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Mothers Courage: Weathering The Winds of Change

I’ve been through it all baby,
I’m mother courage.
Elizabeth Taylor

Dearest Friends,

Suddenly and more often than anyone ever suspects, real life imitates reel life and it’s no red carpet we’re walking down when you’re digging yourself out of a blizzard from the roof. We’ve had a heck of a lot of extreme weather stories in the past few years, but no one expected the 2004 climate change disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow to arrive last week with the worst snowfall in living memory. There was no time to run to the store to stock the larder, pile the wood or even get the car off the interstate and back home. When the weather outside is frightful, women all over the world find themselves having to rise to the occasion.

Most women are geniuses at rising to the occasion. But we’ve rarely realized how extraordinary this talent really is, because it’s second nature by now. We’ve never given ourselves a shred of credit where applause is due because we’ve never realized how precious the divine anointing of coping is in the first place.

This is the time of year when I love to meditate on how crucial keeping calm and carrying on is in our daily round and for our family’s well-being especially preparing the holidays. Our loved ones are not meant to know we are only hair’s breath away from hysteria or, that our first thought upon waking is how we’re going to make it through the day. So I’ll share my secret meditation for comfort and sustenance which is pondering on the legacy of our collective Mothers Courage—the Pilgrim, Pioneer and Native American women who held us all together while weaving a tapestry of true American history with their coping skills. This inheritance is yours and mine for the grateful receiving , cherishing and asking.

Here’s my one of my favorite mustard seed musing: There were 18 women on the Mayflower and although none of them died during the crossing from England to Massachusetts, by the time of the first “Thanks Giving” meal, a year later in 1621, there were only 4 women who had survived the brutal winter, spring sowing and autumn harvest. Four very tired women who needed to take care of 50 men and children daily. With the men almost entirely focused on building houses and the village, the women had so many chores, they performed them in shifts. For aside from cleaning and cooking, there was plowing and planting, preserving and putting away, caring for the livestock, making soap and candles from tallow (animal fat), tending the sick and creating herb medicinals. There was so much work that they lived on one day’s portion’s grace and if they didn’t drop down dead with their hand to the plow or wither away in a nighttime sweat from a succession of diseases contracted on the voyage, they took it as a sign that God meant for them to go on. And you know, they were right.

I love the bare bone simplicity of this truth. Sometimes in life, all we can do is put one foot out of the bed and then in front of the other, literally. I figure if you wake up in the morning, you’re meant to go on at least for today—continue at what you’re doing, ask Heaven to show you what you’re doing wrong, if you are, and since God knows we are not meant to manage alone, trust that Providence will be there to help, if we ask for it. And then, if we’re not getting the answer to our prayers we’re looking for, ask to be shown how to pray so that we’ll have peace. I’ve gotten to the point in my spiritual journey that just asking for peace through difficult moments seems like the great blessing that could be bestowed. Peace that passes all understanding. And it’s not past me that this probably should have been the prayer from the beginning.

Or, instead of our Pilgrim Mothers, I’ll meditate upon the legacy of our Pioneer foremothers, such as Margaret Reed. Here was a woman who enjoyed a charmed life of comfort and culture with a lovely, large home in Springfield, Illinois. But one afternoon in July 1846, her husband James, who was a wealthy furniture manufacturer, came home for tea and told her to get ready they were headed West along with their four young children, and her ailing mother. There was gold in those California hills and he was going to get his share! You can imagine the conversation they had before the weeping and wailing, slammed bedroom doors and wall of silence.

Much of James Reed’s success in persuading Margaret lay in his promise that she would travel in unsurpassed luxury and style with all her prized possessions. He kept his word. Never before had a covered wagon been built like the Reeds’ and never would one be built like it again. Two stories high, with a sleeping loft, it was outfitted with spring seats just like the best stagecoaches, a iron stove, velvet curtains and her cherished organ. Their children dubbed it “The Picture Palace Car”. It was stocked with six months’ supply of the best food and wine money could buy. Oh, the grandeur, the magnificence. As the wagon pulled into formation with the rest of the Donner Party to head West, it was difficult not to stare, gasp and feel envious.

The tragic saga of the Donner Party is the most indelible tale of triumph and despair ever written in the history of the American West. Twenty-five hundred miles away from home and only two days from safety, 31 men, women and children were stranded for an entire winter in the Sierra Nevada mountains by a succession of the worst blizzards on record. Out of provisions and starving, some members resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. But Margaret and her children were not among them. She kept them all alive on snow, bark, and leather broth until James, who had left the group to ride on ahead to California seeking a rescue party, returned. The fact that her family did not perish—physically or spiritually—had absolutely nothing to do with the worldly goods she had counted on, for the wagon and all it carried had to be abandoned along the way because it was too heavy and cumbersome to travel through the mountains. The possessions that saved Margaret and those she loved were of Spirit—her wits, her faith, and her courage.

Last year my daughter took me to Taos, New Mexico for Christmas. After five years of mourning my English Christmases Past, she decided it was time for us to create new Christmas memories. And she was so right, God bless her. We had such a mystical and magical experience visiting the ancient Taos Pueblo for Christmas Eve service and the blending of Spanish, New Mexican Catholicism and Native American traditions moved us both in profound ways. As we walked around the Pueblo under the stars and around bonfires leaping to the Heavens we moved as one with a group of Navajo women wrapped in colorful blankets and carrying statues of the Blessed Mother. We found ourselves singing a song we didn’t know, in a tongue we’d never heard until I recognized it was the heart’s language of longing. We’re returning in a few weeks to a breathtaking landscape calling me back to a new place of peace and plenty, an unexpected source of solace and serenity and new adventures.

Giving Thanks by Jesse Wilcox Smith As you prepare for the holiday season may you be inspired and comforted by a long line of heroic women who came before us—not just those in our families, but every woman settler, explorer, adventurer, and homemaker who tamed wild land, wild horses and wild times around the world.

These are the same birth gifts all women are endowed with— the same DNA— not our gene pool, but an ancient code of resilience and strength, ingenuity and creativity, perseverance, and determination. Our Destiny, Nature and Aspirations are Divinely endowed, so why wouldn’t we be given the wherewithal to fulfill them?

So this Thanksgiving week-end as you go about cooking, and laying the table, as you make preparations for gathering together with friends and loved ones, whenever anything happens that triggers the feeling of angst or distress, just ask yourself a few questions as I do when I’m experiencing a panic attack.
      Is my family safe?
      Is there a roof over our heads, today?
      Do I have to chop wood to keep warm?
      Do I have to carry water in a bucket from a creek three
      miles away to drink, cook, bath, clean and garden?
      Do I have to melt snow for my water?
      Do I have to warm my water over the fire before I can
      take a bath or have a cup of tea?
      Do I have to eat only what I grow or slaughter?
      Will I have to make candles today before I burn them for light?

If you can answer no to any (and all) of those questions, it’s a reconnect to a smile at the very least, and a genuine thank you, the only prayer Heaven requires of us, this or any day. God Bless our Pilgrim, Pioneer and Native America grandmothers.

So Happy Thanksgiving 2014, my dearest and well beloved reader. May Peace and Plenty always be your portion.

Blessings on your courage.
Dearest love,
Sarah Ban Breathnach

Click on the book cover below to learn more about my personal journey with The Best Part of the Day

Sarah Ban Breathnach's The Best Part of the Day

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Sarah Ban Breathnach's The Best Part of the Day