Circles

Holiday fatigue is over. I’m thinking about circles. Not geometric figures in art or mathematics. Circles of people. Circles of women. What is encircled and protected, and what is kept out. 

I have been in a circle for almost thirty years. A small group of like-minded folks, centered in spiritual practice. It is my religion, minus the churchy, patriarchal overtones, clergy elitism, and money-centric pleas.  We call ourselves the Rainbow Circle. Our monthly meetings are based in Native American spiritual practices, with meditation and earth-centric ceremony mixed in.

Just as the rainbow has come to represent the LGBTQ community, we welcome everyone. Over the years we have been mainly a gathering of women, with a few brave men coming along to help us remain in balance. Estrogen can be a powerful force and it takes a special man to sit comfortably every month with nine to twelve gals. So, there’s a special place in my heart for Jay, who stuck it out the longest, healthily male in every aspect. His wife joined us on only a couple occasions, and only for the shared communal meal after our gathering. She was never jealous of his time spent with this tribe of females and that, too, takes a special person. Jay crossed over two years ago.

Millie, too, a woman of color from the Bronx, is sorely missed since her passing four years ago. She helped us “keep it real” with her sarcastic eyebrow lift and her inquisitive mind. Just last evening I had a long conversation with her twenty-four year old grandson, who grew up knowing all of us. He is on the autism spectrum, an intelligent, caring young man, who is learning how to navigate the world of relationships. We are filling in for nana now. 

Margo, a down-to-earth force, born and raised in Maine, has been in a nursing home for the past three years. A stroke has compromised her body, but not her mind. She and Millie were best buds. I still remember, like it was yesterday, the day she called me to say Millie was gone. On vacation in Idaho, sitting in my sister-in-law’s living room, the call rocked me and sent a shock wave through the circle as the news spread. Now, Margo, too can’t be with us.  After volunteering in a Federal prison for eleven years, I brought Margo in with me to share the work. We sat in a circle of Native American women helping them to practice their spiritual traditions.

Margo was sensitive to their needs and relatable, in a practical down home way. Two years later, we passed the work on to a local Native man. Three years after that, all the women there were transferred to other prisons throughout the country. A circle dissolved. 

Circles do seem to come and go. I am so grateful for this Rainbow Circle as I see how fragile the lines of connection become. Ill health, death, moving away all change the landscape of the group. Sharel lives on the Cape, Shawn in Alaska. People joined for a period of time, then left. Once we were as many as ten to twelve; now we are six. The core group was constant. How long can we continue to hold together? Now, we are two lesbian couples and two straight women, both married. We celebrate births, graduations, anniversaries, marriages, and deaths together. I know the other five women as if we were wombed by the same mother. We are family; it’s not a cliche.

Recently, as much by luck as anything, I had the opportunity to participate in another circle for a seminar. Ten women, over sixty, gathered for ten weeks to talk and share ideas on readings we were given, led by an Episcopal minister. She facilitated the discussions as we slowly revealed ourselves to each other. I’ve come to the conclusion- that’s what women do. Whether it’s a spiritual circle, a quilting circle, a book club- we expose our undersides gradually. Superficiality is short-lived. It must be in our genes. Masks come down in the presence of enough estrogen, I think. I find comfort in that thought. When the seminar ended, I felt a sense of loss. How to stay connected? I sent this out to everyone who had participated, describing my feelings:

“Nine pairs of eyes on me. Nine pairs of ears listening. I’m met by authenticity, curiosity, kindness, openness and acceptance. Do you know what that means…in a world that says No as much, or more, than Yes?…in a world that has created robots and would have us all fall in line, think and act alike, while spewing hatred and separating us from each other?

This covey of beautiful birds holds no one at arm’s length; in fact, holds wings outspread to shelter and take each other in. No questions, no entry fees, no exams to pass. No invisible, unspoken criteria to be met. Each one asked only to be herself. Unique and valued.

A breath of fresh air weaves through the questions, the opinions and offerings laid on the altar of “what if nothing is wrong?” No sacrificial lambs up for the slaughter, but rather, tasty offerings for hungry souls. In this atmosphere strengths rise up and shine. We dance with the Marks and the Buddhist nuns. We cheer for Dibs and marvel at Milarepa, couched in our ideas and questions around forgiveness, compassion, and commitment .

We, circle of women, tapping out a code that has been honored for centuries when we gather together. I see you. I hear you. You are my sister. My mother. My daughter. My friend. I am blessed by the fact that you Are. The Spirit in me recognizes and honors the Spirit in you.”

I say this again to all women. I see you. I hear you. You are my sister. My mother. My daughter. My friend. I am blessed by the fact that you Are. The Spirit in me recognizes and honors the Spirit in you.

copyright 2020 Gail H. Ouimet

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