Hidden Blessings

I believe that everyone goes through a series of important events in their lives that shape the person they will become as an adult. Some people have called these moments “rights of passage”, and somehow these key moments make slight course corrections in our journey. In remembering my younger years, I can recount experiences that still effect me in various degrees even to this day. I think perhaps the most significant experiences a person can have as a child, involve the people in their immediate family. Being the youngest of five children, and nearly six years younger than my next oldest sibling, the experiences I had in my young life were a bit more “mature” compared to other kids my same age. My mom would always tell me, “Your siblings always wanted you to be older and act older. They never let you just be a little boy.” This was probably why, as I grew older, I was always more comfortable around older people when it came to social interactions. I understood the more mature nuances of body language and topics of conversation.

One of the advantages of being mentored by my older siblings was being shown and taught how to do the things that they did. This included everything from operating farm machinery, to handling farm animals, to enjoying various recreational activities like snowmobiling and motorcycle riding. My brothers, Dale and Randy, both had their own motorcycles and I envied how they could just hop on their bikes and ride, and I was stuck riding a pedal bike (even though it had a cool red, white and blue banana seat and sissy bars with tassels). I tried to make the best of my bicycle by building little ramps to “launch” myself off of or popping wheelies. But who am I kidding, nothing compared to being able to drive fast and make huge jumps over gravel piles on a motorcycle.

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I remember riding my first motorbike. It was called a mini-bike and it had a small 3-1/2 horse Briggs and Stratton motor and you accelerated by simply pushing on a lever on the handle bars which made it go, or you pulled on the brake handle to stop. You didn’t have to shift gears, so it was very easy to operate, at least it looked like it was when I watched my brother do it!

The day came when my dad said I could try riding the mini-bike myself. I remember that both of my brothers and my sister Becky were all outside in the back yard of the house. My dad was holding the bike and said, “Okay Dwight, to start this motor you need to make sure that the gas valve is open. See this lever right here? You need to make sure the lever’s arm is set in the same direction as the gas line.” I said, “Okay dad, I see”. Then dad said, “Next you want to move the choke lever right here toward the back. See it right here, it says, “Choke”? I said, “Yes, I see it.” “Okay”, he continued, “Now you want to grab onto this rope handle here and give it a few pulls until the motor starts. Now as soon as it fires up, you want to move the choke lever back to the “Run” position, otherwise it will flood it and die. Make sense?” “Yep, I think so. Looks the same as starting the lawn more right?” My dad smiled at me and said, “You got it. Okay, now watch” I watched intently as my dad gave the cord a couple swift pulls and the engine roared to life. I could feel my heart starting to race and I looked around at my siblings scattered about the lawn. My sister Becky was pulling dry linens off the clothes line and my oldest brother Dale was tossing a football around with Randy. I looked back at my dad and he said, “You ready to give it a shot? All you need to do is push on this lever and give it some gas to go.” I nervously climbed onto the bike seat and held onto the handlebars. The motor was idling and I could feel the vibration of the bike through my entire body.

Luckily, I was tall for my age so I had no problem being able to put my feet down on the ground to steady myself. I thought, “Okay, how hard can this be? I know how to ride a bicycle so I can do this. I just don’t have to pedal.” With that, I slowly pushed on the gas lever and I felt the spinning clutch grab ahold of the belt and I lurched forward. I could hear my dad say, “Keep it straight until you get a hang of it.” My brothers were yelling, “Watch out Becky, he’s coming your way!” I looked quickly ahead of me and I could see the clothes basket on the ground and my sister started to scream, “Turn, turn!!” My left arm had a mind of it’s own and it jerked the handle bar just in time for me to wiz by my sister and all the clothes in the basket.

