Encountering Borders and Crossing Boundaries: Metaphorically and Literally
It was a big week in the Shenandoah Valley.
A book talk about Mennonites and Nazism.
Preparations for a 24-day trip to Scandinavia.
And, of course, daily check-ins to see how baby Lydia and her parents are doing.
The theme of the conference, Crossing the Line, applies, in my case, to the lines of academic career, Mennonite faith and community, motherhood and grandmotherhood, American citizenship and global community.
I crossed over multiple identities so many times last week I feel a little dizzy.
So I am posting pictures and a few quotes to take with me as I traverse the Baltic Sea and trek and bike across Norway.
I attended several sessions on Amish and Conservative Women’s Narratives of Self and found them fascinating.
“Gelassenheit [yieldedness or submission to God] had its limits when it came to family.” –Esther Stenson
Antje Brons, first major Mennonite historian, nineteenth-century woman leader who influenced American and Canadian historians, who apparently ignored her militarism and German nationalism.
Her own description of her work? “Fruits of a grandmother’s leisure hours.”
She had eight children and 35 grandchildren, and was perhaps the most widely read Mennonite woman in 400 years of Anabaptist history.
The session on literary women, with Julia Spicher Kasdorf, Daniel Shank Cruz, and Jeff Gundy presenting on themes of queering tradition, bad Mennonites, and a woman who was “discussed a lot” in her time, described as a combination of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Day.
The keynote on Saturday took the audience on a detective journey of how Anabaptist women are represented to the world by strangers (French poet Guilluame Apollinaire, the creators of Breaking Amish reality TV show, Amish romances, and even Amish Vampire Romance).
Contrasting the over-simplified, binary images of popular culture to the complex, multicultural reality of Mennonite and Amish women in real life, Sofia asked the question, “Do you see how we’re caught here?”
After the sessions were over, there were opportunities for informal conversations, the best part of many conferences.
I counted fourteen former Goshen College students and faculty colleagues on the program.
Such a deep, deep satisfaction to see them go far beyond me in research, publication, and artistic achievement, all the while staying connected, in their own ways, to family, faith, and feminism.
I barely scratched the surface of this week, but perhaps these impressions will be enough.
Memory, after all, is fragmentary.
Quotes to take away:
“Is it possible to miss someone you’ve never met?” Rachel Epp Buller
“Women catch courage from women whose lives and writings they read, and women call the bearer of that courage friend.” Carolyn Heilbrun,
Friend, what did you see here that connects with you?
From your final quotes, I chose this one:
“Is it possible to miss someone you’ve never met?” Rachel Epp Buller
Sure. I have several friends around the world whom I have never met, including you, whom I miss.
I recently sent an outline of the first part of my memoir to a person I hoped to have as a mentor. My title was “Homesick.” I received a similar question – or several questions about being homesick for a place I’ve never seen:
Question 1: Now you are “Homesick,” but for what?
2. You never met your grandparents in Finland except through your mother’s stories and letters. So how could you have homesick longings for someplace you had never been?
3.You were living with your parents and siblings so that was your home, wasn’t it?
4. What does it mean that you were homesick from your earliest memories when you already had a home?
These questions are relevant, and so is the question in the quote. It is not something new. Paul wrote about those feelings long ago: Romans 1:11-12(NIV)
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
This was the perfect question for you, Lisa, because you have been feeling this inexpressible longing for your whole life. If you can find the language to make the invisible visible to others, you’ll write a great book. The questions your mentor poses are good goads. And the words from Paul in Romans a source of strength as you continue this challenging and important work. Blessings.
Perfect quote for you?
“I pressed in amongst the table and stood by the still-standing chimney and thought, ‘This is my home itself, where I began.’ I thought of my young parents, Iona and Luther.
My few memories of that place came to me, and I felt the presence of memories I could not remember.”
–Wendell Berry, “An Invisible Web”
I’m moved by Sofia’s question: “Do you see how we’re caught here?”
The problem of ‘being in the world but not of the world’ and how my ancestors sometimes solved that problem by drawing very tight borders still haunts me.
I feel that I wrestle with that ‘problem’ by choosing to be creative and by practicing discernment (the art of making decisions prayerfully/creatively). This path comes from hearing the second creation story in a particular way.
Once Adam and Eve ate from the tree of differences and the garden fell apart, the differences (G-d/people, good/evil, high/low, day/night, high/low…) allow us to be creators, to take things apart and put them back together again.
