After the Vermont Art of Mentoring, some close friends stopped by to stay the night. There were three families total including mine. The teenagers slept, recovering from all-night adventures at the Teen Rendezvous. The younger children played in and out of the house, climbing trees, drive-by snacking. The adults sat contentedly around the kitchen table sharing insights from the week.
Then there was the Green Rag.
It was the dishtowel that had been used for who knows what for who knows how long. It was a little gross and it sat on the table amongst the guests.
The conversation came around to some emotional exchanges about relationship. “Do you really want to be related to me? Because I have my ups and downs, and it isn’t always pretty.”, one of the adults expressed. Right then, something powerful came to the surface.
After many years of knowing each other, visiting each others homes, caring for each other’s children a gateway of sorts materialized. The challenging questions essentially were “Is this real ? Will you really be there for me when my stuff comes up? Can I trust this?”
The response in the room was electric and silent. A kind of formality entered the room. Something historic was happening. It reminded me of when Ingwe gave me the Ndaka Oath (but that’s another story).
I looked around and saw the Green Rag and began a declaration, a tone that sounded ancient, of commitment to the other. “In the spirit of extended family will you adopt me as your brother, ” I began, ” I will call you my sister, your children my nieces and nephews, and from here forward refer to you as family.”
And as a symbol of creating that family bond, like an invisible rope between kin, I looked down into my hands at this, moist, slightly piquant, green dishtowel. I could feel that we were stepping over a line into “real”. These were not casual words, it was an oath, a commitment and we were being witnessed.
I balled up the rag, with no apologies, and tossed it to my new extended family “sister” and said “Would you be auntie to my children ? ” She smiled, tears in her eyes, acknowledging the humor and depth to the green rag metaphor. ” I would be honored “, she said.
Around the table we went, tossing the green rag, accepting all that it had to offer. This was part of being family. And we knew that the rag was used to clean up spills, to make things clean again, to scrub old gunk off the floor. We knew the rag would be periodically washed, rinsed, aired out to dry, folded, only to be used again. This was our symbol of “real” relationship. We would be there for each other for the high’s and the lows. And we would take care and tend these relationships with awareness and intention now.
At this point I noticed I had adopted some of their children as my nephews, in the course of leading them through the Boys Sacred Fire Initiation. “Yes.” we said to each other, ” call the children in, they need to be apart of this too.” They drifted in with sleepy smiles, curling into laps. I could see some had a “knowing” look on their face, about what was happening. The feeling in the room was pregnant.
Another edge. The most respectful approach clearly was to ask each of them directly, will you be my niece ? Will you call me uncle ? What if they say no ? Having done this before I began, “I want you to know that I am like a brother to your father and mother,” and to prove it I said, “we just tossed this green rag back and forth”. Everyone laughed. When it quieted down I continued with the formal tone, lighter now but with commitment and intention, ” You always have a place here that you can call home, a place you can come to like you have. Especially if you need support, take a break from the parental sibling scene, I will be there for you. Would you be willing to call me Uncle from now on and I will call you my niece ?” ” Yes, I would love that !”
Around the kitchen we went, auntie to nephew, uncle to niece, auntie to niece, Uncle to nephew. There were so many real “ropes” of relationship going back and forth in that kitchen I felt like I was the luckiest man alive.
The kids ran off and played, like they already got this extended family thing and we were just catching on. And it was time to move on with our day, our travels. We stood up and something was calling, something, symbolic. Now what ? How do we remember? I glanced down at the balled up rag, sitting in the center of the table. “Would anyone like to take this home and clean this, care for it ?”
“Yes !” one adult responded, “I had the same thought, I want to make a pouch for it, so that we can bring it out again if we need to.” We nodded. Yes. It’s no longer a dirty dishtowel, somehow it has meaning, and we can’t go back. It has now entered the realm of the sacred.
Just like our relationships on that day.