It was an amazing feeling! I was free on this little motor bike and I felt like a king. As I circled the house turning to the left a bit more and doing minor course corrections, I came around the house back to where my dad was standing. He yelled, “Go, go!” I felt my confidence rise and my brothers were laughing at the expression on my face, which was likely pure horror mixed with wide-eyed joy. I began my next trip around the house feeling more and more confident. I decided to move the handle bar back and forth so I could sway a bit and I felt like I was a big time motor-cross rider. I passed by my dad again and he yelled, “Okay, when you come back around, I want you to stop.” I thought to myself, “Stop? My dad never told me how to stop!” I focused on making another round of the house and as I approached my dad, he said, “Stop.. stop!” and as I blew past him I yelled, “I DON’T KNOW HOW!” I could hear my brothers roar with laughter as I continued my next revolution around the house. As I came around the house again, I could see that my dad was ready. As I approached him, he stuck out his big strong arm and swept me up off from the bike seat in one motion and the mini-bike continued on and crashed to the ground and sputtered to a stop.

“Whew!”, my dad said. “I got you!?” I found myself equally in shock and laughing at the same time. I felt relieved that I was saved by my dad. It was the most exhilarating moment I’d had at my young age and I loved it. I was hooked on the freedom and joy that riding motorcycles gave me and grateful that my dad spent time with me and encouraged me to take this risk. I felt like I had made another step in growing up and my dad and siblings were there to witness it. This began my love affair with riding motorcycles.

When I turned 10 years old, my parents gave me my first “real” motorcycle on my birthday. I remember waking up on the morning of my birthday and seeing a motorcycle helmet setting on my bedroom dresser. I still remember thinking, “Who put this helmet in my bedroom?”, as I was still trying to wake up. Then with a rush of excitement, I held my breath and pulled back my curtains and looked outside at the farm-yard. And there it sat, a brand new Honda XL-75 motorcycle with gold and black coloring. I quickly pulled on my blue-jeans and a shirt and bolted for the hallway and stairway going down to the kitchen. I think I had tunnel vision as I don’t recall seeing anything else but the door leading out to the front of the house. I stopped a few feet from the motorcycle and just stared. It was a cross between a dirt bike and a street bike so it had all the accessories including mirrors and turn signals. Unfortunately navigating a motorcycle with more power had its downfalls which including tipping over many times. So as you can imagine, the turn signals broke off first and then the mirrors got a bit bent out of shape. In hind-sight, I should have just taken them off until I mastered the bike, but a 10 year old doesn’t really think that far ahead. I rode many miles on that motorcycle riding the pastures, hunting gophers, herding cows or riding around the local gravel pit. I was my first real feeling of independence as a boy and I loved it!

It was mid-summer of 1978 and I was barely 13 years old, and on rare occasion there were days that have perfect weather and not a lot of work to be done. This is unusual as we lived on a working dairy and grain farm, where continuous hard work was the norm. This day was unusual. It was a Saturday in July and our parents were off on a day trip to visit relatives at an annual family reunion in Wahpeton, ND. The only people home were my older brother Randy and me and we had finished our morning chores and had the rest of the day to ourselves before the evening chores began.

My brother Randy is about 7 years older than me and ever since I can remember, I idolized him. He was very outgoing, he had a lot of friends, played sports, acted goofy and loud, loved music, and was a very free spirit. I wanted desperately to be like him and I wanted him to like me. But as it is for many sibling relationships, it’s not that easy sometimes. For some reason, I was never able to get close to him when I was younger. He tended to ignore me and would often tease me for various reasons. Even with all of that, I still tried to connect when I thought I might have a chance.

Randy and I had decided to go for a motorcycle ride around some of the fields on our property. By this time I had upgraded my motorcycle and I was now riding a used Honda XL-125 dirt bike; so keeping up with my brother who was riding a XL-250 was a little bit easier. One of the reasons my parents had decided to take time off for the family reunion was because we had received a heavy rain storm the night before. This had caused all the hay fields to be soaked and many of the ones we had already cut would not be ready to bail until they had dried. The even better part, was that this also made the fields soft to ride on and some of the lower areas of land were full of water. Randy and I raced around the fields on our bikes weaving in and around the slough areas kicking up mud and hollering our heads off. This was an amazing time for me because I felt like, for the first time, I was bonding with my brother.

