I want to thank the literally hundreds of people who have written with their support and love, in emails and FaceBook comments, in what has been a grievous time for me. I have been touched to the point of grateful tears. Appropriately, the following is an excerpt from my novel currently being revised, “The Kokopelli Seed.” Appropriate, because it tells in fictionalized form the story of so called “troubled youth” first laying rocks to acknowledge their long unacknowledged losses and pain… and then ends with them ready to build a second cairn representing all the things they had to be thankful for. From personal grief to a larger grieving for the world, followed by the sweet savoring and giving that is sorrow’s balance. So-called novel or not, it happened pretty much as it is written here. I know, I was there. -Love, JWH
The Grieving Cairns
By Jesse Wolf Hardin
“ You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from a master.” (St. Bernard of Clairvaux)
The last kid put his personal rock with the others’, fitting it carefully into its place in the pile they called a “cairn.” Then he stepped back to wipe the sweat off his brow. It was important that they had each selected their own stone, and then carried it themselves the long distance uphill. The kids’ long-haired counselor smiled at the feat, knowing how tempted they were to think him a kook and drop out of the two week program, to head back down to Taos and party until the next time they got in trouble. And frankly, there was plenty of reason for them to bail out, from the difficult hikes to the kinds of truths they were made to face. But then there was something cool about the crazy things their counselor had them do, about being listened to for the first time in their lives, that caused most of them to stick it out.
The counselor understood what his kids felt. The youngsters weren’t “apathetic” – as so often portrayed by the media and officialdom — they were simply pissed-off, and paralyzed. There was no excuse for some of the rotten things they’d been busted for, but any major changes in their lives would first require an understanding why they did what they did. The bad drugs and wild lifestyles, all the cheap and dangerous highs were just their way of pushing to make their lives seem more real and significant, just a push to experience more, and feel more. They saw life as a flexible membrane, and were determined to stretch it as far as it would go.
He had finally got what he wanted so bad: his own “Disenfranchised-Youth Franchise”. He would go back to his treasured mountain cabin after each session, wondering how the kid’s were doing since he saw them last, and practicing the new dances they always insisted he learn (even if it meant breaking his glasses from doing break-dance spins on his head). He didn’t care what the kid’s interests were, so long as they applied themselves at something, anything. What he’d say he hoped for them was to distinguish themselves at whatever “tripped their trigger.” He loved these unhappy crews, felt the need to protect them from their addiction to being victims. Children and flies are some of the few creatures that will rush back to the exact spot where the swatter struck. In a sense, these young men and women had each packed their own weighty “rock” long before working their way through the confusion of broken homes, boring schools, and finally detention. They’d packed it all the way to the start of this oddball wilderness program, to this, their best chance to come to know and respect their selves. And first-ever permission to grieve. Only by opening to their pain, he knew, could they trust their bliss. And only by honoring what had been lost, could they appreciate the advantages blessings that remained or the blessings still to come.
For the cairn exercise, the kids were instructed to focus on some wondrous element of their past: some special person, place or living thing that made their childhood meaningful — something that had since been disgraced, defiled, stolen or destroyed. For some this meant the family they never had. Or some “Enchanted Forest” that may have been no bigger than a single undeveloped lot, that they watched covered over with asphalt for a new highway. For another, it meant the tiny run-off creek with the polliwogs in it, that nonetheless appeared to the boy as big and mysterious, as complete as an entire wild river ecosystem — later channeled into culverts and sewers. A special old apple tree in the backyard that held not only fruit in its branching grasp, but fruitful wisdom — cut down while the children were at school because some idiot gardener told dad it had “bugs.” One stone was placed for the crazy old lady with the twenty-seven Siamese cats, found frozen to death when the city turned off her gas over an unpaid bill. Another stone represented a failed teen romance, and true to form, insisted on rolling to the bottom time and again.
The cairn had grown over the course of the years, and in time featured a rock for nearly every threatened paradise, every nearby rural community turned into another Aspen for the rich. Not a few had ached for what they thought of as the “Wild West,” a place where eccentrics where valued and promises kept, a place more free than the imagination itself. Wild mustangs and thundering bison, chased by eagle-feathered braves, cowboy’s and outlaws who stood up for what they believed in even it was wrong. And it seemed like everybody’s kids hurt over the loss of freedom and privacy, the absence of opportunities for adventure and purpose. The bigger the pile got, the more vanished loves and dreams, critters and playgrounds it came to stand up for. Here was a monument to that which was no more.
The boy they called “Frog” left one for the amphibians no longer heard singing from ponds poisoned by acid rain. “Charity” came forward with a rock alarmingly shaped like the body of a baby, placing it in the conical pile for “the child I’ll never be again,” They all looked at each other, the toughest playground bully or cafeteria arsonist swinging around to take the trail back, hurrying on rather than let their buddies see the tears welling up in their eyes.
Soon every kid but one had added his grieving stone to the rest. Finally “Punky,” the smallest of the bunch, came huffing out of the thick brush. In his arms, covering much of his face, was a boulder at least half his own weight. They watched as a tiny hero, the champion of some unknown cause, completed what appeared to be the impossible. Dropping the monster stone high upon the cairn berm, Punky fell to one knee, gasping for air.
“So whatcha’ grievin’?,” Dag asked. But the sage counselor already knew. He could sense the little fellow’s grief over the mother that passed away, the father who didn’t try hard enough to understand him. And more than that, he could feel the way the kid suffered over the uniformity of shopping malls, the disappearance of cowboys and the urbanization of Indians. Gone, the likes of Chief Joseph and Billy The Kid. Gone, the grizzly bears and grizzly fighters, the code of the West… and all the rest.
“Everything,” Punky answered, trailing off to a whisper. “Every-darn-thing.”
The shaggy headed counselor smiled to himself, thinking how tomorrow was as good a time as any to start up the equally important “Gratitude Cairn,” in a secret glen he knew about next to a sacred spring. There were, after all, no shortage of rocks, as well as no shortage of hills still to climb. And no shortage of blessings to notice and gifts to savor… people and places to thank, and awakened lives to wholly celebrate.
(post and forward freely…)