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For Vera, on my 34th birthday

The ancestral journey is not glamorous.

It is slow. It is hard. It is elusive and mysterious. It is rainy and cold, and full of crumbling stone walls and broken hearts. At least for me.

But it takes me to the river’s edge on my birthday, to sit on tree trunks carved by someone’s hands. To walk slowly down empty village streets in the same place where my great great grandmother walked. Maybe she watched my grandfather play by the same river’s edge, and wondered, as I do, what the water knows. Stories of humble and determined survival flood me. For what, I ask? And I understand: It is all for the children.

And here I am.

What would she want for me? What did she long for?

The journey takes me to Latvian supermarkets, in the chocolate aisle, contemplating which tasty treat would bring my ancestors joy and pleasure. Peanut m&ms.

It takes me to hilltops where stones sit in circles, and trees bare their branches for the passing winds. To the perspective of generations passed in this valley.

I know these dried oak leaves that cover the ground; the shape of the hillside, the shadows. It brings me to my knees. It brings me to tears.

I said, “Geez, I really am a countryside village girl. This is where I came from.” Some intangible parts of me return.

It brings me to dilapidated roadside buildings on barren farmland, where my grandfather spent summers working until one day bombs started dropping. I can only stay long enough to place flowers and peanut m&ms under the strong old tree, and convey my deepest prayers and gratitude by touching my fingertips to the wet, nearly frozen ground. The biting wind and freezing rain remind me of the cold, harsh realities of life here.

And, It brings me to forests, where, as always, the trees bear witness as I stand on the threshold. Who am I? What am I doing here?

And I introduce myself...though I think somehow you already know me.

Have you ever introduced yourself to a forest?

Asked what else they have born witness to?

The ancestral pilgrimage is not glamorous. It is quiet. It is humbling. It is deep. It asks everything and nothing of me. It reminds me how many lives have been lived; how small and miraculous my own life is.

For my 34th birthday, I shared peanut m&ms with my great great grandmother. And they were delicious. Not glamorous. But I guess that's how I like my life.

~ For Vera ~

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