As we rode around, Randy had spied a particular low spot of land that was covered with water which was about 20 to 30 feet across. I saw him waiving me over as he sat by the edge of the pond with his bike. When I rode up he slipped up the plastic visor on his helmet and said, “Hey, let’s see if we can make it across the pond. You wait behind me and if I make it across, you give it a shot okay?” I said, “Sounds great!”. So I revved up my motor and circled around behind him. He turned and gave me the “thumbs up” and pushed his visor down. I watched him pull his clutch lever and put it into first gear. He revved is motor a few time and then let the clutch go and off he flew toward the water’s edge.

In that very moment time stopped, and everything went into slow motion. I was simultaneously witnessing my brother rocket down this hill and then seemingly gliding across the water of this little pond, and feeling a barrage of mud, water and dirt being splattered all over myself and my motorcycle. I had mud in my mouth, on my face, stuck to my clothes, helmet and boots. In that very moment I could hear nothing, everything was frozen and I was in shock! In the next moment, I began to laugh hysterically and this folly! I grabbed my handle bars and turned away from the pond and began driving out of the field and toward the house all while belly laughing at what had just happened. In the next moment, I saw my brother ride up next to me with and expression of horror on his face, and probably frightened that I was crying or hurt. He then saw that I was laughing and started to laugh with me. We rode back to the farm house and recounted our little adventure and laughed while we used the hose to wash down our bikes. To this day, I still don’t know if he had planned to splatter me with mud or if it was just a, wrong place at the right time, kind of thing. It really didn’t matter because I had gotten what I wanted from my brother, to be seen and to be connected with. If I could, I’d do it all over again.

My oldest brother Dale is only a year older than Randy, but he has a very different approach to life. In a word, I would describe him as steadfast. He is like the metronome of our family with a steady, constant beat that moves forward resolutely and without failing. He has a saying he likes to use when talking about tough times, he says, “We just need to press on.” and that is exactly what he does every day.

Like both of my parents, Dale is a very hard working person. He always looks at whatever task he is given, or decides to do, and breaks it down into a sequence of steps. I always admired him as a young boy because if I was ever confused about what needed to be done or how to do it, I would just watch him and listen. He always seemed to have a plan and it felt like it was very well thought through. It gave me a sense of safety and comfort to know that he was around to rely on for guidance. He was also my protector in a way. When my brother Randy would tease and bully me, Dale would intervene if he was there. I remember one time, I was upstairs in our farm house and Randy was relentlessly bullying me to the point of tears. And just then, Dale came flying out of his bedroom, yelling at Randy to leave me alone. I was stunned. I don’t remember anyone ever standing up for me before like that. I was grateful that I had a protector in my oldest brother.

Like most farm families, we oftentimes worked together. I remember one summer day when bailing hay in the alfalfa field west of our farm, I was told to join my two brothers and dad. I needed to learn how to ride the bail skid that was pulled behind the bailer and stack the bails as they came off from the back. The bail skid was basically two 4ft x 8ft pieces of plywood bound together by a metal frame to make a flat 8ft x 8ft square skid that was hitched behind the bailer. As the hay bails came out of the bailer bound by twine, you would grab the bail and stack it in a criss-cross pattern on the bail skid until the stack was about 5 or 6 feet high. Then when it was a full stack, you would take a large metal rod and drive it into the ground through a two inch gap between the pieces of plywood which would force the entire stack of bails off from the skid. Stacking bails was hard work, but I loved being able to help my dad and brothers. We told jokes, yelled directions back and forth with dad and tossed the bails higher and higher.

When we had stopped for a break to drink water and eat some sandwiches my mom had made for us earlier in the day, I remember listening to my brothers talking as my dad worked on the bailer. All of the sudden, Dale began jumping around like he was dancing and yelled, “Oh crap, what is that.” and both Randy and I looked at him with confusion because we didn’t know what he was talking about. Just then, Dale began hitting the side of his leg with his hand saying, “Shit, shit, shit…” Then he grabbed a big section of his blue-jean pant leg in his hand and squeezed it hard. Randy and I, still stunned, said, “What’s going on!?” Dale yelled, “I have a mouse trying to crawl up my pant leg!”. Both Randy and I started roaring with laughter! “Holy crap!”, Randy said. I was out of breath laughing as I watched Dale trying to unbuckle his belt and pull off his pants with his one hand in the middle of the hay field. Dale managed to do all of this without loosing grip on the mouse. Even in the throws of having vermin crawl up his leg, I was impressed with how Dale remained in control and determined. This was another example of how I looked up to him and how to behave in a crisis. Finally after removing his pants and dumping out the body of the mouse, we re-assembled ourselves and continued to “press on” with our bailing.

