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by J. Cloud Miller
Dedicated to Sage and Dragan
Thanks to Pachakuti shaman Daniel Moler (https://www.danielmolerweb.com/) for the inspiration and knowledge necessary to write this (though any mistakes I might have made are mine alone)
Bridgit's grandpapa died when she was eleven years old. He'd been sick for nearly a year, and the doctor had warned Bridgit and her family that his death was approaching. But that didn't make Bridgit feel any better. And there had been a funeral at the UU church, with lots of grandpa's friends and relatives. But that didn't make Bridgit feel any better. Bridgit had even visited a grief counselor, Ms. Ray. And that had made her feel a little better, but only a little. Bridgit still thought about grandpa every day, especially when she passed the blooming dogwood trees on her way to school. Grandpapa had loved to see the trees bloom in their shades of white and pink. But now he'd never see them again. Or so Bridgit thought.
Sometimes seeing the trees and smelling their sweet fragrance made Bridgit cry. On those days, she hid in the hedges across the street from the stand of trees until she could get herself to stop crying. She'd almost been late to school two times.
Bridgit's mama and papa told her that it helped them to meditate about how grandpapa had gone to live in the spirit world. They often meditated at their special places.
Mama was Hindu, and she kept a shrine that always had lots of flowers and fruit on it. There were also statues of a golden goddess and a blue god, and they each had four hands. Sometimes mama put out other statues: tigers and elephants and asps and monkeys and all sorts of wild beasts.
Papa was a druid. He kept an altar with colored candles around the edges. In the middle was a little cauldron and a little silver branch that even had tiny silver berries hanging from it. There was also a statue of a man with horns who sat with his legs crossed and a half-smile on his face.
Bridgit loved mama's shrine and papa's altar very much. And she sometimes liked to sit and meditate with one or both of her parents. But their special places didn't feel right for her when she was by herself. She hadn't found what she needed to make her special place yet. She knew where to begin, though. Bridgit's papa had given her something from grandpapa, something he'd very much wanted Bridgit to have - grandpapa's watch. The face of the watch was cracked, and it didn't tell the time anymore. But grandpapa had loved the watch band, which had been stitched to show a line of llamas trailing off into the distance against a landscape of mountains. Bridgit kept the watch in her pocket all day and on her nightstand all night. She knew the watch would become part of her special place, if she could just figure out how to find it.
Bridgit set off early for school one morning. She told her mama that she wanted to get to the school library and see the new books the school had recently bought. And this was true, but it wasn't all of the truth. Bridgit also set out early because she didn't want to be late to class if the dogwoods made her cry.
The trees were more beautiful than ever, all pink and white. Tears began to prick at Bridgit's eyes. She wanted to just walk quickly by them, but she had to stop.
Stu was sitting on the park bench. He'd stopped to tie his shoelace. Stu was a bully from Bridgit's class. He teased Bridgit and her friends, he sometimes tried to spit on them. He even pushed them sometimes when he was feeling mad, which was most of the time.
Luckily, Stu didn't see Bridgit. Once he'd laced up his shoe, he headed for school on his skateboard. He didn't look back to see Bridgit standing by the hedges.
And then, as Bridgit walked by the trees and tried to hold back her tears, she saw someone else she knew - Mr. Ramon (Bridgit wasn't sure if that was his first name or his last). Mr. Ramon lived in Willow House, a special apartment building for older people. Grandpapa had lived in Willow House until he'd died. He and Mr. Ramon had been good friends. Bridgit had met Mr. Ramon at Willow House on her visits to grandpapa, and Mr. Ramon had sat with her and mama and papa in the front row at grandpapa's funeral.
"Hello?" Mr. Ramon called as he caught sight of Bridgit. "Aren't you Robert's granddaughter?"
Bridgit felt a little shy, but she'd already met Mr. Ramon. Her parents liked him, and she liked him too. She swallowed and headed across the street, watching for cars even though the street was never very busy at this time of day. Mr. Ramon had a little bundle of brightly colored cloth with him.
"Yes, I can see you better now." Mr. Ramon said. "It's Bridgit, right?" She nodded. "You are Robert's family, I can tell. Your papa looked a lot like Robert, and you have his dark hair and his curious green eyes. On your way to school?"
Bridgit nodded and sat down on the bench. Then she gave Mr. Ramon the strangest of looks.
"What is it?" Mr. Ramon asked.
Bridgit inhaled deeply. There was the smell of dogwoods, the smell of grass - and another smell. A smell Bridgit hadn't realized she missed terribly.
Bridgit and Mr. Ramon were sitting at opposite ends of the bench. Now Bridgit moved closer, taking a spot (though it seemed hard to believe) where Stu the bully had been sitting just a minute or two before. And now she was sure. She inhaled a smell that made her imagine it was raining fruit juice, like orange trees and the beach and… grandpapa!