Staying one with G-d seems to require creativity, and this is what the female contribution to being Anabaptist emphasizes.
I enjoy your glimpses of the conference and I eagerly read “dispatches” that came from Anabaptist Historians, such as this one: https://anabaptisthistorians.org/2017/06/28/dispatches-from-crossing-the-line-crossing-the-line-art-exhibition/
Dolores, I too loved Sofia’s question, and I also love your answer. We don’t have to be caught in binaries when we can claim the power of creativity, participating with God in creation itself.
Thank you too for including a link to the Anabaptist historians website where so much good reporting is taking place. Excellent.
Your memoir moment “Everything’s Happening at Once” certainly connects to my current life as a 3-Ring Circus, a literal truth with bidders at Aunt Ruthie’s sale circling 3 auctioneers featured on my blog today. Incidentally, a woman auctioneer was in charge!
I am certain Julia Kasdorf Sleeping Preacher was sold from Ruthie’s extensive library, but my own copy of her powerful poems sits snug on my book shelf in easy reach. Thank you for posting her photo. Now when I re-read her writing, I’ll have an image of the woman behind the words.
Just now I recall a snippet from Tennyson’s Ulysses “Life piled on life” and the context
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things . . . .
Knowing your diligence, I’ll spare you the need to look up the link for your readers: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/45392
That’s how you roll, Shirley, curious and able to drink life to the lees. Me too!
Ah “Ulysses,” how often I have thought of this poem also. Thanks, Marian.
I have so enjoyed our parallel lives and stories over the last four years. Or has it been five? Glad you have finally settled the artifacts of the precious lives you cared for until the end. May the rest and the memories wash over you now.
Glad you can see an up-to-date picture of Julia. It’s a pleasure to see her blooming.
What a great picture of Lydia on that quilt! Vibrant love—and IL love those skinny baby legs. Had forgotten about those til my second granddaughter arrived recently . . .
Yes, those legs! Mama Kate says they are lengthening out and getting chubbier. Lydia is already into her first growth spurt. You recognize all the stages, grandpa!
Memory is fragmentary – so true – and it also is malleable. In memoir writing, when I explore my past my view of what happened changes – not the facts but the insight I gain as I dive back into the memories. For example what at the time seemed debilitating has turned into a tool to help others. God is the ultimate recycler and He takes what the enemy meant for harm and turns it into good.
I enjoy your blogs, your photos, your book, and the snippets of your family life that you share. Thanks for being so transparent. BTW I too love that little on on her blanket of many colors.
“God is the ultimate recycler.” What an interesting way to describe redemption. So glad you are delving into memoir, Heather. Yes, the rewards are great as we take the fragments of the past and turn them like kaleidoscopes to see what new pictures we can make. Just like Dolores, above, suggests.
Shirley — Ohhhhhhh, I wish I’d been a fly on the wall at the conference you attended. The takeaways sound rich and filling.
Of the quotes you shared at the end, the one that spoke to me is:
“Women catch courage from women whose lives and writings they read, and women call the bearer of that courage friend.” Carolyn Heibrun
That quote speaks to a book of short stories I’m currently writing titled: Fierce Women: Our Mothers, Our Sisters, Ourselves.
The photograph of Lydia is adorable!
Have a fantastic trip. I’ll be thinking about you as you bicycle across Norway!
I too love that quote, Laurie, and two presenters used it at the conference, so it is more likely to stick in my mind.
Short stories now. You are just amazing.
Thanks for admiring Lydia and for your travel wishes. I’ll likely have to do at least one blog on this trip when I return home.
Wow, Shirley, your cup is full and running over! Such a smorgasbord of activities–academic conference, house guests, delicious potluck food, a new grandbaby and a trip to Norway! All so wonderful and exciting. You are truly blessed! If you were told you could only choose to have one of these experiences, which one would it be, and why?
You got it, Elfrieda, and today I am squeezing this post into three or four other engagements in the busy days before the trip.
You ask a very hard question. I’ll have to remove Lydia from the equation, of course, because she would be #1 in any contest. The house guests were part of the conference (and of the 14 former students and colleagues there). The much anticipated trip hasn’t happened yet, so I guess I’ll say the conference and all the relationships it created and enhanced would be my answer.