Dale was also the first person in our family to really go off on his own. First he ventured into the Peace Corp in Guatemala where he leveraged his knowledge of agriculture and animals by assisting with irrigation, animal management, and raising turkeys. When he would come home for visits, it was always amazing to hear his stories of the experiences he had there. After the Peace Corp he met and married an woman from Brazil, then he joined the Air Force which took him and his family around many places in the USA and the world. The experiences and knowledge he gained has always amazed me and I could listen to him for hours on end and never get bored. I think I would have to say that Dale has inspired me the most to become more curious about the world and not afraid to travel.

For many young boys, idols are often characters in books, television or in the movies, but for me it was my dad and brothers. Each experience I had whether it was triumphs, teasing, work, or being protected; each had a significant impact on who I am today. I see each of these moments as gifts and even blessings. I look up to these men in my life and yearned to be connected to them. It’s now over 40 years later and I still have that same yearning and I think I always will.

Dwight Jon Raatz
Memoir, Non-Fiction
3/3/2018

The Present

It was dark, cold, and snowing outside as I found myself wedged into the back seat of my dad’s blue 1978 Oldsmobile Delta 88. My mom was in the front seat and three of my siblings were in the seat next to me as we waited for my dad to come out of the house. It was Christmas Eve and we were on our way to my grandparents house for the annual gathering where we exchanged gifts and ate way to much food. I remember staring out the car’s front window into the garage. I was looking at the house entrance door when I said, “What’s taking him so long?”. One of my older siblings smiled at me and said, “I think dad had to go to the bathroom.” I was quite then as I listened to the car heater blasting out hot air and I could feel the heat building inside my jacket. I thought about the small plate of cookies with a half-glass of milk we left on the counter for Santa. I was excited and anxious about having this man or super-natural creature in our home when we were gone. I felt a sense of wonder how Santa could get all of the presents delivered across the world in one night, but also excited to see what he would bring.

The drive to my grandparents house was usually met with cold snowy weather and there was always a sense of tension about being stuck in the snow or even stranded at their house and not being able to get home. Since I was very young, I had to release my fears of this and have faith that my father knew best and would always keep us safe. The conversation during our drive was usually about local events in the town or sometimes a bit of gossip about the relatives we were going to see. I mainly did not have any input, and for the most part would just listen and try to make sense of it all. I found that my thoughts would drift back to the counter at home where the cookies sat, wondering at what point he would break into our house to eat them and leave us gifts under our tree. I wondered what else Santa would do while he was there. Did he go into my room? Did he take a dump in our toilet? In a way, the thought of this creeped me out, but I wasn’t supposed to feel that way. After all, Santa was a good guy right?

When we reached my grandparents farm, the yard had turned into a makeshift parking lot. The snow had been plowed carefully allowing a maximum number of vehicles near the house. As we unpacked ourselves from the warm car we immediately could feel the cold sharp wind on our faces. My mom said, “Take the roaster inside Becky. Boys, you grab the bags of gifts from the trunk and take them into the house.” Without much fuss, we followed orders and gathered our food and gifts. As we walked slowly toward the house, I could hear the crunch of snow under each step as I steadied myself for any unseen ice. Growing up in the northland, I had created a sense of the earth and how to interact with it based on the season. I had a respect for the outdoors and always guarded myself for the unknown and the unseen.

As we came closer to the house, I could hear the voices of many people inside. I could smell the aroma of turkey and savory foods coming out the door as we entered the house. We were met in the porch entry by my Uncle David with him saying, “Hello! Come on in! It’s a bit crowded as usual. You can put your boots and shoes over there, and coats can go in the closet if you can find a spot.” We quickly surveyed the room and found a place to stash our things.

