The Inspiration for the Lion Blanket
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir. It describes part of my near death experience:
When I open my eyes again, I see blue sky above me. Now I am silent and still. I make a little nest to comfort myself while I rest. I listen to the gentle sound of the wind blowing the grass. I almost fall asleep, but I hear a soft rustling sound that perks up my ears. I lift my head and strain to see something through the green grass. I crawl through the thick stalks so I can find out who is there. As I get closer, I see someone wearing a long, cream colored coat. Now the grass is only half my height, and is easy to push through.
In the center of this open field I am surprised to see a man who looks like a king. He has no crown, but when I look at him I think of royalty even though he is dressed like a shepherd. His coat is not fancy or jeweled, but coarse like it is made of handmade linen. The length is past his knees and the sleeves are wide at his wrists.
How did I not see him before now? Why did he not answer me when I was calling out for the people of my village? Maybe he can show me the way back to them. His narrow face is bearded. I run to him, pleading for help.
When I arrive a few feet before him, I stop at once. The kindness he radiates takes my breath away. My clutched hands loosen in his presence of pure peace. When I look into his eyes, I suddenly feel calm. This man is so still, like a high mountain lake without a ripple on the surface. Standing before him, I can’t remember why I would ever feel disturbed. How do I feel him holding me even though we are not touching?
I take a half step closer and look carefully at his face. It is difficult to decide what he looks like because he is changing. I think he is tall, but then I am eye to eye with him. I think his face is narrow, but then it widens and I am looking into the face of a majestic lion. The presence of this lion fills me with joy, even a feeling of celebration.
At first, I was confused when his face changed, but now I am delighted and wonder what he will change into next. I want to show this everchanging kaleidoscope man to Ato. To my surprise, Ato's face with his dark skin and wide smile becomes the face I am looking into. My heart lifts with my love for Ato. Then Ato's face changes into a child I do not know. The love in my heart remains the same for this unfamiliar child as it was for Ato. I did not know it was possible to feel this love for a stranger. I am capable of more love than I knew.
This Royal Shepherd shows me his original face again. He leans in close and looks me in the eyes with his gentle gaze. I sense he is about to give me a gift beyond anything I have ever known before. When his eyes close, mine close also.
In the darkness I see a million points of light. I move closer into this vision and see the lights are shining gems. Each gem is connected to the gems near it with a line that looks like golden spider webs catching sunlight. All the lines form a living web so grand that I can’t take it all in.
I move in closer and see each gem is a living being. When one being in the web of life shines their beauty, or gives out their strength, it ripples out through the living lines of connection.
The scene changes and I am no longer looking from the outside; I am now traveling within the web. I can visit every living thing. I am smelling a grove of oak trees, hearing the breathing of a young woman running a race through woodlands, watching a dragonfly drop eggs onto the surface of pond water, listening to the deep pop of ice moving in a glacier, and taking in the scent of an elk who is bending down to drink from a river.
All life is an interconnected web and I am never alone. All of life is gracefully linked together, just as a flock of swallows flies together as one great bird. I am overflowing with gratitude and love.
When I open my eyes, I realize my face is so close to my Royal Shepherd that our foreheads are touching. He rises up from his kneeling position where he bent down to meet me. Now that he has shown me how we are all connected and I am never alone, he is allowing me to choose.
I hear his words resound inside me: Do you want to keep searching for your African family, or continue on to something new?
The Inspiration for the Turtle Blanket
The following is an excerpt from my memoir. It describes how a woman, who I came to call Mama Eahton, welcomed me into her village after I was lost in the African bush. Mama Eahton is the inspiration for the turtle drawing. There is a creation story that the world was created on the back of turtle. My world rested on Mama Eahton's back. She saved my life and showed what it meant to be loved.
The woman is now calling to me with a song. She is slowly waving both of her hands, gesturing for me to come over to her. Her arms move in a “come here to me, child” gesture. I take a few steps toward where she is sitting then pause. She is a strong woman and I know she could overpower me. She rests her hands in her lap. This pause gives me time to think. Is it safe to go to her?
Though her gesturing has stopped, her soft lullaby keeps calling me in. I start walking toward her. The sound she is making is like nothing I have ever heard come out of a woman before. It is like something I would imagine from a tropical bird with a handmade drum in its belly. I am so taken in hearing her song that I don't even notice the group of children go off to play. Now that I am almost in reach if she stretched out, I can feel her warmhearted concern for me, like the man last night who put out the animal skin.
People here have been good to me so far by feeding me and giving me a bed, but that could change any second.
I prepare in my mind for how I will defend myself if she turns mean. If she grabs my wrist and starts to beat me, then I will turn and crouch in a way that she can’t hit my injured ribs. She is still singing. I move one half-step closer. Her hands stay still in her lap while she keeps singing to me in a quieter and deeper tone.
She slowly lifts her hand, motioning for me to turn in a circle so she can see all sides of me. I only do a half-turn and don't expose my injured side to her. She starts nodding her head as if she approves of me. Why does seeing that she likes me make me feel wildly out of control in my whole belly?
