The Culture Keepers




Wednesday night, after a brutal day of election results and the fallout from those, I went to hear Kentucky's own poet laureate, Wendell Berry, at the Louisville Free Public Library.  He interviewed NYT Bestselling author, James Rebanks, an author and sheep farmer from the Lake District in England, whose book, "The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.” is a beautiful love letter to his father for the traditions that he was entrusted to carry forward.  He and his family have been farming those particular mountains for more than 1000 years.  I had to get my head around that number for a moment.  Over 1000 years.  Our 230 year old government is an infant compared to that.

The evening was a lovely moment of reconnection in a day that felt anything but connected.  A farmer doing what his father did, and his father's father, and on and on.  The tradition and way of life preserved for centuries.  As I was listening to Mr. Berry, he asked a particular question about the author's father and referred to Mr. Rebanks and this current generation as "culture keepers".  The term struck such a chord in me that I immediately had to open my phone and begin taking notes to later reflect on what that means in my own life.


As I have mentioned here before, my family hails from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.  The culture there is so unique.  Not just "mountain", not just "rural", not just "Kentucky", it is its own blend of tribe, compassion, resilience, and love.  Those that believe in these values are passionate about instilling them in the generations to come.  It was how we were raised, it is how we are raising this next generation.  


We will preserve this culture for centuries to come because it is what is important.  This culture manifests itself in my family through the rituals of food, through stories and laughter, through traditions, through the music, through the poems recited from table tops, through the turn of wood on a lathe, through the swinging of an axe, through the stitch of a quilt, through the growing and preserving of food.  It is the sound of a spoon stirring gravy in a skillet, the delighted call of, "Hey, Baby!" as someone comes in the door, the feeling of worn hands holding your face with love shining in their eyes.  We become connected all over again and I can hear their voices and easy laughter as clearly as if they were standing next to me.     


The past few months have been a painful and terrible time of change for me. This "coming out of my skin" phase has been ongoing despite my continued therapy sessions and fervent belief that this is just a phase that I will surely be moving through any day now, any minute now.  I know it's coming, just wait for it.  It's just around the next corner, I'm sure of it.  

WHERE IN THE HELL IS THE END OF THIS?! 

Unraveled- this is how I feel 99% of the time now- simply undone, coming apart at my carefully stitched seams.  Its damn uncomfortable.  My need to manage and control the outcomes has met the reality of "this shit has no plan or timeline". It has been the new reality and I have no idea how to manage it.  Everything feels too big, my emotions swing wide frequently. 

We were riding home a couple of weeks ago with the windows down and music up and the harvest moon was full and round in the sky and my pagan self had an urge to be in the middle of a field with as few clothes on as possible, bathing in that cool silver light, dipping into a deep curtsy to the unaged Goddess Moon (apparently I really am the culture keeper for "Hiawatha").

I want to claw the rocks and sink my toes in the dirt and howl at the moon and feel the energy of the earth course through my veins.  It's too much and not enough, it's ancient and new, it's utter stillness and chaotic motion, it's death and birth, this feeling inside me.  I want to rub against the energy of the universe and become something else with no form, only feeling.  I want to return to stardust.  Rebirth is never easy.

The election came and our proverbial houses were set on fire and appeared to be reduced to ash in the streets.  Inside that particular moment of crying under the covers, wrapped up with my husband and dog, utter despair that what I have feared would happen all of these months actually happened, the answer became so crystal clear.  I felt the final death rattle on the rage that has consumed me for these long months.

I am DONE feeling powerless and victimized.  Simply. Done.

All of the wailing and gnashing of teeth and bitter disappointment for a man that "could be" and "most definitely will at some point" and "what if" just fell away as I focused on what I knew for sure in that moment; who I am...who WE ARE...our goals and hopes and values...or culture...remain unchanged.  I decided that it was time to surrender the rage that has been my constant companion these past months.

It sounds oversimplified and naive as I type that, I realize, and the process of surrendering that rage was anything but.  However, our president is not in the street or on the subway or in line at the grocery store with us.  Our community members are.  Our fellow citizens and neighbors are.  I and my neighbors will not allow injustice to prevail.  Our culture is inclusive and I will be working harder on making sure those values are our legacy.      

Those values are bigger than any one person, one administration, one government, or one country.  They transcend politics, they cannot be given permission or denied because they are WHO I AM.  They exist in peace or chaos, in Republican or Democratic administrations, in the light of day and in the dark of night.

I am someone that does not allow another human to be maligned or treated unfairly.  I am someone that will not sit still for bullies and wants to understand and help my fellow (wo)man because helping us all helps me too.  I am someone that seeks to educate and broaden all of our worldviews.  I am someone that strives to create a safe and nurturing space for the people in my life to gather, love, laugh, and debate.  I am someone that passionately seeks equality and equal opportunities for everyone.  I am someone that values freedom and personal liberty, including the rights to decide what is best for my own body.  I am someone that seeks to validate others on their own journey.  They will live on after I am gone because I am instilling them in others now.

Will the circle be unbroken.

While this last week has been the catalyst that I needed for change, the results of this election have no bearing on how I move forward.  How I decide to create unity and display compassion and empathy are the values that have been the heart of my culture not just for my lifetime, but for centuries.  They are steeped in the blood that runs through my veins and the veins of those that have come long before me.

They will carry on because it is up to me us, the Culture Keepers, to carry them forward.  Be brave and kind, friends.  The future is going to require both.

The Real Work
Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.



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