As we filed through the door into the kitchen, I could see my grandma Mildred at the stove wearing a flower print apron over a dress that was likely the one she wore everyday. She was tending to the mash potatoes, turkey and various other traditional foods. She had an innate non-verbal way to direct what happened in the kitchen and everyone understood this language. She was a quiet presence in the home from what I remember. Whenever I would visit the farm in the summers, she was always working in and around the house. I would often spend time helping her tend the chickens, pull weeds from the garden, and taking lunches out to the fields for the men. I loved my grandma as she always smiled at me and gave me hugs. When I got sick, she tended to me with practical remedies and patience.

I also saw that my Aunt Caroline was sitting at the table talking non-stop with her sister Ginny who was blocked in between her and the wall. “Well, I couldn’t believe it when Tim was just standing there holding the tire iron and not moving, and I says, “Tim what are you doing?” And he looks up at me and says, “Nothin ma, just thinking about which is the best tire to use.”, and I says, “Well, what would Robert do in this case? Maybe you can just ask him.” and he says, “Okay ma.” And then …” I saw the look of numbness on Aunt Ginny’s face which was common when faced with the onslaught of words from Aunt Caroline. It was amazing, as I could swear that she had some kind of special ability to speak without ever pausing to breathe.

It was often overwhelming to me to take in all of the people in the house. My mom was one of 10 children which made for many aunts, uncles, cousins and associated spouses and children. The home was packed with people in every corner and room on the main floor. I would scan the room to see familiar and unfamiliar faces. The room that most of us kids would occupy was the back porch of the house. This was where my grandma kept her freezer with my favorite cookies and of course a cupboard with an assortment of toys. When I arrived in the room, I found my cousins eating cookies they had found in the freezer (lucky not my favorite ones) and sitting around card tables telling stories of their farms and families. I also noticed there was a strange young boy there sitting next to my cousin Duane. I found out later that his name was Jimmy Crud who was an exchange student from New Zealand staying with Duane and his family. Jimmy seemed like an odd sort with his black framed glasses and crocked smile, but that will story will have to wait for another time.

My cousin Duane was sitting at one of the tables shaking his head with a half-smile as he listened to my cousin Dustin spin another of his never-ending tales. Duane had bright red hair and his cheeks always seemed red too from their constant exposure to the cold winds and sunshine of the North Dakota winter. Dustin had dish-pan blonde hair that was always tousled and he had a facial twitch that always seemed like he was winking at you. Dustin said, “I was feeding the cows, so I was driving the 1456 tractor pulling the feed-wagon into the pasture, you know the one where Uncle Newton as that big angus bull? Well, as I was driving in the bull wouldn’t move, so I jumped down and yelled at him and gave him a swift kick in the side! Boy did he beller and run!” On hearing this, I looked at Duane and my other cousins and they were either rolling their eyes or shaking their heads. Dustin’s younger brother Cameron said, “You are so full of shit Dusty. That bull would have squashed you like a bug if you got off that tractor. They don’t call him old grumpy for nothin!” Just then my uncle Roger poked his head in the room and said, “Ok kids, it’s time to pass out presents.” Duane said, “Ok, let’s go!” As we were getting up, Dusty pushed Cameron out of the way so he could be first out of the room. Cameron gave him a playful kick in the butt. We all started pushing them both through the door into the living room trying to prevent a fight from breaking out.

Christmas presents at these events would involve bringing a present for someone of your own age and gender. These gifts would have a label stating, “Boy, Girl, Man, Woman” and then numbered. When it came time to open gifts, each of us would pick a number and when the gift’s number was called, you would get it regardless of your age or gender. I often thought this was confusing, but somehow it seemed to worked. As my cousins and I filed into the living room, Uncle David had a small basket raised higher than eyesight and he said, “Okay kids, reach in and pick out a piece of paper for your number. Remember, just pick one.” Each of us obediently stepped up one by one and took out a small piece of paper with a number on it. Immediately, Dusty exclaimed to our group, “I got number five, what did you get Lyle?”, speaking to another cousin of ours who was about my age. Lyle said, “I got number 23.” “Hah!”, said Dusty, “I’m going to get a better present than you because my number is before yours!” Once everyone had a number, my uncle David said, “Now there are 23 of us here tonight and I thought we’d do something a bit different. I think we will start in reverse order.” I could see that Dustin was obviously annoyed at this change-up of things. David looked over at Lyle and gave him a quick wink but I don’t think anyone else noticed. David said, “Who’s got number 23?”. With a smile on his face, Lyle said, “I do!”

