Posts by: Don Cramer

The Night My Mother Died

Dear colleagues on the Interior Mythos Journey,

I think the language of the new mythology will be crafted out of words and images from our own life experiences. The death of my mother is like a stone lodged in the river of my consciousness. Everything that happened and is happening in my life has been shaped by the currents set in motion by the life and death of the woman who birthed me.

The Night my Mother died.

My sister called from Yuma, AZ in the middle of the night. I was in London where I was directing a project on the Isle of Dogs. She was trying to keep her calm as she held back her tears.

"Donnie, our mother is dying. Mom is having a hyper allergic reaction to penicillin that had been carelessly prescribed. Her organs are starting to collapse. I got here just thirty minutes ago from Seattle. Dad is with Mom. She is trying to hold on, waiting for you to come."

I got the first flight out of Heathrow. My flight was spent in silence. I could not stop the flood of memories, each bathed in tears as I thought about how Mom shaped my values, my life.

On our homestead in the deep woods near Mount Rainier she heard my sister scream: "MOM! Donnie's hurt, come quickly!" Mom slowly pulled the manure caked tine of the old, broken pitchfork from my leg. She had to sit down and placed both hands on the handle and both feet on my leg to get it out from her sobbing five-year-old son. Sis opened the ironing board and Mom laid me on top of her makeshift operating table. She cleansed my leg and then poured iodine around and into the puncture, wrapping it with a clean rag, its ends tied in a knot.

With the stamina of a pioneer facing the possible death of her only son, Mom gathered my sister and slung me over her own shoulder like a young calf. She walked briskly the half-mile through the forest, laid me on the bottom between the legs of my older sister and paddled the dugout canoe across the river. She hailed a ride to the hospital, fearing the ravages from the Tetanus toxin. "You are going to be alright, Son." Her patience and matter of fact-ness calmed my crying to a periodic whimper.

On another occasion Dad and a couple of uncles in our extended family had just killed, scalded and butchered a large boar hog. Dad grabbed the severed head, ran to the house and stuck it up so that it glared into the kitchen window where Mom was fixing dinner. She screamed in fright and then grabbed a double bit axe and ran out the door, chasing Dad across the barnyard yelling, "I'll Kill you George Eugene Cramer." As she got near him she dropped the axe and he dropped the head. They embraced like the young lovers they were. They couldn't stop laughing. Uncles and aunts who had gathered for the butchering party joined in the laughter.

I remembered when Mom agreed to have me bring my college roommate, Sam, home for Thanksgiving. I had told Sam about my parents and we discussed various scenarios of what might happen. Sam agreed to come, whatever.

When we arrived Mom stepped out on the front porch, gave me a hug and then warmly gave the young black man a hug and said, "Welcome to our home." Then she called for my father to "Come meet Sam, Donnie's roommate from college." He came out, shook my hand and said, "Hi Son. Glad you got home for Thanksgiving." He turned to Sam and did a double take on the young man in front of him. He was flooded, I suspect, by his racially ingrained preconceptions. When he started back into the house Mom said, "George, shake Sam's hand then all of you get washed up, dinner is almost ready." To my delight, Dad shook his hand.

We sat down to a dinner that included conversations about where Sam was born and raised, his parents and family and how he liked college. After dinner Dad suggested that he and Mom take us for a drive up to Mount Rainier. Dad drove and asked Sam to sit in the front seat for the best viewing. When we left to go back to school both Mom and Dad thanked Sam for coming. Sam was the first black man either of them had interacted with.

When I came into her hospital room she opened her eyes, smiled and wept as we hugged. Dad and Sis left us alone, having already said their goodbyes. She stroked my hair as I knelt with my head on her arm. I held her other hand firmly. All that counted to either of us was that I had made it. Telling 'Remember When' stories paled in the midst of her pain. It was time to go. She was grateful for the life she had been given.

Her eyes were losing their sparkle.
"I love you so much, Son. Thank you for making me so proud just to be your mother." These were her last words.

My eyes were tearing. I fought for appropriate words.
"You have been a wonderful mother, Mom.
Such generous love and without conditions.
Thank you for being my mother."

Her grip on my hands relaxed and her eyes went blank.

