Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Crane and the River

The story I really want to write is the story of my father’s birth.

Born on the river, amidst the silence of men fishing and laundry hanging to dry in the still hot air, his infant wail rose above the quiet like a siren. The women who tended to my grandmother during the many hours in that long forgotten houseboat stroked her tense body and massaged her cramped legs, placing cloths soaked with cool river water on her anxious, sweating forehead.

My grandfather, following tribal tradition, spent the day fishing on another part of the river, careful not to touch the water in which his newborn son would be solemnly and ceremoniously dipped. It was said that the Mother River would not bless a newborn child if his father had bathed in the river on the day of his child’s birth. Thus, my grandfather sat on a friend’s boat throughout the day, casting his line and catching the fish that would feed his exhausted wife that evening as she suckled his child, the child that was to be my father.

They say that on the day my father was born, a white crane circled three times over the boat in which my grandmother labored. The crane alighted on the shore opposite the anchored boat, perhaps listening with cocked head to my grandmother’s moans and screams as my father’s small fish-like body trembled and quaked its way from the dark, moist cavern of the womb into the light of day. That crane didn’t move for many hours, and the midwives took it as a sign that my father was a favored child, destined to be a deep thinker and a thoughtful leader of his people.

After emerging from the womb, my father was immediately placed upon my grandmother’s breast, the midwives knowing that the suckling would slow the bleeding and calm the uterine storm raging in her belly. When the umbilical cord had ceased pulsing, the head midwife cut it with a ceremonial knife and my father was then dipped into the river three times: once for his ancestors, once for his current family, and a third time for the family that he would one day bring into the world.

They say that my father’s birth was a turning point for our people. They say that his birth brought with it a new era of prosperity and goodness. The crane that presided over his emergence into the earthly realm returned to that spot on the river again and again, and an image of that majestic bird was woven onto a blanket that my father handed down to me and that I, in turn, will give to my children in good time.

My grandmother always said that my father’s birth was a miracle, having lost three babies before his birth and losing two more after his arrival. Despite her great losses and undeniable suffering, my grandmother eventually died believing with all her heart that my father’s birth was her greatest achievement, a joyful deliverance of a promise made before her birth and without her conscious knowledge. The crane was always her symbol, and whenever I hear that singular and plaintive call across the stillness of a lake or see that majestic bird standing as still as a reed on the shore, I remember how my father was delivered under the watchful eye of a white crane, and no one can ever erase the beauty and poignancy of his masterful arrival.

(c) 2009 NurseKeith