Joy Harjo is a virtuosic storyteller and it is her words I chose to be the title of my debut blog for Shawl Stories. Since my days at University, I have deeply admired the way her words breathe life into her poems and stories and carry with them great wisdom. Joy Harjo’s artistic works were also an essential facet of my honors thesis. I’ve endlessly been inspired by her genius and it is an honor to invoke her in this public space.
However, this story can not begin without me invoking yet another woman who holds a extraordinary place in my heart. Like Joy Harjo, she is an artist–in the kitchen, with the paintbrush, as a gong master and writer. Unlike Joy Harjo, she is a dear friend and kindred spirit. We are interconnected in ways we both can’t even believe sometimes! She being in her 50s and I having 34 years make us appear to be more like mother and daughter than confidantes, but in reality, we are one and the same. Age does not divide us; it actually provides a balance for our reciprocal relationship. When I am with her, I understand myself better. When I am with her, I laugh and learn, cry and confide, dream and discover, teach and trust. What better way than in the written word to pay homage to my beloved friend, MB.* It is with her and my best friend Sara that shawl stories begins.
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It is a humid day in mid July. The sky is cloudless; the Iowa grasses sway in a light, warm breeze. The barn where my best friend, Sara, and her husband-to-be, Joel, are having their wedding reception reminds me of the setting of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. Surrounded by the rolling hills of the Midwest, this quaint venue glows inside with stringed lights wrapped around wood poles and deer antlers, while star lanterns hang from the ceiling, creating an ambience of intimacy and celebration. The tables are decorated with mason jars filled with wild flowers a few of us picked just the afternoon before. Everywhere you look, green and yellow fill the space, representing their wedding colors and summer days in Iowa.
I arrive a week early to help with the festivities. MB arrives a couple days later. There is a huppa to adorn, along with the barn, flowers to be picked, trees to be hung with handmade ornaments, chairs to be set up and a time line to be finalized. This wedding is unlike any I’ve ever been to before: it is a brilliant mix of Joel’s Jewish background, Sara’s Iowa girl background and both of their free spirit and liberal values. Not to mention that it is MB and me, along with family members, that have our hands and minds in the whole process. This event organically springs from the love and adoration we all have for the bride and groom, making sure it is nothing short of spectacular.
To me, getting married is a noble gesture and it should be taken very seriously. It is a sacred ceremony that brings two people together, ideally for the rest of their lives. Because of this, the wedding should encapsulate who both people truly are. Looking back, I believe that they both honored each other in such a devoted and honest way with how they combined both of themselves into their special day. If I ever get married (ha! highly unlikely!), I hope to do as good of a job celebrating my love as they did.
Underneath the huppa, outside, encircled by big Oak trees and tall, prairie grasses, my best friend marries the man of her dreams. What a relief that she picked such a compassionate and loyal man. After he kisses the bride, drinks and hors d’oeuvres are served in the barn. Dinner is being prepared, speeches are being made, and people are congratulating and relaxing.
Once everyone has filled their bellies, the dancing commences. Before long, I can hear the notes of Hava Nagila sing from the speakers and I know it is time for the Hora, or “chair dance,” a fun Jewish tradition. I immediately grab my friends Tom and Tyler and begin to hoist Sara into the air. Others gather round and help, lifting Joel next to her. Everyone is dancing in circles, carousing in the most cheerful of ways. The song seems to go forever, but even when the song is over, we all keep parading around, Sara and Joel smiling above our heads, reveling in their love.
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I get in MB’s grey Sprinter van and wave to Sara, Joel and their families as we drive away. We can speak of nothing else but how dazzling the wedding was. We are both grateful for having such a big role in the preparation, execution and clean-up of the grand event. The entire celebration was made with love, just as a bona fide chef cooks his food. Watching the hills rolls by through the open window, the warm air blowing MB’s and my blonde hair, I well up a little bit. This wedding will go down as one of the best, if not the best, in my life. I couldn’t be happier.
I find that after big events like a wedding or a funeral, it is common to self-reflect on what matters in life. Sitting shot gun in MB’s van, listening to some funky tunes she got from the last Joshua Tree Music Festival, on our road trip back to California, I meditate on how my friendships with my best friend who just got married and my dear friend driving the open road. I wouldn’t be here right now if I hadn’t met Sara at University and maintained a super close friendship when we both decided to move to California after our studies. She moved to the beach, and I to the desert, but we never let more than a month go by without visiting each other. Even when she moved North, we still saw each other just as frequently. We both made a huge effort and that is one of the reasons we have become so close.
While Sara was living in Orange County, she worked for Habitat for Humanity. During this time, hurricane Katrina hit and she went down to New Orleans to help build houses for all those left in the midst of natural disaster devastation. During her stay, she met MB, who was also volunteered to build houses and also lived in Orange County. Pretty kismet if you ask me! Anyway, when they returned, Sara introduced me to MB and it didn’t take long for us to see how like-minded we are. We instantly clicked. And her I am now, having yet another adventure with MB, back on the road, a place where we both feel free.
MB has collected numerous of shawls from her trips around the world, which she keeps in the van. I gravitated to one in particular that first day and I asked her if I could wear it. The rusty orange-red color, embellished with paisley hints of blue and yellow, called my name from the pile hanging on the wall. When I rubbed the perfectly soft pashmina on my face, it was like being kissed. Throughout the road trip, I wore it religiously by day and slept with it at night. Knowing full well I’d have to give it back at the end of the trip, I wore it as much as possible. However, in true MB fashion, at the end of our 5 day jaunt, she graciously gave me the shawl as a gift.
From that day forward, that shawl has traveled with me across many oceans, on long train rides through India, to the fjords of Norway, the backroads of Vietnam, the rice paddies of Thailand, the islands of Malaysia, to Phish concerts across the United States, and many more. Stay tuned for stories of my adventures on the road, with my shawl by my side.
*MB is a pseudonym and is how I will refer to her in all our stories.