Survivors of severe trauma and abuse know sadness, I believe in a way that non-survivors never really can. Where is our comfort?
A few days ago someone commented in response to a response I made to one of her blog posts about my perpetual sadness: “It sounds like what they call Weltschmerz, Linda. That’s a condition where you are melancholy because of the suffering in the world.”
Some days I feel like I am on the bottom of a very large body of water, and though I feel fortunate that I can see light on the surface, it can be extremely difficult if not impossible for me to ‘get up there’. I also find that I have emotion invested in many things that I don’t believe most people even notice. Destruction of the natural world as plants, animals and the soil is torn up for never ending so-called progress and development is a big one for me. I suspect this happens to me to a large extent because of my attachment and bonding to the pristine universe of the Alaskan wilderness I grew up with on our homestead.
I haven’t been writing much lately because my relationship with words is very weak right now. Words seem mostly to belong to that surface place of light and not to the darker places deep within the large bodies of water or deep within the earth where my sadness seems to take me.
But there is a story I discovered over a month ago that I want to post. I am going to share this story with you, written by someone else, because it is a story that resonated with two important states of my being.
The one state, as I mentioned, is the sad one related to the places in my heart and soul that have been stretched and exercised by nearly unbelievable sadness from the 18 years of abuse I suffered from my mother and within my home of origin. This sadness is touched by suffering of others, and greatly by the silent suffering of the wondrous life of our planet that is so vulnerable to human caused destruction.
The other state I want to mention must run a parallel course for me with this first one, but in some way it is its opposite. This second state is unfortunately often remote from me. Yet when this state is activated, I feel I have found something so beautiful that if I can find ways to keep this state close to me it helps me carry on in spite of the sad one. At this moment I don’t have a name, a word, for this second state, but perhaps by the end of this post I will.
With minor editing, here is the story I found in one of the first year’s editions of our local weekly paper which began in 1985. I will post the obituary for this author at the end of this post. Grace McCool was published in The Bisbee Observer with a column she titled ‘Out of the Past’ for seven years:
“The first Christmas known to be celebrated in Cochise County was on Dec 23, 1697 when Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino, came north across the desert from Mexico and presented Coro, the chief of the Sobaipuri [soh-BY-per-ee or soh-by-poorh-ee] tribe of Indians who were then farming along our San Pedro River, a gift of 10 blue, grey, and black, needle-hoofed Andulusian breeding cattle. These tribesmen had long heard of the cattle the Spaniards had brought to the New World and they were so delighted with this gift they presented the priest with corn, dried squash, and epary beans from their gardens.
On Christmas Day, Fr. Kino recorded in his diary, he said mass in the mud-walled village called Quiburi. Within a few months he had baptized all of the 1,850 Indians living in 390 houses within the area and farther south along the river. He re-named the town San Pablo de Quiburi. [Quiburi -- or "Many Houses" in the O'odham language of the Sobaipuri -- The Sobaipuri Indians were an Upper Piman group who occupied southern Arizona and northern Sonora (the Pimera Alta) in the 1400-1800s. They were a subgroup of the O'odham or Pima, surviving members of which include the Tohono O'odham, the Akimel O'odham, and the Wa’k O'odham. They were one of several O'odham groups present and the O'odham were one of several indigenous groups present.]
These peaceful Indians (whose chief, Coro, wore three egret feathers in his headband as his badge of office) made a living from gardens cultivated with stone hoes and watered by small irrigation ditches from the San Pedro River. They wore homespun garments laboriously spun and woven from the wild cotton which still grows in this area.
Outside of conflicts with the Apaches, who in the end wiped out the Sobaipuris, there seems to have been no meanness in these Indians at all. Strangely enough, they had some idea of the Christian faith and they told Fr. Kino the legend of La Senorieta Azul, one of the prettiest stories of the Southwest.
