t forget. We won’t let you forget.’
In the hard years that followed, she did stop seeing and hearing, in the struggle to survive being a girl in a time and place that was not friendly or safe. But, now and again, a beautiful sunset or pelicans following the shoreline after a day at the beach or, once, an hour spent playing with a dog in a mountain stream – these things would remind her of who she is. A Creek Indian princess with royal blood flowing through her veins and the fluent tongue of the river flowing from her lips.
Still, an iron band grew around her heart and stilled her tongue and silenced her hands.
This band kept her from remembering who she is and from speaking the truth about her people and the destruction of their lands and the winged and four-legged and scaled brothers and sisters who were and are in peril. About the ancestor’s story and how it affects us today. About how the land and the birds and animals and fish have fallen into despair over the loss of the people who could speak the language of the forest.
This girl grew into a woman, still silent, still half remembering, half forgetting. Yet, deep in her soul remained the memory, the flame, the truth, and every now and then, she would recognize a piece of music or artwork or a writing which had this same flame of truth, of what was true for someone who took the risk to say or write or paint or dance it. And this was good.
These encounters kept her flame burning, not so forgotten, but still hidden. The iron band made sure to keep it hidden, for if the wrong people saw the flame, it could be very dangerous for her and her people. It was still dangerous to tell their story, to tell the truth.
After a number of years had passed, the woman found her way to a doorway. It felt different from the many doorways she had encountered and gone through in her life. This one felt right, welcoming and safe, but like an adventure was on the other side. A thick sturdy oak door with beautiful iron hinges and a handle which just fit into her hand, like it was made for her.
A warm glow came through the keyhole. Looking down, she noticed that she was holding a key in her hand. An iron key which matched the hinges on the door. The key to this door!
She put the key in the lock, turned it and pushed the door open. The room was beautiful, rounded and lined with wood. Thick soft rugs carpeted the floor. Windows and skylights looked outside, but it was twilight now. The candles lit in the room reflected on the glass, reflected the room back to her. Here, a table laid with her favourite food, just exactly what she craved right now. There, a soft, inviting bed welcomed her to rest after she had eaten.
By and by, she awoke to sunlight and the murmur of soft voices. She opened another door and stepped into a flower filled courtyard. There were kind, compassionate, loving people standing in a circle, which opened at her doorway.
‘Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you to arrive’.
When she opened her mouth and spoke the language of the forest, everyone understood just what she was saying. The woman looked into her hand and found that she held a delicate golden key. As she took her place in the circle, the iron bands around her heart and hands dissolved and fell away.
Happily ever after?
We don’t know, as the story is still unfolding. Now the woman has remembered the fluent river language. From her days and nights and years of wandering in the desert, she can witness and speak of the endless beauty of the world and of the unbearable pain and agony of exile from it. She has vowed to the ancestors to unflinchingly tell the truth, to tell their story. Using her words, no longer silent, and her hands, no longer still.
The ancestors say,
‘We have given you her name.
You are gifted with the vision to see deeply into the heart of things –
to see the beauty and the pain.
You have the language to tell our story.’
Who will listen and will they be able to hear?
Who will look and be able to see?
The ending of the story depends on everyone.