The life force that had birthed and nurtured her, left her body. Her life giving wisdom, the sacrifices she made, her generosity, and the love she embodied, remain with me.

Mom, I still grieve your passing, now over 35 years later. I remain grateful for the gifts your life has given me, again and again. You will always be seated at the head of my meditative council.

Thank you Mother, Thank you.

Footnote: A Meditative Council is made up of those you choose: a parent, relative, mentor, friend or hero --- to visit with, consult with, and to share your journey. Some members may be cantankerous. They are a stone in your stream of consciousness. And some such stones are jagged.

I invite you to pick a member of your council and tell their stories ... about how they shape(d) your consciousness, your values, your mission. Share one of those stories with us.

My mother's name is Frances. You are welcome to invite her onto your council.

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What is Consciousness

What is Consciousness

Following are three events that altered my consciousness.

A Drowning: My first encounter with a human death was when my cousin, David Young, drowned in a small lake near his house. I was about 8 years old as was he. David and another friend tried to take a short cut home, hopped from grass pad to grass pad, slipped into a deep pool, kept going, soon found himself unable to sustain a swim than he had not anticipated. His friend made it across safely. When he got to shore and looked back, he could not see David. He yelled but got no reply and no sight of him. It had gotten fairly dark at the time. He ran to tell his mother who called the police.

My father helped drag the lake to find his body. After several hours David was pulled up with grappling hooks and his body was 'frozen' in a dog paddling position. He had sunk to the muddy bottom of the lake which was about 10 feet deep.

My consciousness exploded.
* David was my closest childhood friend and all of a sudden he was dead. Drowned. A gruesome death.
* I could have been with him that night.
* I wasn't but I knew it could have been me with him and both of us could have experienced the identical fate.
* I ran that scenario through my brain and my heart night after night, week after week.

What is consciousness
* Awareness of your vulnerability as a self. No denying it eyes wide open to the reality of death always.
* Deep, unspeakable sorrow over loosing people and other living things that you love and whose existence sustains you.* including plants, trees, pets, sight, hearing, etc.
* Finding a way to live with such loss and going on with your own life as it shows up each day.
* Being filled with awe and gratitude over your own aliveness and possibilities for fulfillment.

A Butchering: I lived on a family farm most of my life until I graduated from high school. We always had milk cows, beef cattle, chickens, rabbits, pigs and several domestic pets. During high school I got the assignment of being the farmer while my father continued his work as a lumberjack. Mom did the gardening, cooking, house cleaning and helped my sister and I with school. As the farmer I hand milked several cows, fed calves, chickens, pigs and separated the warm milk from the cream after each milking. I also tended to the out buildings, took care of the farm machinery, cleared land and mended fences. My early mornings, evenings and weekends were spent largely doing the farming. I did attend a few track meets as our teams' only long distance runner (1/2 to one-mile races). For training I ran home from school, 1 1/2 miles. If I was late the school bus didn't wait. I ran to school.

We butchered most of the animals we raised to provide energy for the family diet. I had been around butchering all my life, including deer and elk. My first year as the family farmer I raised a calf from his birth. I groomed him, trained him to walk with a halter and took him to the County Fair as my 4 -H project. We chased each other and I even rode him.

One sunny Saturday in mid fall my father said, "I want you to help me butcher a steer." "Ok" I said. We sharpened the knives, got pails with clean water and clean rags and pieces of plastic, ready for the event. Dad asked me to bring my 22 caliber rifle and a single shell. We went over to the two tall trees in our barnyard, from which a sturdy rope was strung through a pulley. It was a place where we could hang the animal for the butchering. After we had everything set up Dad said, "Put the halter on Joey and bring him here." Immediately I said, "But Dad he is mine. You said I could raise him. We can't just kill him." "Son, we need meat for our table and Joey is a mature steer. It's his turn." I stared at my father and then to Joey who was standing, watching and chewing his cud, only a few yards away. Dad said, "Do you want to kill him or should I" Tears were running down my face. "Ok, Son, you hold him and I will pull the trigger. Bring him here."

That night mother sliced and fried the heart from the butchering for dinner. As we sat down my father said, "Lets give thanks for Joey and thank you son for raising him." Mom then served up the heart accompanied by potatoes, string beans, onions and carrots from the garden. Alongside was fresh baked bread and hand churned butter. I had trouble eating that night.