The 9 presentations I was able to take in were all outstanding, particularly one on the obscure topic of “Plain and Simple: The Debate Over Swiss Mennonite Headcoverings in Ontario 1910-1930.” From that particular, she addressed, briefly “religion in public space” and gave me much hope for the future of Mennonite scholarly work in many realms–Laura Morlock, doctoral candidate from University of Waterloo. So glad I was able to fit part of this in my schedule. What an opportunity at our backdoor. Fun to see you too and wishing you a relaxing and fascinating journey!
Thanks for adding an impression from another session I couldn’t attend, Melodie. The conference was packed with presentations so that all 200 attendees each chose different menu items from the buffet.
I like that you described yourself as hopeful about the future. I felt the same way even though almost every session included darkness in past and present.
“Is it possible to miss someone you’ve never met?” I think Yes, because a stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. I sure most of us can think of a person that we would love the opportunity to meet, to have more than just a casual conversation. This could be a deep longing in all of us, to miss meeting someone.
What connects most with me is beautiful baby Lydia on her amazing quilt of many colours. The colours of baby Lydia’s clothing and the colours in the quilt are so vibrant and bright.
You know how to make a proud grandma feel even prouder, June. Thank you. My daughter has chosen the rainbow — “all the colors all the time” to be her signature. We joke that her daughter will probably like black and beige, but, for now, she is getting all the colors!
That longing for the unknown friend, I believe, is ultimately a longing for God. I think we all have it in some form.
What a rich time Shirley! Thank you for sharing it with us and your reflections and for the quotes and posing the questions ..
A coat of many colours was my first impression – it is just beautiful! As is baby Lydia – as are all the photos!
Yes, I think it is possible to miss someone whom one has never met – there is always a longing or a yearning for ‘the other’ which in my view is ‘the other’ within ourselves that we have yet to integrate …
Thank you, Susan.
Love the way you express the longing for the one not met. Jung couldn’t have said it better himself. 🙂 “there is always a longing or a yearning for ‘the other’ which in my view is ‘the other’ within ourselves that we have yet to integrate …”
Sometime I’d like to hear more about your description of Julia Kasdorf as “the mother of us all.” I know she writes inspiring and ground breaking stuff … but ? Perhaps the description from Wikipedia fills me in here? “…she took the initiative to not only express personal issues of Mennonites but to publish them and become an award-winning poet for her courageous acts and writing. She covered many topics that you would not expect to read about from a Mennonite poet such as desires, marriage, domestic life, and personal encounters she had with other Mennonites whether it was in her hometown or on her journey to becoming a writer.” (When you have time, sometime down the line!)
Quick answer. Julia would probably be embarrassed by this description, but I do think the Wikipedia article explains it rather well. But that’s just a beginning.
She bridges history and literature and prophetic social commentary. Her new book is about Fracking. Her paper at the conference was about Alta Schrock and is based on real digging in primary and secondary sources.
She is generative in another way also. She encourages younger writers and is gracious and courteous to older ones.
She may be Episcopalian, but I see her always as Mennonite. 🙂 She knows more about us than the average pew dweller in any Mennonite church.
For starters . . .
Thanks! And bon voyage!
[…] Shirley Showalter, author and president emeritus of Goshen College. writes about the conference on her blog, […]
You’ve had a busy week–filled with many wonderful ideas and emotions. And it’s all topped off with that baby on the colorful quilt. My brain is too tired to sort it out right now–but there’s definitely a metaphor of life there–wisdom of women, colored by love, handed down through generations to a baby girl.
I smiled at your tired brain because my own is quite depleted right now too, Merril. You made a lovely string of pearls out of this post. I will take it with me to Copenhagen tomorrow! “Wisdom of women, colored by love, handed down through generations to a baby girl.”
How lovely, Shirley. Safe travels and have a wonderful trip. I don’t know why but Copenhagen always sounds magical to me. 🙂
Wow–that’s quite a conference! I would love to have been there, listening. I’ll be waiting to hear what you came away with, and how your travels influence what you heard/learned.
The quilt! Lucky Lydia Ann, indeed.
Have a wonderful summer, Shirley.
The women, the learning, the food, and the baby–the new cycles of life. And off you go on another wonderful trip. I’m glad you’re doing it. Vic and I had many planned after his retirement. Life and death said no, but we’d taken many wonderful trips before. I cherished them–even the hard ones to places like India.
Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more chontent diversity for our community and I enjoyed reading your work. I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. If “OK” please let me know via email.