It is a day poised between two realities - rain and sunshine, summer and fall, the living and the dead. Part of me is still at my Dad's house in Austin as I traverse Audubon Park. I am walking a winding path defined by white pansies and liriope, enclosed by a circle, leading inward to a central place of rest.
I've come to the park because I can't stay inside. We buried my father on Saturday. I shoveled the dirt on his grave.
For a week after that my sisters and I tended his house. We cooked the eggs and sausage he had bought in anticipation of our Thanksgiving visit. We gathered our children around us. We made margaritas that weren't as good as his. We told stories. We laughed and we cried. We cleaned and fixed things. And we visited with old friends. We revived connections. We dismissed rifts old as stones.
We studied his books, his artwork, his carpentry projects, the rawhide seats he'd stretched across chairs. I glared at the ancestors peering at us from the walls. I guess I was mad that he was on their side now. We climbed in his tree house, fed the birds. And sometimes we slept in his clothes.
After a week we walked out of the house and started the long journey home.
Audubon Park is close to my home. It's where I walk most days and I've come here today seeking comfort.
I see something new back behind the stables. It looks like a circular garden with small stones for a path. I stop and stare and then I enter where there is an opening. I walk slowly, attending to the path that folds back on itself. Completely alone with the flowers, so white, so new, so hopeful, I am thinking only of Poppa.
Later I will learn that the ancient, sacred path I am walking is called a Labyrinth. It has come and gone out of human consciousness since way before Christ. It is said to calm the mind, open the heart, and affirm a connectedness to body and earth.
Some believe that it appears in our worship or in our daily lives when the world has grown masculine and violent and cold.
Labyrinth organizers tell me that teachers and mothers claim the Labyrinth has a calming effect on hyperactive children. One member of Friends of the Labyrinth in Audubon Park said she thinks of herself in terms of "before" and "after" and that the Labyrinth got her through her divorce.
Another member of the Friends, Marilee Eaves, says the Labyrinth is a call to action. "My whole life has changed," she says. "The Labyrinth is a meditative experience of what happens when we place God in the center of our life. We can trust the Labyrinth and we can walk. Then we know grace is abundant."
I encountered the Labyrinth at the exact right time to help me with the hard work of grieving. Yet the appearance of this Labyrinth was by no means an accident. It came through the work and commitment of Dian Coleman Winingder and others who love to build Labyrinths.
They built one on the beach of seaweed, one at the Episcopal Retreat Center of leaves. They built one of azalea petals and one of tin foil for the New Years Eve millenium.
The Audubon Park Labyrinth had its beginning back in March when the Rector Emeritus of Chartres Cathedral in France blessed a circle of ground. At Chartres the best known Labyrinth lies embedded in the floor.
Then on Mother's Day a group laid down the first public Labyrinth in New Orleans. They made it of moss. Participating in the project was Voyce Durling-Jones, head of the local Doula's group. The Doulas, an international society of non-medical assistants for childbirth, adopted the Labyrinth as their symbol. Many see in the Labyrinth the divine power of the feminine. When the moss washed away the women planted liriope and white pansies.
On Sunday evenings at five torches surround the Labyrinth and small white candles light the path. A word-of-mouth group assembles, ever since September 11, to walk for world peace.
"Aren't you afraid the walk will become politicized?" I ask the organizers, "as our country becomes more and more consumed by war?"
"No," they tell me. "The Labyrinth can contain everything, our shadow and our hope. Within it there is no right and no wrong."
As I leave my solitary first encounter with the Labyrinth in the park I feel my father's presence. The clouds break. The sun bursts through. Simultaneously, almost whimsically, a light rain begins to fall.
Orissa Arend is a mediator, psychotherapist, a mother, a daughter, a wife, and a community organizer in New Orleans. You can reach her at email@example.com.
©Orissa Arend December 8, 2001
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