When the presents were all passed out, we had the opportunity to exchange it with someone else if you wanted to. This was likely the best part of the gift exchange as it encouraged us to engage with each other and was often accompanied by laughter and poking fun at each other. Lyle ended up getting a new pocket knife with a pearl inlaid handle. Dusty received a girl’s gift which was a small toy pony that had a long braided mane and colorful saddle. Dusty tried desperately to trade the present with someone, but even some of the small girl cousins would not give him the satisfaction. He ended up walking over to the pile of presents belonging to my aunt Ginny (who’s daughter Kara was several years younger than I) and mumbled, “Stupid present to get.” and he quickly laid in on the pile and walked away. I think he was feeling a bit sheepish about spouting his mouth off and ending up with a girl’s toy.

When I look back at these visits, what I really enjoyed most was hearing stories of my grandparents, aunts and uncles as they homesteaded the area, grew their farms and worked the land. I never had a sense that Christmas or the presents given where the important part of this time of year. I thought of the bible stories of baby Jesus, the Wise Men and the Angels. I thought of the teachings of Christ and how it felt right to me that this time of year was about connecting with each other and most importantly, giving to those less fortunate. It may seem strange to most, but the receiving of a random present given with no consideration of who I am, made no sense to me. I always felt awkward in having to act surprised and happy at what I received. I was amazed when I observed that as quickly as the presents were opened, they were then piled up and readied for whenever each family left for the night. All of the “pomp and circumstance” of the presents and reasons for them was over as quickly as it began. Even in my young mind, I could never reconcile the way we gave presents to each other, with what I was being taught about the reason for Christmas. It was all so rote and mechanical that my feelings would get muddled and confused.

As the evening wound down and people were stuffed with food and drink and feeling the effects of the tryptophan high we got from the turkey, we parted ways and packed into our cars to go home. A few minutes into our drive home I asked, “Mom, why do you think Dusty tells such tall tales?” I looked up to see her shaking her head and she said, “I don’t know Dwight. Maybe he’s just lonely.” I wasn’t quite sure what to think about this. Everyone seemed to have an attitude about Dusty. I’ll admit I was uncomfortable with him at times too. I just wish I would have been a better cousin and friend to him.

The rest of the drive home was a bit treacherous as the snow was coming down harder and the roads were difficult to navigate. I was getting pretty sleepy and my mind was wondering about what we would find at home. Would “he” have been at our house? I had mixed feelings of excitement and fear each time I’d think about it. I suppose this is normal, but I never really had anyone else I could ask.

It varied from year to year on when my family would open presents. Sometimes it was the night we returned home from my grandparents, sometimes it was the next morning. This year we had left the farm fairly early as we had heard the weather was going to get worse. Arriving home we drove into the driveway to find a two foot snow drift had formed across the main area of the yard. It blocked our passage around to the car garage. My dad had to decide whether to try driving through it, or parking and getting out the FarmAll tractor to scoop a path through it. To this day, I’m not really sure why my dad decided to go for it. He put the car in reverse and backed up almost to the highway. He said, “You ready?!” and my brother Dale said, “Yes!” Then putting it in drive, by dad punched it and headed straight for the snow drift. I’m not sure how fast we were going when we hit, but all you could see was white powder everywhere. The car lurched left and then right and I slide forward off my seat onto the floor. We almost came to a complete stop but managed to have enough momentum to punch a hole through the drift and make it to the other side. With a cheer and small applause, we continued our way around to the garage entrance. We all piled out and grabbed the loot from the evening and the left over food we just “had” to take home with us and headed inside for the evening.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I was told the truth about Santa and why it always took dad so long to get out of the house on those cold Christmas eve nights. To tell the truth, I actually felt relieved when I found out that the sanctuary of our home was not being violated by a old man who had a passion for making toys for boys and girls, and loved it when they sat on his lap to hear their secret toy desires. I think it was about this time that I was able to clarify how I really felt about getting presents at Christmas. Now that the “Santa” mystery side of the equation was resolved, the only thing left was giving and getting the presents themselves. I had a strong belief that the act of giving presents was supposed to include two things. First, it was a way to honor someone you cared for. If you knew them well enough you could buy them a gift they really needed or wanted. Secondly, it was supposed to be a way to give to those less fortunate than ourselves in order to give them some joy and respite during that time of year. Unfortunately, what I witnessed about Christmas and giving gifts usually did not include either of these things. As I got older, this phenomena became more and more prevalent. I can’t say that I never received presents that I wanted, but I seemed to be very disenfranchised by the whole process and began to resent it. This effected me for years to come.

