Letting go

Snowscape

I came across this poem, “Letting Go”, by my sister Christine Ruth Wiebe. It’s a Christmas poem and I know it’s after the holidays now, but reading the poem triggered some memories I want to share, and I want to share the poem, too.  It’s just a week after I published my book, BIRTH MOTHER.  Now that so many people are reading my book, I am starting to getting used to the idea of other people knowing the intimate details of that earlier time in my life. I just wish so much that I would have had the courage to share the story earlier. With my sister Christine, for example, and my other sister, my brother and my mother. Why did I hide my thoughts and feelings from them about this part of my life?  It was not until my second child’s thirteenth birthday that I told him about his brother — lost to us, out there somewhere in the world. Why didn’t I talk with my friends — my first husband — anyone?   Why did I lock my story up inside for decades?

Keeping a secret from your dearest ones cripples intimacy, and consumes enormous amounts of personal energy.

Christine passed away in 2000 without ever hearing more than the bare outlines of my experience, and the rest of the family also knew very little.  I am very happy, though, that she and the son I gave up for adoption had the chance to get to know one another, because he found me in 1996, when he was 27 years old.

And I am thankful that when my son found me, my heart had been opened and prepared for the reunion. This was thanks to the imagination, vision and encouragement of a special naturopathic doctor and two psychotherapists, retreats at Kripalu Retreat Center and Shalom Retreat Center, intensive journaling, yoga, and my husband’s love.

So here’s Christine’s poem:

LETTING GO

This is how it should be:
Christmas vacation, and I am six;
Daddy and I are driving outside the city
to a great hill with untouched snow.
Sun warms the car.
I climb up the tracks Daddy makes
hearing the crunch each time the first time.
We stand at the top, just Daddy and I, breathing,
and the sparrows laugh.
“I’m afraid,” I say.
But then we’re sailing
and I’m safe on a narrow strip of wood
clinging to his broad back,
a solid thing in a swaying world,
and I’m laughing and wishing
we could fall like this forever
into the sun sparkles and whipping wind
and the white snowdrift
waiting to embrace us
over and over and over.

– Christine Wiebe

September 19, 1985

Special CMW issue on my sister Christine Wiebe

I’m looking forward to a special issue of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing, centered on my sister Christine Ruth Wiebe. The issue will be published October 18, 2010.

My sister Christine’s significant creative contributions as a poet will be explored through publication of a selection of her work, and essays by Ellen Kroeker and Jeff Gundy, our mother Katie Funk Wiebe, and myself.  To prepare to write my essay, I read through almost 30 years of her journals. I found dozens of poems and some drawings which had never before been published.  I learned that she studied dance at one point, considering becoming a liturgical dancer.  And I also learned that when she was in Chicago she was in a Centering Prayer group, which is a discipline I also practice.

The photo above came in an email yesterday from Ellen Kroeker,  writing from New Zealand: “The Southern Ocean winds (the roaring forties which sweep across at that latitude) have been battering New Zealand for five days now.  I  have ignored the essays that need grading for too long.  I light a candle, pull my freesias closer and make a pot of tea (under the tea cosy in the picture) and pull out the Christine teacup.  Ah, not even alone, while the cold wind is rattling windows and doors.  I feel more settled now, an old friendship warming a very chilly spring day. I wish my students had some of her song in their writing.  I sigh, open another folder on the computer, and resolve to put some of Christine’s grace into my attitude and comments. When we think of her, she is alive in us, right?” Thank you, Ellen.

O Trees

O Trees

You have stood by me these two and a half years

and I still don’t know your names.

Nameless, you have steadfastly endured

beside me,  slender, tall, always reaching

you rise straight up from the earth

past the concrete, the glass, to the sky.

At night you brush the soft grey light

You even out the clouds.

While I sleep, you are the roost of angels

In the day you pull down the sun

You suck it out of the sky

You entice it to stay

You hold the light in your arms while I sleep.

My sister Christine Ruth Wiebe wrote this poem when she was living in Chicago, on Tuesday, February 12, 1991.

Ann Hostetler and my mother Katie Funk Wiebe are working on a special issue of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing focusing on Christine and Sylvia Bubalo, two writer/artists whose inspiring spiritual and artistic journeys deserve a wider audience.  Both struggled with chronic illness as well. Christine’s flavor was systemic lupus erythematosus.

I have been going through Christine’s letters and writings to find poems which she never showed to anyone, and this is one of them.   She also made the drawing, which was separate from the poem, but I joined them together here.  For the most part I have preserved her punctuation, but I am thinking that had she lived to publish this poem,  she probably would have added a few periods here and there.