Happy Easter: on endings and beginnings (with sangomas and Elizabeth Bishop mixed in)

It’s Easter and I’m having lunch with a sangoma. Sangomas are traditional healers in South Africa. He tells me the story of his calling: visions and dreams starting very young. For along time he wasn’t sure how to handle them. He’d have visitations by the ancestors when he was a boy: headaches and fits. Until he began to accept them, slowly, slowly and then things calmed down. Finally he apprenticed under a sangoma, until he officially became one.


I’m not a big one for the Easter holiday. It’s a four day holiday here in South Africa and I’ve been working right through it, avoiding church invitations, catching up on work meetings with other non-adherents. But strangely, this year, something turned in me. You see, I’ve changed recently, started letting go of things. I’m reminded of the Elizabeth Bishop poem, “One Art,” a poem she wrote at the loss of her long time partner.


            The art of losing isn’t hard to master
            Some things seem so filled with the intent to be lost
            That their loss is no disaster


I’ve always been afraid of losing: I’ve always been afraid of endings and beginnings. I have often preferred the uncertain middle, hedging my bets, hanging onto places and people. But something has changed in me recently, I’ve begun to let go: cut people out of my life, leave memories to be just that (rather than another alternative reality floating in my head), saying good bye to parts of me, old habits. Elizabeth Bishop again:


            Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
            places, and names, and where it was you meant
            to travel. None of these will bring disaster.


And the odd thing is, the thing I never knew is that in letting go I open up to new realities: new people, new loves, new dimensions of my life. I’m reminded again that the past doesn’t exist (I have a hard time with this one) neither does the future. What if everything I did was only the optional baggage of a life already lived that could be set down at any time?


            —Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
            I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
            the art of losing’s not too hard to master
            though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


So the strangest thing of all is that I am moved by this Easter holiday. It makes sense to me for the first time: this mass adoration of a figure and a set of stories (Jesus). Today it makes sense as a way of connecting to process of letting go (dying) and renewal (which can happen only after death). I’ve always been afraid of endings and beginnings, and in some ways, maybe I’ve been afraid of myself (as my sangoma friend was also.)


Here’s to death and renewal, endings and beginnings, emergence.

Happy Easter

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