Monday, December 10, 2018

Baltic Christmas Day 10 - The Infinite Manifestations of Home

Please welcome Ērika Veidis to 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas! You might have read her article Cultural Wealth, which was published this August soon after the #LV100 song festival. A Latvian living in the US, she joins us today on Day 10 with this essay sure to pull at memory threads of your Baltic tapestry...

Woolen mittens. These I stitched with black thread, closing the hole worn in the right thumb. Made by someone in Latvia, a gift for the holidays. Maybe originating from a pine home in the frosty countryside, maybe from the bench of a factory lit up by large and streaked windows, like the one I visited when 11. Maybe from the tips of cold needles in a cold Rīga apartment. Mindfully woven, mindfully repaired. I wear them on the icy walk to work in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The gleam of my laptop screen, from which I hardly tear my eyes until darkness (the sun sets early in December in Cambridge). Seas of logistics and projects stuffing my inbox, happily sufferable when laden with meaning -- how do we affect the natural world, and how does that, in turn, impact us? Weaving together a story of human demographics and consumption and production, environmental change, and health. Pontificating on theories of change -- what is the role of research, of policy, of education, of public outreach? What is the balance of top-down versus bottom-up? Can we speak of revolution, and what does that entail? Maintaining academic and scientific rigor for profoundly simple conclusions -- we are inextricably connected with the world around us.

A web of lights, seen from the plane window flying from New Jersey back to Boston. I've always wondered whether the flickers and glimmers are caused by flipping switches in apartments and offices and homes or by some trick of the atmosphere. The hypocrisy of my own travel. Justifying carbon by the puniness of my individual actions (free riding). The perpetual car troubles necessitating (and credit card points facilitating) air travel this time around. The subtle doubts about environmentalism being the latest outlet for the intensity and perfectionism once channeled into middle distance running.

The feeling of moving from one home to another. The love for family in rural New Jersey and the love for individuality and career and youth in Boston.

"Yes, I'll have a tomato juice, please." And then the plastic cup.

Singing Latvian folk songs in the shower. "Stoking a fire, melting silver, predicting the future, unknown." Remembering my mother and grandmother singing these to me growing up; musing about singing them to my own children someday.

Musing about the future, unknown; about the balance between taking action and relaxing in the face of what is. The Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference" (Reinhold Niebuhr). Perhaps metaphorically pouring molten silver into my human interactions -- if connection is possible, then so is co-imagination, and so is a better path ahead.

Laughing with my housemates about my strange expressions, which, despite being born and raised in New York/New Jersey, might be manifestations of Latvian being my native tongue, my soul language, what automatically slips through my pen in occasionally-kept journals, albeit fragmented, elementary. "Your expressions are object-focused," observed my housemate. Maybe the kale stays here. The chair can move there. The rain is starting. Attributing greater agency to the things in the world around me. Imagining personality, animation, soulfulness. Direct translations from the small Baltic state.

We are not the only inhabitants of this world.

Silver rings. One worn by my mother at my age, etched symbols eroded, two silver tassels missing. One worn in common with my Latvian high school classmates, holding the now-subtle markings of the life tree, the god of horses, the snake. One gifted by my relatives in Latvia, multiple intertwined strands representing the nation's underground waters, soil, and tree roots. One worn in common with my two brothers, bearing the symbol of home. One gifted by my parents, silver tassels intact. I carry on my hands metaphors to keep me grounded, safe, connected to the past, to friends and family, to ancestry, to heritage, to land.

The dense yellow saffron cake rising in the oven. Kliņģeris. Baked at holidays and celebrations -- this time at Christmas. A festive December 24, lit by candles, lilted by voices and an out-of-tune organ wafting "Silent Night" (in Latvian) into the chilly darkness of Yonkers, New York. And then back at home: lots of food, the reciting of Latvian poems or performance of musical pieces (at least when we were young), the midnight exchange of gifts. Last year, a divergence from tradition with a loving-kindness meditation -- first round punctuated by snickers and giggles and sounds from someone (supposedly) sliding on the couch; second try resulting in a deep, pervasive peacefulness. My grandfather, hard of hearing and not able to heed the instructions of the guided meditation, still blanketed by the heavy, warm, quiet air.

Finding the same sacredness that I access through Latvian culture reflected in the songs sung together by inhabitants of Sparta, New Jersey, gathered around a Christmas tree waiting to be lit. "Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, snow is glistening." Strangers united by melody and the ineffable holiday spirit.

And here, the root of it all. The entanglement of voices. The feeling of peace. The experience of groundedness, held in tradition and family and sanctity of space. The melting of individuality, the smell of warm cakes in the oven, the goofy laughter that spontaneously springs most easily from the closest of social ties. A tree dressed for the occasion. Feeling like everything is possible, perfect.

The infinite manifestations of home.

Thank you Ērika, for this heartfelt reflection on your Latvian roots! You’ve touched on so many of the things that stoke the Baltic fire within us during the holiday season…

Ērika Veidis is an American-born Latvian currently living in the Boston area, where she works in environment- and health-related research, policy, education, and public outreach. Before starting at the Planetary Health Alliance, Ērika studied Government and Mind/Brain/Behavior at Harvard, ran track, and conducted research around social movements and environmental economics. In her free time, Ērika spends time with her New Jersey-based family (and dog, Harley), writes, hikes, and plays guitar. You can read Ērika’s article, Cultural Wealth, here, and can find her on Instagram and Medium.

Tomorrow on Day 11 we welcome Estonian food blogger Annika, with a photographic journey through Yule feasts!

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