The Gift Of Sneezing
It is nearly Thanksgiving and the afternoon sun is still blazing through the golden trees and up through the hills. Overhead migrating birds continue to leave the valley sounding stories about their summer adventures and cautions about the upcoming winter. The smell of late fall, wet moss, and rain on the pavement is being stirred with the fragrances of chimney smoke, evergreens, and spices. Late fall, the doorway to the celebrations of traditions and a sense of place.
Our identity, our sense of belonging and our memories of landscape are tied closely to the colors, scents and rituals of the upcoming holidays. We become the firesides and shelters of our childhoods – Westerners, New Englanders, creatures tethered to the places where we played and dreamed of the upcoming of school vacations and the wonders of winter. And we become, in the gatherings of the upcoming season, the poets and the story tellers of our particular histories and the landforms in which they occurred.
Our sense of self – tied so closely to a sense of place and family and childhood activites – grounds us and steadies our posture in a world increasingly unfamiliar. Our performance of the magic that recreates the winters of our childhood also grounds us and enables us to stay connected to people and creatures present and lost; enables us to generate pieces of ourselves and our identities into the future.
As for many of you it has been, at our house, a wonderful and at the same time challenging year. I woke up early this morning- in that hour before the light has rebuilt my defenses – and into the darkness the eyes of my mind rummaged through those things over which I have little control, those things I could perhaps come at with a new word, a new gesture, a new solution, those things that might be hiding around a corner of the future, those things that my thoughts sometimes find in the darkness of early morning that only getting up will erase. And there he was, our old dog, puzzled and sleepy at the hour, but ready with his enthusiasm and routine. He got up a little unsteady as he increasingly does – got off of the bed and stood by the dim but rising light through the door and I said, “Good morning.” He replied with a sneeze. I said, “Is it breakfast time?” He sneezed again. He only sneezes to this greeting in the morning and this question about breakfast. This sneezing to my greeting and question is his “yes,” it is our ritual, one of those exchanges that draws me into the beauty and wonder of my life and away from the sometimes dark questions that come before dawn. He goes outside before he eats. I open the door, he heads out, I look into the woods. I do this every morning and I am grounded to this place I live, this place in late fall with its scents of fallen leaves and fading flowers, this place with the growing sound of the creek that is swelling with fall rains, this place with its morning conversations of birds and crows. Whatever else the world might offer up as a challenge today, I am grounded to a place where I am steeped in expectations of the upcoming summer, those minor and large, those sights and sounds and events and traditions that gift me with identity and purpose. Lucky comes back onto the porch. He sneezes as he does. “Yes” I sneeze back. He takes one last look at the woods himself before coming into breakfast and sneezing again. “Yes, I’d love breakfast.” I sneeze at him again and as we both laugh at our ritual in our different ways and another late fall morning has come around.
I wish you the best of days in the upcoming weeks. No matter how small, wallow in your opportunities. No matter however else you may be distracted wallow in your sense of place and your expectations for the upcoming winter. Welcome to November and the opportunity of one breakfast and one more chance to look out at the world and sneeze “Yes.”
“Yes.” I love this ritual that so frequently and lovingly dampens the bareness of my morning toes while at the same time always delivering the power to feed my soul.
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Photograph of morning: Pixabay
“Prayer and Response” an encaustic painting by Fred Swan