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« On ancestors, laughter, tears, hope & magic | Main | ‘Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option – And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex’ »

On grief, owls, & pilgrim's pockets

by Kayce Stevens Hughlett

“There are questions that I no longer ask

And others that I have not asked for a long time…” W.S. Merwin

In the first light of day, I sit and ponder the changing of seasons, what it means to grieve, and how the wisdom of owl might accompany me on this day. Owl is a potent talisman across cultures and I’m excited to learn more about what this winged creature will teach me. 

A shaman friend of mine shared that owl is a symbol for the profane and I immediately think of the brazen character, Lucille, who continues to show up for me during my weekly writing group and sometimes trails along into my morning journals. Lucille and her penchant for profanity and an obsession with bleached and dried bones. When I hear the connection between owl, grief, and the profane, I wonder if Lucille’s bluster and blasphemy is a coverup for her own grief. She wails and moans about the ‘god damned fucking bones.’ She pushes everyone away with her veracity, but today I sense in her something soft and tender. Could it be grief? Is it profane? Do I consider my own journey with grief a thing to blaspheme? Do you?

I wonder if there is a tangible place where grief resides. Could it be the place that lies beneath the surface—the dungeon where forgotten dreams and lost loves and past lives live? Where a femur bone of courage dips down and stirs the pot of broken hearts and tears gathered but never shed? Where the soul bumps against the hardened scallop shells that point toward a pilgrim’s lone journey? 

Down down down the spiral leads, beneath the earth, dry from a summer of no rain… down into the red earthen clay of an Oklahoma childhood and the heritage of a great great ancestor who built her home in the Mojave Desert. Down through the core of the earth and out the other side where glaciers glisten and throw blue light into the clear eyes of my grandfather Birt and the faceless ship’s captain who shows up in my dreams.

Squirming and turning, I squint into the morning dawn and beckon my spine to straighten and remember. My chiropractor once said (although I can’t be 100% certain it was him) that our spinal cord is like a computer chip filled with memories of our lifetime. So many memories, some remembered, others lost or hidden away. I don’t quite know how to retrieve them or even if I want to, but today I believe that owl will be my courier. She will open and spread her wings like the feathers on the carved cow bone that I carried home from the temple at Pura Gunung Kawi. 

Talismans and spirit animals have a way of hopping into my pockets like baby joeys burrowing into their mothers’ pouches. A petrified sandshell from the Sinai Desert, the hazel wood wand from Glendolough Ireland, seaglass and silver beaded bracelets via Spain. This morning they all surround me until finally I jump into their pockets and go along for the ride. They beckon me to be brave and ask the questions that I’ve never asked and to welcome the ones I push away. 

As if in response, a lone guitar player in the coffee shop where I write has replaced the piped in music and strums Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” His cords swallow up everything profane and release a stream of tears waiting to be shed. 

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