Digging for Roots

I flew up to Indiana on Tuesday to be with Wilma Dean when her little brother passed away.  Grandma is almost 88-years-old, and old Uncle Pete...he is still her “little brother.”

Pete was the tan-skinned, puppy-eyed boy--one of Ralph & Alma’s nine kids - who grew up to be an Indiana farmer like his dad before him, and was known as the one who chased  you down to plant big, wet kisses on your cheek no matter your age or gender.

When my dad and I drove into the town that seems barely a town, and walked into the humble funeral home whose door opens into the street, I didn’t expect to feel so much really.  I was there to support Grandma...and maybe also because some small part of me is awakening to the fact that something is being lost.

Something I was never certain about until now.

Roots were a vague idea to me, as we moved from army post to post while cousins and great aunts and uncles shared life together in the Midwestern fields.

These people who climb the branches of our family tree were part of the landscape of my childhood, but I wasn’t convinced we had much in common.  I could never keep the names or lineage straight when we visited, and as much fun as those annual family reunions with the long folding tables in Uncle Bob’s garage were, it was just one day each year or two...and I felt my siblings and I were sort of the odd ones out.  Welcomed...loved, but…visitors.

Often when we  can’t have something, we decide we never really wanted/needed it anyway.

But when I stepped into the funeral home and felt the hot grief in my chest and behind my eyes and I couldn’t stop the relentless flood, I knew it wasn’t only for Uncle Pete, or for kind Aunt Frankie, now widowed, or for young Brandon and Kinnea, who have shared daily life with their Grandpa Pete. 

It was for all of these faces gathered together, these hearts that knew my Dad when he was a boy and watched my parents fall in love...the only people left in this world who knew and loved my great-grandma, whom I also loved.

These who have followed our life journeys across states and seas and have cared for my grandparents in our absence.  Our roots really are entwined, and they are beautiful, interesting humans, and there is something good between us.

But the nine are now two.  Those kids grew up and started something, and now just two remain - Grandma and her baby sister, and what did we make of the time?  Why didn’t I know all their names?  What stories were left untold?  What will happen to the tree when the last of the nine have gone?

I am not afraid.  But I am struck that the connection, however fragile, does actually matter.  To ME.  I did want it, afterall.


I have looked for them in a spiritual sense, allowing the warm body of believers around me to be my extended family since I left home.  There is that.  The Church.  Good roots.  Faithful branches that hold.

And maybe that’s all you’ve got.

Or do you feel you have nothing but parched roots and broken branches, because your family is gone or they are here but torn in some way worse than absence, and you don’t realize there might just be a way to find siblings, parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents yet...

Be encouraged…

It’s really never too late to start a family.

It’s not too late to start digging for roots.

la iglesia

...writing in Costa Rica, a poem...

The plaza surrounds the cathedral

With concrete pavers

Boys on skateboards sliding across space and time

Brown-skinned mamas, babies in slings

Trucks and vegetable vendors, holding out dirty nails and strands of garlic

Laughing exchanges between old men

These towns are built from the inside out

Beginning with la iglesia.

Someone told us all pueblos have these three:

Iglesia, Futbol, Cantina

Not sure of the order.

I haven’t yet stepped inside one of these monuments, but I imagine:

Exquisite attention to detail,

Arches and stained glass,

Artfully constructed altars,

Firm pews with straight backs.


Dim light.

Gorgeous fortress.

Humanity is a throng in the plaza on a Sunday afternoon.

What if we open those ancient walls and bring her inside?

Stack the stones out in the sun

Encircle park and babies, chile peppers and people

Until the heavens become an ocean overhead, and the floor a soccer field...

And we are within, and the whole thing in the light,

The only altar a flame,

The gospel of Christ.

And everywhere chairs and basins and towels.

What if we lean against the urge to merely deconstruct

And instead remember -

How to build a family?

How to center a life,

around something you cannot buy

or build

or earn

or find within yourself?

What if we discover there is ample room for skating and singing and spontaneity

Because the church is a living thing with lungs

And not a well-decorated tradition?

What if the church is a throng  in the plaza on a Sunday afternoon,

Moving like a flash mob

Around the center of our hallelujah?

a day for drumming

Sundays we start early, to worship, to make music, listen and learn, celebrate with a diverse group of friends gathered under one roof.  Once a week.  

I wish I could say my family members and I rise with the song of birds, and the kids rush downstairs saying, "Can we go now, Mother?  We're ready and our shoes are polished."  (Actually, that would be a little scary, I guess.)  


More likely, one daughter is wearing her younger brother's shoes because someone has "stolen" hers. The other daughter probably has forgotten to brush her hair, and the parents don't notice until seated in the sanctuary.  The boys...well, they're easier on the prep side of things, but had better be chewing gum on hand once the sitting still part begins.  

We are that family you regret sitting behind.  :)

So, it's not a Norman Rockwell painting, afterall.  But the setting aside one small portion of our week--adults and children--to gather with other believers, centering our focus together towards something beyond and greater than ourselves, reminding ourselves...that matters.  It's more than a ritual or tradition, though it is also that.  Even in those fidgety moments toward the end of a sermon, we and our kids--we believe--are taking in something that will stay.  Our spirits are being provoked toward a knowledge of purpose and truth and love that surpasses ANYTHING else we will encounter in this world. 

Food.  Necessary spirit food.  

Yesterday afternoon, following church and lunch (and my weekly nap)...we walked down the street to the home of our neighbors (scientist/artist wife & drummer/beekeeper husband), who were hosting a drum circle.  We brought two extra kids and a rather wild assortment of broken percussion instruments and djembes, several years old.  

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Another family was there, too.  We sat on chairs and pillows; baskets of noisemakers passed around. One person set a rhythm, and it fell to the others to listen to the pattern and then join.  We sat in a circle and beat rhythms--which is, by the way, quite therapeutic--until after some time (an hour?), the final and best "song" was beaten out.  

It may seem a strange way to pass the time...something better left to the children.  

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Not so. 

Food...necessary spirit food. 

To gather, circle, and center around something that is bigger than any one of us. Beyond and other than me. More beautiful than my solitary song.