Before she realized she was speaking, Bridgit said, "You smell like grandpapa. I mean… I don't mean you smell bad. I mean you smell--"
"Like agua de Florida," Mr. Ramon said, smiling. His face was only a little lighter than mama's, a color like the toffee candies Bridgit loved to eat. When he smiled, wrinkles bunched together near his eyes. "Florida water," he explained. "My mesa smells like it. It's the smell of heaven."
Bridgit's eyes goggled. "It is?"
Mr. Ramon shrugged. "I'm sure it's at least one of the ways heaven could smell. Isn't it lovely? My favorite smell. And Robert's."
"And mine," Bridgit said. Suddenly, her green eyes were overflowing with tears. They fell over her cheeks and splashed in the grass as she suddenly became very talkative. "It smells like grandpapa, and I hadn't even remembered that it was part of his special smell because I didn't even know what it was called or anything. And then I didn't know I'd known it - except I must have because I recognize it now and-- and I miss grandpapa so much!" Now Bridgit was sobbing.
Mr. Ramon slid across the bench and put his hand on her shoulder. Bridgit held his other hand and cried for a few minutes. She cried harder than she had before, but the crying made her feel better. It had never made her feel any better before. And when Bridgit stopped shaking, she noticed something that surprised her. Mr. Ramon was crying too. He wasn't sobbing, but tears were slowly leaking from his eyes.
"You miss him too?" It was a question, but she already knew the answer.
"Oh, yes." He sighed. "I miss him every day. I expect him to come into the room and bring me a cup of coffee like he always used to do. I expect him to start complaining about movies, about how--"
"-- they make such bad movies here in the USA!" Bridgit said. And then, after having surprised herself several times already that morning, she surprised herself by laughing. They both laughed. And she realized she hadn't laughed in weeks, even though she hadn't noticed until now. "And something else he used to talk about," Bridgit added. "Something you said. A mesa, I think. Isn't that like a flat mountain?"
Bridgit almost felt bad she'd mentioned it because Mr. Ramon stopped laughing and looked a little sad again. "It is. But Robert was talking about his mesa."
Bridgit's eyes got very big again. "He owned a flat mountain?"
Mr. Ramon smiled. "No, no. 'Mesa' is just the Spanish word for 'table,' but he didn't mean his table either. There is another meaning too. A special meaning for Pachakuti like me and Robert." Bridgit wasn't sure what this word meant, but she didn't want to interrupt Mr. Ramon. "Look here. This is a mesa." He untied the bundle on his lap and laid it out on the park bench between them. He moved a few objects into place and explained, "Here, at the south, is the place for Pachamama - that's a place for our Earth Mother. She supports us and gives us shelter and food and drink. Lots of people put stones here for her, but anything that reminds you of the earth is fine. I knew someone once who put some of her dog's fur here, and I know a man who puts pine needles here. I have some bark from one of the dogwood trees over there. I asked the park ranger and then I asked the tree, and they both told me I could take a little bark for my mesa."
"You talked to a tree?" Bridgit asked, amazed.
"The tree didn't talk to me with words like we're talking now," Mr. Ramon said, "but its spirit told my spirit I could take the bark. Anyway, from the south we go to the west part of the mesa. It's for Mama Killa, the moon. It's a watery place that helps us understand our emotions and our dreams. People put seashells here a lot, or corals. I know someone with a shark's tooth here, and someone else with a bowl of tropical fish! I keep my little bottle of Florida water here."
Bridgit felt a little thrill as she listened to Ramon and looked at his mesa. Something about mesas felt very… but she wasn't sure how it felt, except that it seemed right and good. Maybe not right for anyone else, but right for her and Mr. Ramon and grandpapa.
"The north part of the mesa is for the air, Wiracocha. It's a place for thoughts and spirit, and it sometimes makes you feel as if you are flying way up high with the clouds. Lots of people put feathers here. Or they burn incense or maybe keep a fan here. I have the feather of a duck from the pond at the park. She's my friend."
Bridgit liked how Mr. Ramon mentioned talking to trees and befriending ducks. He talked as if he lived in a fantasy story. But she was also confused. Rocks and trees and things didn't talk, did they? You had to have a mouth to talk, and a brain to know a language or have thoughts. Didn't you?
"Which just leaves east," Mr. Ramon said. "This place is for father sun, Inti. Its a fiery place for creativity and when you feel on fire with ideas."
"Like when I learn about mesas!" Bridgit said with excitement.
"I hope so," said Mr. Ramon. "People often put candles or sun symbols here, just like I have this little yellow candle."
"But you have something in the middle of your mesa too," Bridgit said.
"Yes. This is a quartz that reflects all the colors of the rainbow. The center is the place of K'uychi - the sacred rainbow. In the center, the power of all the other places comes together."