My consciousness sizzled. It went through several mutations over the following days and weeks:
* I went from a happy friendship with Joey to watching him shot in the head, cutting his throat, removing his skin, cutting him into pieces and eating his heart, all within hours.
* I was angry with my father for his calloused attitude toward my affection for the young steer and my mother's serving his heart for dinner that very same day.
* My father's admonition: "Son, don't be friends with an animal we may have to butcher" burned since I had obviously forgotten his advice.* I had to relearn, in person, that one animal killing another animal for its food value had been around for millions of years.
* Emotional ties to animals is a fleeting experience in the face of the need to eat the flesh of other animals to survive. (Vegetarianism was not in our picture in 1952).What is consciousness
* Knowing my life is dependent on other creatures and life forms giving up their lives so I can live.
* Finding the balance between killing to live and* Protecting the resources for the future of civilization and our fragile planet.

A Mountain Climb: In 1956 I was in college and joined five other students in an attempt to climb Mount St. Helens, a volcanic snow capped Mountain about 90 miles south of Seattle. You may remember it blew its top in 1980. At that time it was 9,677 feet in elevation. We were eager to make the ascent. Most had never climbed a snow capped peak before, including myself. Our leaders were two older men (late 20's) who were veteran climbers who had climbed St. Helens and several other peaks in the Cascade Range. For our safety and improving the odds of making the summit and coming back alive they required three days of training before attempting to climb the Mountain. If we could not take all of the training, we could not go on the climb.

We had to be ready to cross snow fields, ascend glaciers that were sliced by mostly hidden crevasses and chop steps through an ice fall before maneuvering through a field of large steam vents from deep within the earth. We trained in crevasse rescue, self arrest with ice axes and crampons, how to read the weather at high altitudes and how to get an injured person safely down the mountain. We also trained in recognizing and attending to blisters, using special glasses to avoid snow blindness and the use of an opaque sunblock to avoid blistering. On the evening before the climb we did a thorough equipment check including ample water, food and clothing. We were in bed by dark and departed camp at 2 a.m. We made the summit successfully by noon. After lunch on the summit we descended successfully and were at our camp by late afternoon. No one was hurt, sunburned or had gotten blisters. On the day of the climb we had excellent weather.

On the other hand we rescued a member of another party from falling into a crevasse, read their team leader the riot act for not getting his team roped up and leaving his member too far behind to be heard or seen by the leader and for not training his party members as to the dangers of climbing a snow capped peak nor did he equip them with the skills to enjoy the majesty of the mountain and make it off alive. All the things that the 'leader' should have done he didn't.

Fortunately the man who had fallen into the crevasse was only 200 feet from our team. He had the intuitive sense to prevent himself from falling all the way into the crevasse by extending his arms when his feet fell through. Since I was the closest my team set up a double belay, I inched up to the panicked man, calmed him so he could help us get him out. I then explained what we were going to do. I slid a rope under his arms, tied a bowline knot snugly at his back and our team pulled us out of danger. The man was stricken with panic sobbing with tears of relief from not dying of hypothermia at the bottom of the crevasse. On the way down that same leader let his party race ahead of him down the mountain. He took off his crampons when he reached the pumice scree slopes. The man promptly slipped and broke his ankle. My team ended carrying him down the mountain.

My consciousness was deepened as never before.
* I had never experienced such dedication to preparing our team to avoid danger, stupidity and/or disaster.
* I had never felt more invigorated as when we successfully pulled the panicked man out of the crevasse.
* I had never been more confident in my personal ability to accomplish a difficult challenge.
* I had never experienced two leaders who knew how to train a motley group to be a proficient team, albeit inexperienced.What is consciousness
* Knowing your limits and preparing to compensate for them.
* Trusting other people with whom you have trained and have an implicit covenant to succeed.
* Anticipating danger and preparing to avoid or manage it when it comes.
* Enjoying victory and knowing when you have attained it.

From my experience consciousness often involves encounters with reality and choices as to how you will relate to those encounters: sorrow, anger, fear, hope, freedom to live at new depths with new options.

Suggestion: Have each member of your team write their story of an encounter with reality, how it altered their conscious and what they learned about life from those encounters. Share them with one another.


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