Maka Ochante: Lakota for “A Sense of Place”
Although I am not of Native decent, I have ties to and great respect for the Lakota, Sioux First Nation. Maka Ochante is a Sioux phrase that describes the idea of a not only a sense of place as in a physical spot having its own history and its own energy but about bringing yourself to that place, putting down roots and engaging with the environment respectfully and with reverence for what it offers. I might add as well, in my mind that it is also about what you may offer the land, the place as well. It was this “Sense of Place” I was seeking as I looked for a new home after John died. I found it in a small rural Iowa town.
I moved from my marital home last July which was located in a bustling suburb to a much more rural town. I can’t begin to explain how many people thought I was crazy for moving to a small town, "it’s not metropolitan, it lacks the big city amenities and it’s a farther commute every day". I heard it all as I was choosing my house but blocked out the naysayers following my gut instinct instead. I knew where I wanted to be. I felt the town pulling me-home.
This small town has also been the home of my ancestors for nearly 150 years and although only my mom is still there now, my ancestors, my roots, are there still too. After John died, I desperately needed roots-roots that couldn’t vanish, roots that couldn’t die and be wrenched away. And I could feel my grandmother calling me to this place, beckoning me to come home. I actually ended up on a street that at the every end of it is a house my great uncle used to own. It’s this lineage that gives me a sense of belonging here and sense of otherworldly support and safety. It’s this sense of rooted-ness that I so lacked for months and months as I floated around my life in a grief fog after John died unexpectedly. However, in this new town I can feel my ancestors holding me up, urging me onward even when I myself want to throw up my hands and crawl under the blanket forsaking the idea of ever moving forward. They were strong and sturdy and brave. I can be too in the face of this loss, if I go slowly, it I wake up from my grief just enough to what is, and also what might be.
And I do feel rooted, a little more as time goes on and I become brave enough to step out of myself and my sadness and reach out. It’s strange this rooted feeling, this sense of belonging, I wasn't sure what to expect or how I would know it was happening but it sneaks up on me every now and then.
The first time it happened was when I went to City Hall and set up my utilities, as I was walking out onto the brick walkway between City Hall and the library, squinting into the summer sun,I felt it. Something literally, but ever so faintly pulled on the bottom of my foot, rooting me ever so slightly to this new place. I know it sounds crazy! But even in my surprised state, I smiled in spite of my sadness and uncertainty of starting over in a new place.
I felt it again when I made cookies and took them to my neighbors to introduce myself. I felt it a little more when my neighbors came to help me lift a tree that had fallen after a storm last fall. I also felt it one morning, during the first polar vortex blast as I stood at my counter in the early morning light making tea while the heat register softly blew warm air onto my feet in the kitchen. I belonged here. I was peaceful here. I was, maybe not happy, but okay here.
Then last weekend the biggest pull happened. I was at a local winery and pottery sale where I saw Russ, a local potter and fellow Quaker that I had met at a nearby meeting the Sunday prior. As I walked up to the line of tents set up with lovely pottery displays, Russ called out my name and I greeted him. We shared some stories. I introduced him to my mom. I met his wife. Then my family looked around, bought some beautiful pottery and tasted some fun and distinct local wines. After a few hours of festivities, cheerful but tired, we began to head to our cars. It was on that walk to the car that I felt a distinct and strong pull. As I walked across the damp grass, my heart smiling for the sense of family and community around me, out of my right foot I felt a very strong tug shoot out and reach deep into the earth. Strongly rooting itself and me to this unassuming town.
My eyes are teary as I think of the place that I now call home. I know my neighbors, I have a small local grocery store and hardware store and coffee shop. My favorite restaurant is a place that is not just a shop but is the outlet for a nearby organic CSA farm. There I get breakfast any time of day made with the most delicious and beautiful farm fresh eggs. It’s here, my home, that autumn Fridays are for football and the entire town knows when the home team has made a touchdown because a firework is shot up each and every time they score. It’s here that brick streets meet paved streets and people remember you and you remember them.
I’d like to think that it wasn’t just my grandma who called me home but that it was John who urged me here. Urged me to not only find a place that feels like home, but that envelopes me with love and safety as I tentatively tiptoe out into the world trying to find both myself and my way in it. I know many widowed people don’t move after their spouse dies. For them, their shared home brings them great comfort and memories of their past. I too hesitated to leave worrying that I would leave John behind in the suburbs, but as I fastened the passenger safety belt around his urn and drove us to our new home, I felt him, I felt his presence sitting with me all the way. Nearly a year later, I still feel him with me, gently cheering me on with each step into newness that I am bravely taking as I labor to root myself so that I may have not only a sense of place but a sense of self too.