"Oh-- oh," Bridgit exclaimed. "I keep remembering so many things I didn't know I didn't know. It's like there's another me that I'm finally getting to meet."
"That sounds very wise to me," Mr. Ramon said.
"I can remember grandpapa's mesa now. It wasn't always the same. It changed all the time. But I remember it. The cloth was white and pink, like the dogwoods, and it smelled like yours. Like Florida water. Sometimes there was an amethyst and there were feathers, black ones and blue ones and white ones. And flowers sometimes. And once he made a little waterfall, and once he had a candle shaped like a pyramid. And-- He kept our picture at the center! A picture of me and mama and papa standing under a rainbow. Grandpapa took that picture when I was only five."
"So," wondered Mr. Ramon, "what do you think of mesas?"
Bridgit knew without even having to stop and think. She liked mesas. They felt right. "I want a mesa of my own," Bridgit said. "A place for all the things you were talking about. I have a bit of cloth that would be just right. It was left over after my mama made a sari. It's covered with pictures of flowers. Oh, I'm so excited! I'm going to start right away! Thank you, thank you! And… Mr. Ramon?"
"Will you give me a few drops of Florida water for my mesa cloth?"
Bridgit's piece of flowery cloth was in her backpack. She didn't really know why, but she'd been keeping it there for a few weeks now. She brought it out now.
"You are too young to have your own bottle of Florida water," said Mr. Ramon. "But I could give you a few drops to rub into your mesa cloth." He let a few drops drip from the bottle onto her fingers, and she rubbed the wonderful grandpapa-smell into the smooth cloth.
Then Bridgit headed for her (and grandpapa's) favorite dogwood - one with blooms that were the palest pink, almost white. She wasn't sure how she felt about talking to the tree. But, she realized, she didn't have to. Several of the petals had fallen onto the ground. She gathered them together and then tied them up in her mesa bundle. She could put them at the south for Pachamama.
When she got home, she explained her excitement about her mesa to mama and papa. Even though Bridgit hadn't noticed that she hadn't been laughing or smiling in the last few weeks, her parents had noticed. They'd been worried about her. Papa was so happy to see Bridgit happy that he even cried a little.
And mama and papa offered gifts for her mesa. Mama gave her a seashell for west and Mama Killa when she got home. Then, as she was playing before dinner, a warbler flew overhead and dropped a gray feather into her hair. She knew that should be for Wiracocha in the north. And, after dinner, Papa offered one of his candles for Inti - a green one just the color of Bridgit's eyes.
For the center of her mesa, Bridgit drew a picture of grandpapa standing under a rainbow. She rolled it up and put it in his watchband.
That night, as Bridgit fell asleep next to her mesa on the nightstand, she almost thought she heard grandpapa's voice in the shell, saying, "Good night. Good night, little one. Good night." She fell asleep smiling.
Bridgit was full of cheer the next morning. She crossed the street and, instead of hiding in the hedges, greeted the dogwood trees (even if she still didn't quite believe they'd answer her).
She was happy all through morning classes and lunch. She was jolly through recess. In fact, she told her good friends all about her mesa. The idea spread from classmate to classmate until nearly a dozen boys and girls had asked her how they should arrange their mesas. She wasn't always sure how to answer, except to ask them questions. "What does earth (or water or air or fire) make you feel like? What does it make you think of?" she'd ask - or, for the center, "What makes you think of magic? What makes you feel the most special?" And she remembered to tell them how they shouldn't light candles without help from grown-ups. She felt happy about sharing her and grandpapa's and Mr. Ramon's special gift with the other students.
And the mesas sounded wonderful. One of Bridgit's classmates said she had a statue of a squirrel in her attic that made her think of Pachamama. A third-grade boy insisted he had to make a clay dolphin for Mama Killa. A fifth-grade girl who was good at sewing decided to make a flag for Wiracocha, so that it could flap in the breeze. And another fifth-grader insisted that he didn't want a candle for Inti. He wanted to make a crepe-paper sun, all yellow and orange and red and white. And another classmate decided to set up his chemistry-set volcano for Inti. And almost everyone had something different for K'uychi - bright beads and photographs of rainbow-colored fish and crosses and cedar branches and as many things as there were children who wanted to make mesas. Bridgit thought it all sounded wonderful.
Until disaster struck.
After lunch, Bridgit went to check her own mesa in her backpack. And it was gone. She searched the backpack twice, three times. She searched her locker. She searched her classroom. She couldn't find her bundle anywhere.
She somehow managed to get through math and social studies and a movie about butterflies that would normally have fascinated her. But not today. Without her mesa, she felt as if she might cry at any moment. She felt wounded.
Then, after school, some of her friends wanted to walk back to their neighborhood together. They wanted to walk by to the park. They wanted to talk about mesas. And, somehow, Bridgit didn't want to make them sad. So she just went on talking to them about mesas and tried not to cry.