[I have tried to discover where McCool acquired her information for this story, and cannot. Nowhere does there seem to be recorded fact that the Apaches “wiped out the Sobaipuris.” True, Apache aggression seems to have forced these peaceful farmers to leave their grounds along the San Pedro river, but forced migration is not the same thing as annihilation. Nor does it seem clear exactly who the Sobaipuris were the ancestors of – possibly the O’odham (the tribe’s name for themselves rather than Pima. The Apache people were very recent newcomers to the Southwest, arriving not much sooner than the Spaniards.]
A beautiful woman, dressed in a blue nun’s habit, came walking barefoot across the desert to them some 50 years before. She carried neither food nor water. She told the Indians of the Christian God and good luck always followed her several visits. The Indians said she told them about the precious Baby in the Manger who was born to bring peace into the world. At this time these people had never seen any Europeans.
This Legend of the Lady in Blue was known and believed by other tribes of Pima Indians. Some whisper she still comes at Christmastime to bring blessings to lonely and desperate Indian women and children. So widely known was this legend that nearly 200 years later Mangas Colorado, a feared and frightening Apache chief, had complained to Tom Jeffords, “Why does the Lady in Blue never visit our Apache camps?”
The only explanation ever given of the legend was made by Marie Coronel de Agdreda of Spain, head of a blue-robed order. Although believed to have never left Spain, she said she spent much of her time visiting the New Spain Indians who she was able to describe in minute detail. And on these supernatural visits she ministered to their spiritual needs.
Fr. Kino, the missionary to the Indians, was not a Spaniard. He was an Italian, born in the Tyrolean Alps near Trent in 1644. He was not only a great missionary, but he was also responsible for introducing stock-raising to our area with his Christmas gift of cattle to the Indians. He was also a great explorer and cartographer.
When he was 21 years old, he became a novitiate in the Society of Jesus, following a bout with plague when he believed his life was spared by divine intervention. He studied at Frieburg and Ingolstadt and became a distinguished scholar.”
Obituary for Sarah Grace McCool published in The Bisbee Observer on January 30, 1992:
Sarah Grace Edgerton Bakarich McCool, 88, died Saturday, January 25, 1992 at her home, the Lazy Y-5 Ranch on Moson Road near Sierra Vista.
Her weekly column, “Out of the Pat,” has appeared in The Bisbee Observer for nearly seven years.
Mrs. McCool was born March 16, 1903 in Waterloo, Iowa to Frank and Etta Page. She came West in 1929 with her husband, Michael Bakarich, and three children to settle in Bisbee. They later filed the last homestead claim in Cochise County – in Horsethief Draw, next to the Clanton Ranch.
Much of the home building and daily chores at the Quarter Circle B Ranch, as it was known then, was done by her and the children since her husband worked in the mines. During those early years, she gave birth to five more children and taught school.
In 1948 Michael Bakarich was killed in a mining accident, leaving her to raise eight children alone. At about that time, she began her career as a writer. Her interest in history and the pioneers had been fueled by her search for her great uncle Al “The Kansas Kid” George, who came west in 1878 with a cattle drive and mysteriously disappeared.
She questioned many of the oldtimers and was rewarded with many tales worthy of recording. Her research led her to write her first western history article for the Chicago Tribune. She continued to write articles for the Bisbee Review, Douglas Dispatch, Tombstone Epitaph, Arizona Republic, Arizona Daily Star, and The Bisbee Observer. She eventually found her uncle buried in Boot Hill, Tombstone. He had been killed by Indians at the Black Diamond Mine.
Mrs. McCool met her second husband, Dr. M.M. McCool while writing an article on his work as a soils analyst. They were married in 1950. Dr. McCool died in 1954. She continued to write and has published four books about the history of Cochise County and has had more than 1,500 articles printed in 16 different publications. She was also a licensed local preacher in the Methodist Church.
At the time of her death she lived in the ranch house she helped build in 1935, but today the ranch is called the Lazy Y-5 and has expanded to 6,000 acres and incorporates the old Clanton Ranch. Three of her children live on the ranch and most of the family lives in the area. [The rest of the obituary lists survivors including seven of her children, 33 grandchildren, 38 great grandchildren and 10 great great grandchildren.]
