healing haven

June 29, 2008

Antique Gold Coins

Filed under: appreciation,healing,memoir — by thalia @ 8:09 am
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           Originally, I started writing to uncover what lay buried in the mud within me.  As a child, there were things I could write about that I wouldn’t dare say out loud, things needing to be brought out into the open so as not to fester deep inside me, developing into a volcano.  My diary was my best friend for many years.  I would write as I huddled in my cubbyhole in the attic eaves, a place designed for storage but used as a private space for me.  Flashlight in hand, a book to read and a diary to write in—all comprised my comfort area.  Perhaps, sometimes, I would be lucky enough to have an Army-green can of cinnamon swirled pound cake, rations left over from World War II that my father acquired years later. Reading, writing, eating—all the comforts for a shy young girl needing an outlet for her emotions and a safe haven. 


One day, in the eighth grade, the assignment was to write about a hobby we enjoyed and how we became involved in that hobby.  I wrote all about being in my grandparents’ very old, rambling house, with the rickety staircase going up into the musty attic.  On one rainy day I was continuing my exploration of the house.  While rummaging in the attic, I discovered a collection of coins in an old, tea-colored and stained box, tucked away in a hidden nook.  When I brought them downstairs and questioned my grandfather, I found out the assorted coins belonged to his grandfather.  My grandfather added a few more when he found them as a boy, but then the collection was once again hidden away.  We looked at the coin collection together and, as he told me about the individual coins, I became interested not only in the history revealed about the coins themselves but also about the history of my ancestors.  So I continued collecting coins and relished the feeling of being part of a long line of people who engaged in this hobby. 


I finished writing just as the teacher called for the papers to be handed in.  I felt good about what I had written. 


However, I couldn’t sleep at all that night.  I tossed and turned so much I gave myself a headache.  I agonized.  How terrible!  How could I have done that?  Thoughts raced through my head and collided with each other, creating pain in my head.  What is wrong with me?   None of what I wrote was true.  I made up the whole story about collecting coins, and I had no idea why I did.  I didn’t remember reading something similar in any of the many books I read.  How could I have written such a lie?  Why did I?  By the next morning I was a wreck and my stomach was in knots.  I couldn’t eat breakfast and dreaded going to school yet I also couldn’t wait to get to school to admit to the English teacher it was all a lie.  With many false starts and gulps, sweaty hands and a flushed face, I finally told her.  None of what I had written was true.  I was sure I would at least wind up with a detention and my parents would be told. 


Much to my surprise, my usually extremely strict and exacting English teacher said it was perfectly all right.  She read the stories and found mine to be well-written so I received an ‘A.’ The fact I lied made no difference—it was the use of grammar and the way the story was told that was important.  She said the story was a far more interesting way to start a hobby than the other students’ stories were.  And she appreciated why I felt I had to tell her the truth.


Since then, the many kernels of writing excitement have popped open to reveal a poem, a memoir, a story, a book.  As I delve into memoir writing, I still agonize over trying to dig out the truth rather than use a fabrication.  I read of getting to the emotional truth rather than necessarily the factual truth.  Does it really matter if the curtains were white or yellow that day 50 years ago or is the important memory the feel and smell of the starched curtain (white or yellow) to remind you of your Grandmother’s living room?  William Zinsser speaks of “inventing the truth,” of acknowledging we write of the truth as we know it, not necessarily as anyone else knows it.   Bill Roorbach says, “The reader also comes expecting that the writer is operating in good faith, that is, doing her best to get the facts right.”  And, of course, the recent controversy about James Frey’s work continues. 


Over the years, writing has become a connector, a healer, a transmission, a memory organizer, a revealer, a storyteller.  Writing allows for patterns to be discovered, for healing threads to be woven into a wondrous tapestry with loose ends reconnected, for stories and ideas to be passed on to future generations, for the awareness of not only who, what, when and where but also why and how and what were the feelings and the lessons learned.  Writing has revealed preciously hidden meanings and patterns in a tapestry much richer that I could ever imagine.