Mr. Ramon was sitting in the park with his bundle spread out. Bridgit's friends were excited to see his mesa - so excited, in fact, that he had to remind two of them that it's considered rude to touch someone else's mesa without permission.
He could see, right away, that Bridgit was upset. When he took her aside and asked her about it, another rush of words spilled from her mouth.
"I don't know where my mesa is. I looked and looked and I can't find it. I slept with it last night, and I think I had a dream about grandpapa and I-- oh, I don't want the others to know, but I feel so horrible!" A tear did creep from her eye now. "I finally had everything. It was perfect, with a candle and a shell and-- It was perfect, and now it's gone!"
Ramon smiled at her, although she could see he was still sad for her too. "But mesas change all the time because our spirits and our minds are always changing." Bridgit wasn't quite sure what he meant. "Let's see," Ramon said. "Think of it this way. You said you slept with your mesa next to you last night. I'm sure your mama and papa wouldn't let you have a candle lit all night, would they?"
"No, they said it isn't safe," Bridgit said. "It might start a fire."
"But you still treasured your mesa all night. You didn't need a flame to think of fire. We can feel the spirit of the trees talking to us. We can still feel your grandpa, even though his body has been buried. We're connected to all of it - all of it!" Bridgit was about to say she wasn't sure, she didn't know, but Mr. Ramon was still talking. "Your mesa can talk to you, and it can be here even when you can't see it or touch it. Your mesa is, well, alive. It has its own spirit."
Bridgit was happy and sad together. She would miss her mesa, but she wouldn't either. The mesa had helped her connect to nature, but nature was still here. The dogwoods that had dropped their petals were still here. Warblers and flames and rainbows were still here - even when you were only thinking about them.
Then she saw Stu - Stu the bully - walking down the sidewalk.
Only he didn't seem so much like a bully today. He was walking slowly toward them. He held his skateboard in one hand and his backpack in the other. He was staring at them until they caught sight of him. Then he only looked at the ground. By the time he reached the park, everyone was staring at him. A few of Bridgit's friends were edging away, afraid he might push them down.
And then Stu did something that Bridgit had never, ever seen him do before.
He started to cry.
Bridgit started to cry too. Only, this time, she cried happy tears - for the first time in weeks. Mr. Ramon had been right. Grandpapa was still here. She saw him appear just behind Stu and smile at her. She could smell his smell of Florida water and aftershave, and she could taste the butterscotch candies he used to give her when she visited him at Willow House. Although he stood too far away to touch her, she somehow felt his soft hand against her cheek.
"I love you, Bridgit," he said.
Suddenly, everyone in the park was crying. Bridgit heard them and looked around. They were all looking at the spot where grandpapa was standing. She wasn't sure they were all seeing what she was seeing, but they were all seeing something. And, although they were weeping, most of them were smiling too.
When she looked around, grandpapa was gone.
No, Bridgit corrected herself. I can't see him right now, that's all. Just like I can't see my mesa, but I can still talk to Pachamama or Mama Killa; Wiracocha, Inti, or K'uychi. I can be there even when I'm not there.
Amazingly, just as she started planning her new mesa, Stu handed her the old one.
"I'm sorry," he said, wiping his eyes on his shirt. "You were all talking about mesas, and I guess I was jealous. But I couldn't stop thinking about it. All through math and social studies and… well, I had to find you and give it back."
"It's ok," Bridgit said. "I even know how I might want to change it now. Because mesas can change, just like anything that's alive." Then her jaw dropped. "I just remembered another thing I didn't know I knew," she said suddenly. "Something my grandpapa and I used to chant when I was very little. It went like this:
Pachamama, Mama Killa,
Lovely K'uychi in between.
Earth and water,
air and fire,
make a rainbow, make me free.
Everything is here inside,
And everything is there outside,
and I stand in between.
"That's a good one," one of Bridgit's friend's said.
"Yes, I remember Robert chanting that sometimes," said Ramon. "I'd forgotten--"
"That you knew it?" Bridgit guessed. They laughed.
And soon Bridgit was jumping to the chant while Stu and Mr. Ramon turned the rope for her.
And Bridgit asked mama and papa about making a group for other kids who wanted to learn about mesas. They found some Pachakuti in their town to host it. As it turned out, Ms. Ray was one of them. They meet every Wednesday under the dogwoods, and they talk and eat and sing and dance and remember their loved ones who have crossed into the next world. If you go by this week, you'll probably hear them chanting:
Pachamama, Mama Killa,
Lovely K'uychi in between.
Earth and water,
air and fire,
make a rainbow, make me free.
Everything is here inside,
And everything is there outside,
and I stand in between.
And how do I know this? I, who have never met Bridgit or Mr. Ramon or Robert or any of them? I know because the dogwoods told me. Bridgit talks to them nearly every day.