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GENIUS

Everyone has a story. I suppose my own officially began with my first spoken word: matoapple. Since I was very young when this happened, my memory of it is like a page from a coloring book colored in for me by my parents.

As the story goes, I was following my mother around with a basket as she worked in the garden and when she handed me a fat ripe tomato, I must have gotten it confused with an apple calling it a maytoapple instead. I am told this was my first word. Not, Mama, not Dada, maytoapple.

It’s a charming story, and while I don’t remember that specific day, I do remember the large garden we had back then. The neat rows of vegetables and the chickens clucking in the coop behind the garage. Later in my adolescence, I would form a strong bond with one of our hens who for some reason I decided to name Freddie.

In keeping with the garden theme, the word genius has roots that go deep. Its current meaning calls to mind a sense of a person’s exceptional natural ability but its origin goes back much further. Its original Latin meaning points to a guardian deity or spirit innate to each of us, watching over a person or place, guiding or governing an individual from birth.

“Each one of us has a unique signature, inherited from our ancestors, our landscape, our language, and beneath it a half-hidden geology of existence: memories, hurts, triumphs, and stories in our lineage that have not yet been fully told.” – David Whyte Consolations

While I don’t know a lot about my ancestors, I do know a fair amount about the landscape I was born into. Both the emotional landscape of my family’s history – memories my parents and my mémère shared with me about what their lives were like before I met them – as well as the physical landscape that’s been burned into my memory for all time.

I remember the garden and the chicken coop and the dense pine grove adjacent to it. I remember the smell of it and the way the sap would stick to the back of my legs when jumping from a swing strung between two of its enormous conifers. I remember the poison ivy creeping along its edges and the post where our pony was tied. The pony that my father brought home on a whim that was promptly shipped back the following week.

I remember long tennis matches on our homemade gravel court and hitting tennis balls against the tall concrete sidewall of the house for hours before having to climb out onto its roof to retrieve all the balls that would inevitably end up in the rain gutter.

I remember filling old socks with those same tennis balls and flinging them into the air at twilight to tease the bats, and kickball games that lasted until it was so dark we could no longer see the ball. And picking ripe, juicy peaches and plums and cherries and apples from our makeshift orchard, each of us kids having a fruit tree planted in our honor.

The long hot days of all my summers were spent camping in the woods and taking a rowboat out with a bagged lunch and a thermos of water as often as I could so I could spend the day alone catching and releasing whatever was brave enough to take my bait.

And I remember the gnarly old hollowed out tree in the middle of the woods behind our house and the solo picnics I would relish setting up inside of it, while the birds sang me stories to keep me company.

And I remember all of our animals. The gerbils and hamsters, and the rabbits that were allowed to live in our kitchen for a time until a proper hutch was built. Our cats and subsequent litters of kittens, and our dogs, our beloved dogs that have been constant companions to me my whole life.

As the main character in my story, I have been shaped by nature since as far back as I can remember. It is my unique signature, my unique innate guiding spirit. Nature is the plot, the theme, and the setting in my unique story.

But all good stories require conflict, and mine was no different. My conflict came from a different facet of nature, namely human nature. Sharp words that inflicted deep wounds gave rise to the silence that kept me from expressing myself for much if not all of my life.

Outside in nature, I was in my element but inside was another story. Inside the walls of my confinement whether physically or emotionally, allowed for a cast of other characters to steal the limelight while I was cast to the shadows. Not surprisingly over time, I developed a hard outer shell – portable protection – that was damn near impossible for others to penetrate.

This did a fairly good job safeguarding me, but in a real sense it also closed me off to the outside world that I loved so much. I would retreat into my shell like a tiny frightened hermit crab at the first sign of a perceived threat. It served me well but perhaps a little too well, since over time I began to prefer it to its alternative: being exposed. Being exposed meant getting my already sensitive feelings hurt even worse which was not something I willingly risked.

I remember feeling very closed off from the outside world at a certain point in my adolescence, almost as if whatever genius, whatever guiding spirit left inside me, was trapped.

My genius had quite literally become my genie in the bottle. I was the bottle, the shell, and it was trapped inside me.

“Human genius lies in the geography of the body and its conversation with the world.” – David Whyte Consolations

I had stopped having a real conversation with the world. I dutifully listened while the powers that be told me how to look and what to do and how to be and stopped listening to my own inner voice that had always been there to guide me.

When I was forced to leave home at such a young age, I had very little knowledge about how to steer my own ship and so had to ask myself, by whose moral compass will I now be sailing?

Slowly, over time I began to trust my new surroundings enough to venture out of my shell. As a result, I became reacquainted with nature both my own as well as with Mother Nature who I quickly realized had never abandoned me.

It was as if every moment spent reconnecting to forests and streams and fields and frogs and all of the animals I began welcoming back into my life, caused an almost imperceptible crack in my armor and just enough space for a bit of my genie – my genius – to come through.

Having my children was what finally broke me open, completely. Whenever I looked deeply into their eyes, I saw their ancestors on both sides starring back at me. My genius would become part of their inheritance, just as my own mother’s had become part of mine. Giving birth to them was the start of a conversation that would deepen and be celebrated throughout their entire lives.

“Genius is the meeting between inheritance and horizon, between what has been told, what can be told and what is yet to be told, between our practical abilities and our relationship to the gravitational mystery that pulls on us.” – David Whyte Consolations

This calls to mind one of my favorite Rumi quotes. Rumi, a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic, writes,  “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you truly love. It will not lead you astray.

Once I had the courage to begin following all the things I was being drawn to, I starting making choices that were aligned with my true spirit. I chose to take my kids out of public school and homeschool them in nature’s classroom instead and gave up eating all of the animals I so loved. They were two choices that profoundly changed the trajectory of my life.

I am everything I have inherited from my ancestors. Their stories shaped my prologue and will continue to shape my epilogue as well as my epitaph some day. Guided by whispers from my spirit, my genius, I am finally telling the stories that can be told knowing there is much more inside me that is yet to be told.

I am following the breadcrumbs; I will forever follow the breadcrumbs that pull me deeper into my woods.

 

NEXT WEEK: GIVING

About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

One Reply

  1. Linda

    You brought me back in time again Amy!! Beautifully written

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