I still keep my head down with my eyes toward the ground. Her tones are becoming deeper. Her voice is soothing me just like stepping into a warm bath.
While holding a long tone, she ever so slowly brings her hand up toward my face. I can’t believe how pink her palm is because the back of her hand is so black. Even though I see her palm about to touch the bottom of my chin, I can’t help but flinch when I feel the touch. Her finger lightly curls around the shape of my chin.
She lifts my chin to see my face. I let her, but I keep my eyes aimed at my feet. She moves her hand from my chin to my left shoulder, drawing me in the tiniest bit toward her. With her other palm aimed skyward, she gestures as if she is lifting something upward while making a "Mmm" humming sound that rises and falls, as if she is satisfied from eating something delicious. I think she wants me to look up at her.
To look her in the eye is to risk letting her see all the bad inside me. It takes many singing calls from her until I can unglue my gaze from my ash covered sneakers to her wide bare feet. I move my gaze further up to the blue dress over her knees. She keeps calling me to look up at her face with a hum that seems to be telling me she likes me. She is sitting down so my eyes are level with hers.
Her song changes from the quiet humming to a singing phrase that she repeats. I feel confused because what she is offering is good, like warm sun on my skin, but I am an iceberg with frozen insides. If I melt, will I become a helpless puddle on the ground? Each time she repeats the phrase, I feel another wave of warm tingles on the inside of my whole chest.
What is happening to me?
My eyes follow the movement of her dress each time her belly breathes in and out. I want to see her mouth so I can see how she makes these beautiful sounds. I want to know the source of her liquid language. She keeps singing her song for many minutes and I begin to feel more like a child than an iceberg.
After more of this singing, the tingling in my chest is so strong it is going down my arms. I can’t name what she is offering me, but I desperately want to receive it. I have never wanted something so much before. I try to hold myself back, but standing before her, I can’t remember why I would.
I have never experienced such an open hearted woman like this. What is she made of that such pure song comes through her? She begins to move her hand toward my hand on my injured side. I am watching out of the corner of my eye as little by little her hand gets closer to mine. Her singing moves higher in range like a songbird. Songbirds are not scary.
She touches just two fingers around the side of my right palm, while she draws me gently closer to her with her other hand on my shoulder. At first, I respond by leaning my upper body in, and not moving my feet. Then I allow myself to do what I really want, which is to take a step closer to her singing.
This one step closer changes everything. I suddenly feel included in her song, like she is saying, "I see you" to every tree, every stalk of grass, every cricket, and me.
My lower lip starts to tremble uncontrollably. All the vibrating in my body becomes chaotic and overwhelming. Am I going to break apart? Maybe I should run away. Her hand on my shoulder becomes stronger.
She is planting me right here with her. I don't feel trapped. I feel held. I want connection to her. I want her to see that I got left behind by the people on the bus, and I did not die. I want her to know that I thought the man full of hatred was going to shoot me, and I made it through. I want her to know that I spent last night alone, and I found a tree to sleep in all by myself. I am too worn down to stay alive on my own, and I want her to be my grown up who gives me shelter.
In an act beyond myself, I look in her eyes. I start existing when I see a loving mother.
The tingling spreads down my legs in a sudden flood. I feel weak in my knees, but her right hand around my shoulder is holding me steady. We are looking each other in the eyes while her song changes into her deeper voice.
She sings her beauty into me. She is holding me in her voice that is an endless river of soothing water. She wraps both my shoulders with her hands and draws me in close. Right here, I surrender. I stop my fight to survive on my own and collapse forward into her arms.
My tight fists soften when her strong hands hold my head close to her chest. She starts rocking me with her lullaby, in time with her heartbeat I can hear in her chest. Her song is bathing me in kindness. She smells like sweet butter. The magic in her keeps pouring through her song into me. I shut my eyes.
My knees give way. If she were not holding me, I would slide down to the ground. Her singing is the best gift I have ever been given. I want to live here in her song as she rocks me back and forth in her arms. If I stay right here, there is hope for me to become filled with life again.
She gently lifts my shirt and tilts her head to check over my bruise. She turns me a little to see that it starts on my ribs under my right arm and goes to the center of my back. I don't want her to see because I am ashamed. Gently, she makes downward strokes over the area of my purple skin as if she is washing the hatred off me. She changes her song to match her strokes. She is doing the opposite of what Insane Father’s kicking did to me. She is putting her kindness into my injury. It no longer hurts to breathe.
She picks me up. I let myself be carried like a baby against her chest with my head resting on the side of her neck. I trust she will not take me somewhere dangerous. She is walking away from the huts on a wide path that has low grass on either side. Still holding me in her arms and continuing her singing, she takes me to a long narrow pond.
When she and I are in the center of the pond, she is hip deep and squats down so water runs around my back. The coolness, her song, and her touch are so soothing. Her kindness to me is beyond anything I have ever dreamed of. I make no movement, but just let myself be held by her. I watch traces of the black ash go out on the surface of the pond.
That night, I sleep inside a hut next to her. I hold on to the fabric of her dress so I know she is within reach. I fall asleep knowing I am protected. This must be Heaven. I am no longer lost. I have been found.