05 January 2011
Even before Joshua himself can cross over the Jordan River and into the Land of Israel, the Twelve Tribes of Israel are commanded clearly to take twelve stones from under their feet and carry them across the river, into the land, where they will set up an altar of devotion to God. This rooting, stone-bound act of faith has always reminded me of the times when on days off of school, we'd drive to the Westside of Milwaukee to visit my grandmother--Mom's mom--and how we'd often leave with a rock from Grandma's garden to deliver back to our garden on the Eastside of town. The silent conscription of stone from one side of the water (calm and distant from Lake Michigan's tumultuous shores) to the other (the prairie's aquatic horizon) felt like an exchange of currency only for the truly initiated.
So it was on these east - west journeys, brought to the garden by our mother's mother, to pay homage to hers, and then, in a totemic expression, transport back to the eastern boundary the rocks of remembrance.
"And these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel forever." Joshua's own stones stayed, unlike the others' which were brought up to Israel, as if to indicate a permanent exile despite the return home; the connection to a deeper heritage beyond the small remembrances brought from "there" to "here."
Some stuff leaves; and some remains. That is the nature of the transaction.
On a recent trip home I drove past both the home where my grandma raised my mom, now owned and inhabited by another, as well as the home where I was raised, with a garden re-landscaped, many times, their stones of inheritance perhaps long gone. How I yearned to step upon them! And as snow fell around me, I contemplated the shared dynamic among the ideas of history, longing, and remembrance; and I contrasted it with the the certainty of not-knowing in whose possession are the rocks of our existence.
The rocks, of course, stabilized gardens where flowers bloomed; and so in the midst of my reverie, I conscripted my dear mother into an adventurous walk through our old local garden center's labyrinthine alleys of bromeliades--ostentatious, stubborn, bright.
After the drives back to our side of town, mom would insist on passing by this small garden center and we'd create important psychology--mindfully moving stones from one garden to another, while finding, buying, and planting permanently local beauties. As if to say enough roads were traveled; it's permanence we seek. Phosphorescent blooms blinding out simple pear and apple trees from atop a perch at the dining room table; willow and maple swaying, like young kids in a school dance.
I saw Epic Explosions; mom's hands, among the cuttings, always rendered realism, patience and beauty.
The Twelve Tribes took the stones of Jordan with them, eager to exploit their magic; Joshua leaves them put, confident in their royal bloom