When we all got into the house, my mom turned on the stove top and pulled out a Jiffy-Pop popcorn pan to cook up a treat for us all as we prepared ourselves to open presents that night. I looked at the counter where I had left the cookies and milk and only saw a few remaining crumbs on the plate and just a few drops of milk in the glass. I looked around at my family, but no one else seemed to care that someone had been here when we were gone. I backed into a corner of the room and looked around thinking, what if he’s still here?! I cautiously looked around the edge of the doorway toward the living room and Christmas tree only to see blinking lights in a darkened room. I made sure to stay close to my mom pretending to want to help her with the popcorn and heating up the apple cider. I wasn’t about to go into the other room by myself. My brothers could go first!

My dad had come in from the garage and announced that the car was fine after our snow drift rampage. We all gave out a sigh of relief and I could see my dad winking at my mom as she smiled at him with a knowing look. It was a few years later that I finally had some kind of clue what those looks meant between them, but that’s a whole other topic for another time. Dad walked into our dining room and over to the stereo cabinet sitting in the corner of the room. He put on the traditional christmas album he always played. It had a kind of Mexican mariachi band sound with trumpets and of course, accordion music. He began to bob and weave in front of the cabinet to the beat of the music. I could always tell when my dad was in a good mood based on how close attention he paid to the music being playing. I remember one time in the milk barn, he was sitting on a small metal milk stool next to the calf pens when K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s song, “Shake Your Booty” came on the radio. I was watching him move to the music when the “Shake, shake, shake…” part came on, he raised both of his legs straight out in front of him and shook his knee high rubber barn boots. He fell straight off the stool onto his butt on the floor! He was laughing the whole time and it always made me smile when he goof around.

When the popcorn and cider were ready, we all gathered in the living room to find our spots for the remainder of the evening to open our presents. It was always the job of the youngest in the family to pass out the gifts, so I got busy sorting and routing the gifts to everyone in my family. I enjoyed finding each of my gifts and piling each of them safely as I’d keep count of them (just in case one of my siblings got any smart ideas to steal one). Once they were all passed out, we took turns opening one gift at a time. I didn’t realize it then, but as much as I liked to see what the gift was, I actually got more excitement from not knowing what was in each box. To this very day, having an unopened box represents endless potential of what it could be. Even if I order something on-line and get it a few days later, I will still let it sit on the table for awhile before opening. I know what should be in the box, but there is still a chance it could be something completely different! As I slowly opened each of my gifts, the mystery of the gift and the day faded a bit more.

There were a few times over the years that I tried to convince my family the idea of all of us giving to a local family in need rather than giving gifts to each other. This idea came about as we would struggle to figure out what to give each other. This was especially difficult when our families began to grow. The ideas I had were met with understanding and they seemed to like it, but they could not move away from the habit of giving presents to each other. We did however adjust our consumeristic practices a bit more when the family became so large it was very costly to buy for everyone. For several years we drew names so you would buy for just one other person. Then we moved to just buying the young children gifts, and finally dissolving the family wide gift exchange all together.