I located the telephone number of one of her sons who still lives on the ranch and left several telephone messages about my interest in digitalizing his mother’s writings which are currently contained in two fat three-ring binders at the local Bisbee museum. My calls were never returned.
I realize that what I strongly knew once I encountered a few of McCool’s stories in the 1985 editions of The Bisbee Observer is that she writes in the oral tradition. She is a storyteller. My sense of her writing style was confirmed when I read her obituary.
I traveled to the amazing and beautiful Amarind Foundation’s museum last week when my brother was visiting, seeking to discover if McCool had utilized their resources for this article. I don’t think she did. I have asked around locally and cannot find a single person who knew her or anyone who seems even remotely interested in putting a collection of her stories into a format that will help insure they continue to be preserved – and appreciated. I am considering contacting the University of Arizona to see if they have any interest in this project.
McCool’s writings are not necessarily historically accurate. She wrote stories based on history of the southwest whose facts may or may not have validity. The oral tradition is actually a preliterate (not nonliterate) skill and gift more highly developed among some members of our species even today. Accuracy is not required for a story to be worth preserving, and this story of the Blue Robed Nun has survived – one way or another, one teller after another in the southwest desert regions for 350 years.
This story captured my imagination and touched my heart. At first I thought about posting the story in connection to a topic on denial. I realize that as I read the story, as each word of the story unfolded to my eyes, I believed it absolutely, unequivocally, and without any tiny shred of doubt. I FELT the truth of it. I can’t say why that is true for me. I understand that no matter how profoundly true the entire story is to ME, it could also be as profoundly and entirely NOT TRUE for some other people.
I think denial does operate in some similar way. Some people know something to be true while others know the opposite to be true.
But this story is far too important to me personally to subject it to so limiting a topic as denial. This story is about me.
When my brother was here last week I convinced him to take a drive to find an approximate location along the San Pedro River not far from Tombstone that was a settlement over many hundreds of years to assorted and various groups of people. The San Pedro is protected as a National Riparian Area.
Ancient groups and cultures found their homes along the shores of this north flowing river. How long ago the Sobaipuri lived there nobody actually knows for sure. But when my brother and I walked upon the rich soft soil that used to be the river’s bottom before the earthquake of 1887 drove the river mostly underground I could feel, through hundreds and hundreds of years of time, that ‘my people’ were near by.
I felt comforted, so I guess this is the word I can use for my other (infrequent) state of being. Somehow knowing very clearly that these ancient people existed, that they lived peacefully and well growing food, weaving cloth, telling stories, working and walking along what are now high banks above the nearly vanished river, I felt connected because if I could miraculously be transported backward in time, well before the ravishes and violence that the Apaches brought with their raids and attacks and butchering, back to that place before these people were driven away so that I could live among them as one of them, I know I would be home in a way I NEVER am in this world around me today.
I felt comforted because for those few minutes I wandered among the tall grasses and between the bare dark branches of wizened desert trees not yet touched by the true warmth of spring, I actually felt that the problem, the trouble, is NOT ME. The problem is that I feel I have lost my people. My people, those people, lived too long ago and I live too recently.
If I could go back to them, somehow travel back through 500 years so that I could pick the wild cotton with my sisters and spin it and weave strong soft cloth, if I could dig the sharp point of my ancient hoe into the fertile soil, care tenderly for irrigation channels so they could carry the mountain snow pure water runoff from the south into our gardens, I would not feel this sadness. I know this for myself just as surely as I know the story about the Blue Robed Nun is true.
Unfortunately I have lost my mobility. My income is very low. My car is very old and wearing out. I cannot afford any extra costs for gas that might let me traverse this land in the protected places like I got to do last week with my brother. I know nobody to take me, nobody to go with me. But having placed my feet upon that soft soil and having walked silently where these ancient ones once lived I carry that memory now within me as closely as I do my own blood.