Whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, wherever you live--Happy New Year to you!
Speaking of home, the above photo is where I live now. (I’m on my way somewhere; can’t remember where exactly.) Pictures from last year got me thinking about family. Of course, once you do that, all kinds of memories pop up. Family traditions came to mind, and it made me wonder where they came from.
One of ours, portselkje, comes from our Dutch heritage. But before I talk about those, here’s how we got from there to here: From the Netherlands, religious persecution forced us south into what is now Germany. After a while, when Katherine the Great was looking for farmers, we went to Ukraine. Around 1870, we relocated to the United States, taking part in the Oklahoma landrush. Sometime in the 1940s, we made our way up to Oregon. In my 20s, I branched off to Pennsylvania while the rest of my family went on down to California.
What we are now has been largely determined by our ancestors. Someday, we’ll be the ancestors. So, it’s 2020. What’re we going to do with it? It’s waiting for us to create something from our past and our present.
One thing I’ve noticed about the present is how we abstract ourselves (not distract, abstract). Too often we’re in two places: one place physically and a different place mentally. Our use of *cell phones can contribute to this separation. If we want to, we can ‘live’ almost entirely inside our own heads, creating our own reality. We end up living in the abstract.
In 2020, what can I do to connect to existing reality--“the ‘real’ reality” as it were? I’m going to Participate, be Present, and eat Portselkje!
Portselkje (New Year’s Cookies)
This is the Dutch tradition I referred to earlier. Growing up, both of my grandmothers made plain and raisen portselkje every New Year. According to NormaJostVoth (< 3 different links there), “Portselkje are made from a spongy yeast batter. When dropped by spoonsful into hot, deep fat, the dough puffs up, tumbles over and fries to a golden brown. Portsel in Low German means tumbling over. Hence, the name Portselkje.” (1990. Mennonite Foods and Folkways From South Russia Volume I.) With the dough tumbling in a pot of hot oil somewhere in Ukraine, maybe my ancestors were telling stories about how great, great grandma made them in the Netherlands.
Good memories or bad, our ancestors make us who we are. Some of our past we disown, some of it, like portselkje, we cherish. Regardless, it’s the reality we’ve been given. However, our response is our own, and we can use it to make a life right here, right now.
To do so, we must intentionally participate. Have you ever been somewhere and you’re not even there? What is that? My goal this year is to see, actually see, the people I’m with. I will learn to know them. I will stop projecting my understanding of them on to them. They’re not labels. They’re not a demographic. They’re not the gossip I secretly relish. They are not objects arranged on the gameboard of my life. So, if I’m not the subject of this story, how do I participate?
I participate by being present. How will I be present? I’m going to have to figure that out. I’m not exactly sure how I’ll do it. It won’t be easy because I’m used to my body being one place and my mind being somewhere else. I’m in my head about work, myself, or how to pass the next group of cars on the turnpike. And then when I’m at home, eating dinner with family, my mind is still there. And, funnily enough, my body just hasn’t figured out how to pretend to be present while my mind is somewhere else. My body language gives me away every time.
Since my brain is housed right inside my skull like everyone else’s, it’s a good argument for the mind and body to be in sync. Paying attention to what my body’s doing might just help me to be present. If my body is sitting, my mind should sit. If my mouth is saying words, my mind should be saying the same words. Maybe it sounds weird to put it that way, but I think we try to live the opposite. Which, by the way, can’t be done. Case in point, you answering someone talking to you-- someone you’re actually sitting in the same room with, while you’re scrolling through instagram --is not having a conversation. I don’t even know what to call that.
One way I’m going to be present with my family this year is by participating in the making and eating of portselkje. We will talk about our memories, lived and passed on to us; and our presence with each other will be a memory for our future.
The more often each of us practice presence the more we’ll actually participate in 2020. Keep it real. Make it a good one.
Happy New Year!
*Much of our ‘virtual’ life is lived on our phones. Here’s something interesting re phone use. Check it out. It might just extend your real life. Who knew there’s a glossary of terms for the physical dangers of constant phone use? Here’s one: “Tech Neck.” Ouch!