I have written enough now to realize I am the pot of gold buried at the end of the rainbow, with each memoir or story or poem an antique gold coin, worth more in the present because it is based on an experience from the past.  Added together, these gold pieces provide a treasure for my future as well as for those of my children, grandchildren and others.  If I hadn’t dug up these memories and experiences, I would have lost them forever.  They may be covered with the remains of dirt, and some may be a little discolored and faded, but the glint of gold still peeks through.  After a little polishing and cleaning up, these antique gold coins will be worth a fortune.

              – published in Story Circle Journal – 2007 –


June 22, 2008

Voices from the Past (8)


Feeling cleansed of both physical and emotional “stuff” from Dame Washalot’s Bath House, she followed the walking tour map to the Catacombs.  Most of her knowledge about catacombs was derived from movies of the 1950’s like The Robe, Quo Vadis, and Ben Hur which all portrayed early Christians hiding out and having services there.  Later, she was surprised to learn catacombs were actually pre-Christian and even pre-Roman, and were used for burials and as hiding places from persecution.  The Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks all utilized catacombs.


More recently she read Internet articles about supposed inner-Earth races living underground in catacombs, caverns and tunnels.  And a Hope Indian legend speaks of a very ancient complex beneath the surface occupied by a lizard-race 5000 years ago. 


It didn’t help her to recall these interesting but potentially frightening ideas as she moved further into the catacombs.  Even holding the torch she had been given at the entrance near the statue of Jesus at Gethsemane didn’t help—it just cast odd shadows.    At first the walls were smooth so it wasn’t bad, but now there were cubby-holes and recesses with statues or sculptures within, to which the flickering light added a macabre element.  As she approached each item, she thought they were moving.  As she peered closer, she could then discern they were just statues of angels and people. 


I guess there are people buried here or maybe just their ashes are buried here.  Reminds me of that Reader’s Digest article speaking of how the carbon can be extracted from the cremated remains of a loved one, and with heat and pressure, can be made into a real diamond.   What an odd line from the CEO of that company: ‘It isn’t in memory of a loved one, it is the loved one.’ 


Oh, what’s that?  Looks like it’s moving.  She crept closer.  It’s a gargoyle, and here’s another.  Why would they be in here?  Maybe to protect the remains, as they usually are supposed to be ugly to scare anyone unwanted away.


Something flew at her out of the dark; she ducked as another something flew past.  Bats! Ugh! They must be roosting further within since I haven’t seen any guano so far.   



Now it was totally dark, except for the sputtering torch.  She approached a marble bench in front of a sarcophagus within a recessed part of the wall.  Tired, she placed the torch into a holder and sat down.  I can’t walk all day the way I used to.  Probably not too many years before my ashes will be placed somewhere.  Would like for them to be scattered in various places but what if they were in a place like this?  Maybe I’m passing or looking at my own burial from another time—the circle of time.


She felt very much at peace here, surrounded by the remains of many people, deep within the earth—no noises of cars, power tools, construction, cell phones going off annoyingly or people having to talk all the time.  Silence—stillness…  She closed her eyes and meditated, sinking further into her center.  First the pinprick of light in the darkness, then the starburst.  She drifted out of her body, moved through the packed earth, into the air, above the city.  She could see-sense for miles.


peaceful… but not the time to continue…time to return


With that thought she moved back into her body, but aware her physical body was now surrounded by other bodies.  Keeping her eyes closed, she reached out her awareness to assess who was there.  Feels fine.  Good energy.


She opened her eyes.  A child was standing in front of her, looking at her.  A woman on one side, an elderly man on the other.  She nodded in respect to each translucent person—each smiled in return.  She knew words were unnecessary.


Hello.  Who are you?  How can I help?


The woman’s thoughts were clear: Please, help us.  We stay here now, close to what had been our bodies.   But we need to have our stories told.


The elderly man nodded as the little girl stroked her hand.  He then thought: There are others, too, needing to find the meaning in the lives they lived.  By telling their stories you will discover the underlying pattern and meaning, and reveal it to each of us.  We can sense you’ve done it for others, could you do it for us?


I would be honored to tell your stories.  I’m sure each one would be as interesting and meaningful as each person is unique, no matter how boring they think their life is.  I’m Thalia.  Glad to meet you…

(see also http://cityofladies.wordpress.com/2008/06/22/voices-from-the-past/#comments)


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