Wow. Ya’ll. I feel like a puppy that fell off the back of a pick-up truck on a dusty road. I’m not hurt in the slightest…just trying to catch up and the dust keeps getting in my face. So many thoughts, stories, people and experiences swirling around in this ole head of mine. I find myself looking forward to the moments when I’m not exhausted and the sparks of a writers-mind are firing….so I can coax some of this to ride on the waves of internet-land.
Today I was pleasantly reminded of a beautiful life approach that was introduced to me years ago by a dear friend…that continues to inform how I move in the world: The third way. It’s the other option…the one usually not written on the ballet. What does it mean exactly to create or honor this ‘third’? So often physical life seems to collapse into a binary. One or the other. Him or her. Wrong or right. Consistently, if you look around…these little binary-nuggets are buzzing by, chillin’ on the sidewalk, making their way into our homes, offices and art-work…arguing or maybe peacefully existing. Sometimes I wonder how much potential we are leaving behind every time we subscribe to a system of polar opposites. The third may be dished out by the diplomat. A mix of the two. Or maybe given by the fearless outsider. The option that was never seen in the first place…or long-lost covered with a passing of time. I like to think of the third as a bone the Universe decides to toss our way.
The reason I am talking about this is because various times throughout this trip, I’ve got caught up trying to decipher, depict, and understand what pieces of my culture need/desire to be shown, highlighted, respected. And while I have some ideas, I still don’t know. The moment I am revitalized by a newly discovered history, tradition and/or ritual, I begin to see its underbelly. Sometimes an underbelly that allows for a certain kind of confinement. It works its way into lives…challenging difference, applying a weight of sorts. I wonder if other folks feel this. There are so many precious stories, ways of life, recipes, songs-to-sing that connect us directly to our ancestors. For me, these things have great potential to bring joy and meaning to life that is inexplicable. But there are some aspects that I don’t wish to carry on. I want to leave behind. In fact, I wonder if these that I speak of, were even there in the first place. Power can be tricky manipulator. I am not a lay-down-in-my-grave traditionalist (if you haven’t noticed already) but I do see the value in creative, thoughtful continuation. I honor, within reason. As I walk, my feet are on the ground and in the air simultaneously. I step with one foot and the other one rises. How can we honor traditions while remaining true to ourselves inside of a world that has been changed by oil companies, pesticides, and human rights movements? How do we make space for shifts, openings, deaths? I’m reminded of how the creation of a third way might offer some of us a place to rest. An alternate. Like feeding vegetarians and meat-eaters gumbo from the same pot. The option of serving the vegetarians first, before putting in the meat, is there.
In every single connection I’ve made on this trip, there has been an underlying sadness somewhere in the conversation. A piece that touches on ‘cultural continuation’…and what’s next for the Cajuns? A life led in relationship to the land is rapidly changing, if not already gone. The language that most elders refer to as ‘not good French’, is on its way out. Materialism and cultural appropriation are filling in the spaces. Environmental degradation is a by-product. And when the dust settles, I’m often hit with a hopelessness over the reflections so articulately given by my elders. Their voice makes the passing of time easy to touch…real. There is a reflection of life present in older generations that I think my generation could learn a lot from. I’m reminded of the importance of being here…doing just this. Listening. Questioning. Observing. Holding. I wonder what comes next.
Yesterday, a friend shared with me a quote from Dewey Balfa. It goes like this: “A culture is like a whole tree…you have to water the roots to keep the tree alive, but at the same time, you can’t go cutting off the branches every time it tries to grow.” Such a beautiful metaphor for an important message. Our deep roots are in graveyards, hearts and actions. They weave through our spirit and shadow moments of reconnection. Some of what makes the Cajun culture unique is that people who care have managed to water their roots and feel this pride for so long. The music, dance, cooking, and connections to our environment have not died with our ancestors. But they have changed and grown into branches…in all their different lengths, shapes and marks. As I move through my time here, I’m beginning to recognize more clearly the moments it is necessary to stop and dangle our feet a while. Take a moment to breathe, make a choice or ask a question. It really is up to us and how we wish to accept/assimilate these changes, be a catalyst in their shifting…and/or embrace the connection to a third way.