What Came to Me
I picked up a fan-shaped leaf. It’s from the ginkgo tree. This time of year they turn golden. One day it’s full of gold; the next day, the ground is blessed with golden fans.
This is the tree we planted in memory of my mother, but it was not my mother that came to mind today. Instead, I thought of my sister Betty Jean Bland.
She was one of the middle children in my family. Betty loved the outdoors—collecting whatever she found: a bird’s beak, a white rock, a rusty coin.
I recall a blonde-haired girl, arms outstretched, spinning in a circle in a flared dress. No one in the family could match her on spinning time.
You could see the bliss in the five-year-old as she turned circles barefoot in a yard on Division Street in North Little Rock. I remember her spinning with closed eyes. How did she maintain her balance?
For the first time ever, I think of the Sufis spinning. Never have I connected my sister to the Sufis in Persia. But now, suddenly I do.
As a child, I did not do the spinning thing. At her age, I dug in dirt and made designs in the dirt like many do on beaches.
But what was the spinning all about?
Betty would spin and spin and fall down like a ginkgo leaf. After spinning, she was calm and happy. I smile as I think of her: Betty was hungry for happiness.
Her spinning was done without real effort. No work to it. Perhaps, by accident, she’d discovered bliss in spinning.
No one judged her for turning in a circle. It seemed as ordinary to our family as yawning or gathering clumps of daffodils.
It is only now, as an adult, that I think it could have been her creative way of making joy, or of surviving in our dysfunctional family.
Her movements seemed like those of one who had no conflict in her mind. Only calm and pleasure.
And when she fell, it was as if she let everything fall wherever it would.
This morning I think of dancers and skaters. I suspect that’s about joy and pleasure, too.
I once read poetry by a 13th century Persian poet and teacher named Rumi, who practiced Sufism. Rumi found ecstacy in dancing, poetry, and music.
The poet Coleman Barks, who has taken others’ translations of Rumi’s poems and published them in collections of verse easily understood by those not familiar with the culture, is careful with his words as he describes one of the possible legends attributed to Rumi. “It is said that Rumi once heard music and started doing this turn, and they say he did it for 36 hours and then fell down, but Rumi said, ‘I didn’t fall down. I just reached that part of myself that’s invisible.’”
According to Barks in an interview with Bill Moyers (The Language of Life, 1996), “Sufis believe each one of us is so fantastically beautiful and unique….that all we need to do is open our hearts to find that feeling of joy.”
My sister may have done that as she was spinning. Remarkable to me.
Rumi once wrote, “Leaves...seem identical,…but each is elaborately unique.”
Betty was elaborately unique, her own person, just as God made her.
If Betty found that blissful state by spinning, she discovered it without a teacher. She spun in circles no matter what we were doing as a family. Spinning satisfied something inside her.
I marvel as I look back on what seemed so ordinary.
This memory of Betty spinning encourages me to pick up the phone and connect with her.
May you find joy this week,
P.S. Betty says, "I just liked spinning."
Photo of leaves of the ginkgo tree taken by Pat Durmon, November 2020.
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