I have a message to deliver that I don’t fully understand myself.
It all started a few days ago when we had a visit from Agnes — not her real name. Most people around here call her Mother, but she doesn’t much like it. She never says anything because she doesn’t want to disappoint. She insists she doesn’t have a name, so when I suggested we call her Agnes, she giggled and said that would be fun.
She appeared quite unexpectedly when my partner and I were having one of those anxious conversations about the farm — the usual stuff: too much to do, not enough time or money to do any of it, and a lot more money going out than coming in. Right in the middle of our doom and gloom, right when I was saying “we can’t fail!” there was an echo.
There were strange harmonics. It was my voice, but somehow not quite mine. The emphasis shifted. There are lots of ways to mean “we can’t fail.” I meant to say “the consequences are too dire to even contemplate! We’re doomed if we fail, and yet we might!” When Agnes says it, though, you understand that failure is simply not possible. We can’t fail, no matter what happens.
“We can’t fail” hung in the air between my partner and I. Who said that, I wondered, and that’s when she showed up.
It’s hard to describe Agnes. She’s mid-30s probably, but sometimes when I look at her, I see the old lady she’ll become or maybe already is. She’s perfectly average. Unusually so. Mocha skin. Shoulder length dark hair. She dresses a bit like a gypsy. When we met her, she was wearing this sheer, shimmering shawl that seemed to have every ethnic pattern ever woven through it and a long, flowing black skirt. She’s plain, yet radiates health and vitality. And playful… very playful.
I’d never met her before and there she was in our kitchen and she just comes up from behind and gives me a hug, draping herself over my shoulders. I’m not a natural hugger. I’m not sure I had a proper hug until I was in my mid-30s. But when Agnes hugs you, you feel it. I’ve heard that there are living saints who have that effect on people. When you are in their presence, you feel unconditional love. That’s what it’s like with Agnes.
She has a kind of mystical air about her. She’s always talking in riddles that seem vaguely new-agey. Somehow, though, they ring true when she says it.
To hear her tell it, she’s been around these parts since before time. And she says she knows my people and where I come from in a meaningful way that implies more than it says. I swear I’m older than her, but she swears she was there when I was born and has been nearby my whole life even though I’ve never seen her before.
It’s the kind of thing you could just dismiss as her theatrical way. But she seems to know me. Really know me. Like she can read my secrets just by looking at me. She said that the dream I used to have as a kid wasn’t a dream; it is what is. Strangely, the second she said it, the dream flashed before my eyes, a sort of recurring nightmare. I was called before my family and all our neighbours in our living room. There were two variations. In one, I was accused of something ridiculous that I could easily disprove. In the other, I had a warning to deliver. In both, the message in my head was simple and clear, but when I said it out loud, only gibberish came out.
Agnes told me that the message is clear and true, but that my neighbours can’t hear it. Something happens between their ears and their brains and their hearts. But, she said, others can. Focus on the others. So, I deliver this message in the original gibberish, knowing that only some of you can hear what it is saying.
She also told me a number of other things that I choose only to share with close friends, but suffice it to say it convinced and utterly transformed me. Agnes has simply bewitched me, so I am gladly her fool. Think of me what you will.
The actual message was delivered several days later. Its coming was foretold, not by a choir of angels, but by one of those existential crises that have become so common lately. I had been surly for days. I’m not sure what finally sparked it. More bodies of murdered Indigenous children uncovered. More fires. More trauma on top of trauma. Generations of trauma that no one has escaped; the so-called winners just as battered inside, causing them to spew hate and violence.
Here we are in a Mexican standoff; all desperately wanting an apology from those who have bruised and scarred us, yet knowing that those scars were passed down through the generations. Hurt people hurting people. Fathers visiting their pain on their children. Mothers giving birth to their shadows. How far back do we have to look? How far back do we have to heal?
They say new trauma triggers all old traumas. And so, there I sat in a puddle of my own despair and grief, the echoes of generations of trauma ringing in my head and ripping open my heart. I sobbed for the misery; for the children who never came home, for the ancient trees cut for pulp, for the murdered sisters and daughters, for the dying Orca, for the child soldiers, for the otherworldly light of sun through the forest fire smoke, for all the dark, lonely nights, for the wounds that never seem to heal.
My breath caught, as it usually does, on the inhale and the exhale.
Ah ah ah ah
Ha ha Ha ha ha ha
Then I heard the drums.
A steady beat that kept time with my sobs.
I resisted. I’m about as white-bread as it comes; this felt like appropriation — too similar to the sounds of old westerns and bad sitcoms. But I couldn’t resist. The drums called me. I could feel it deep inside me and then he was there, standing just behind me, just in my peripheral vision, his stare parallel to mine.
He said: “this is the Dance. This is how we cleanse the pain. It is always here, even when you don’t see it.”
I glanced at him, but he continued to look straight on, never making eye contact. I looked to see what he was staring at.
“The outbreath is dark, heavy, angry,” he continued. “It stomps. It sobs. And eventually it releases. You can only breathe out so long.”
“Then the inbreath gathers in energy. It recovers. The out pushes out. It repulses, clears, jettisons. The in builds up, restores.”
“Each part pulses, Aa aa aa aa Aa aa aa ah. And the dance pulses, too. Sometimes it is heavy, angry, and low. Sometimes it is so light that your toes barely touch the ground. Sometimes you get tingly, so you take a break and rest.”
He paused as we both listened to the rhythm of the drums.
“We dance the dance alone together. Seeing other dancers reminds us that it’s just a dance. We are meant to enjoy it because joy is at the root of it.”
He turned to me and said, “we misunderstand joy. Joy is the depth of the feeling; its realness and authenticity. It’s about the intensity of the hue, not the colour itself.”
Finally he said, “we can invite people into the dance, but they have to give you the sign first.” He explained, “it’s like you can see them nodding along to the beat.”
Then he said quite distinctly “end transmission” and smirked, staring me straight in the eye.
I asked him who he was and he told me to call him the Navajo Codebreaker. He seemed to think it was quite funny.
So there we sat, my partner and I, trying to process what had just happened. But we weren’t done. I heard “My Joy Is Heavy” playing in the ether and wondered if this was some sign that I was coming to the end of my life, when a chorus said “not you, Us.” [I apologize for the cliché. I wish they hadn’t spoken like some bad imitation of the Borg, but that was how it sounded — but in perfect unison — one voice but composed of a multitude in perfect sync.]
The parts are calling out. They say “We are being extinguished.”
Life will not end, the ember will never go out, but, they said, there is a difference between a flame and an ember. We were given a flame and it is being extinguished.
The parts are crying out to all of us. They want to be heard. They need to be heard and they can only be known through you. You, the one reading these words. They are calling to you, specifically. You hold a unique and irreplaceable part in the Whole. We all suffer if you turn away from it.
I am delivering this message because they have asked me to, even knowing how most of you will only hear gibberish. But for some of you, maybe only one of you, the message will ring true. Just stop and listen. Please. They are right here — all our ancestors and all our relations and all the shattered parts — and they need you to listen and hear.
The parts want you to know that they love you and want you to be well and healthy and they are begging us to stop harming ourselves. Learn to hold all the pieces and honour every part. And we do this by dancing the Dance. Alone, but still together.