One thing that kind of revived my feelings toward giving presents, and the idea of Christmas, was when I started having my own kids. I supposed there was a part of me that could relive those days of fantasy, and I wanted my boys to feel that sense of wonder around the season. The hardest time came on the day that my youngest son also found out the truth about Santa. He took the news pretty hard. For some reason my older son had figured it out and when he was talking with his mom about it she said, “If you still want to get something from Santa, just don’t say anything.” When my youngest son found out he was crushed. At first I thought it was because the illusion or fantasy of Santa was something he whole heartedly believed, but later on I realized that it was not that at all. He was crushed because the two people he trusted most had lied to him for years. I also believe he was an advocate for the Santa story in the midst of his friends when they were telling him it wasn’t true. When he found out later that it was all a lie, he was very embarrassed. As a parent who subscribes to the story of Santa and tells this tale to their children, I think it’s difficult to know when you should let them in on the truth. I know for my son, he was angry about this for years until he himself started to have children, and now I see him spinning the same tale to them.

I became more and more hardened toward Christmas and the holidays the older I got. Nothing about this time of year is joyful for me. The season’s purpose is lost to consumerism, spending time together was at a minimum and a struggle to organize, and even if I told someone the things I wanted, it is usually ignored. I thought that the illusion of Christmas was just that, an illusion; and very few people actually remember what it’s all about. I dread this time of year more and more, especially after I got divorced and remarried and my family splintered even more. It feels as if our children see it as a burden or inconvenience to spend time with us. There is a huge focus on what should be bought without much consideration for actually spending time together. At the ending of the season we are left with things we don’t need, a lot of debt we also don’t need, and a sense of emptiness that we really never had time to just sit and connect.

I’ve been asked for many years to tell people what I want for Christmas. I have become adamant that all I want is time with my family. To me, this is the most important thing there is since I can see and feel how short life is. I can connect to my childhood an now understand that it was the time that I spent with my family that meant the most to me. Time is all I ask. If someone needs to give me something tangible, then write a card out to me that says it’s good for one date with them. It doesn’t need to be extravagant. We don’t need to spend a bunch of money on restaurants or meals. I’d be happy just to sit with my each one in my family and talk about life and how things are going for them. I want to hear their stories, their struggles and their dreams. I want to be available to them to help them in any way I can. This to me is the real reason for Christmas. To be present for the ones I love and in return, for them to be present for me.

Dwight J. Raatz
12/02/2017

Little Tin Cup

When I turned eighteen years old my dad called me into the kitchen where I saw him sitting by himself. He had just came in from the machine shed and he smelled of grease and dirt where he often spent hours working on farm machinery. Sitting on the table next to him I saw a little tin cup that I had never seen before. He told me to sit down as he had something to share. This was odd because dad never spent much time talking with me about many things, but I could tell this was important. He pointed at the little cup and said, “You know what that is?” I said, “Looks like a small child’s cup.” He smiled and said, “You’re correct. This was mine when I was quite a bit younger. I found it out in the shed when I was clearing out some old boxes. I’d like you to have it.” I was surprised as gifts were unusual in my family, especially personal ones like this. I picked up the cup and began to turn it over in my hands. When I looked at the bottom of the cup I noticed a small marking on the underside that looked like a balloon tied to some kind of pitch fork. I looked up at my dad with curious eyes, and it was then that I noticed a small tear rolling down his cheek. This was something else I had never seen.

 

My dad was a very quite man, who spent the majority of his time dedicated to working on our small farm in south-eastern North Dakota. When he spoke, we tended to listen to him intently because his words were often few and direct about whatever topic was on his mind. My siblings and I always new our dad loved us, he just never showed it in a physical way or through the words he spoke. You could tell everything you needed to know from they way he looked at us and his body language. This method of raising us made us all very observant of the world around us. We were sensitive to movement, intentions and sequences of events. For example, watching him work putting up a fence, you had a sense of the rhythm and sequence of how the fence was constructed. When he would hold the wire up to the fence post, you knew the next step was to staple the wire to the post using a hammer, so you would just do it without being told. Some of the ways we worked as a family was like dancing, instinctively knowing the next step and movement.

 

Even at eighteen years old, I never really knew much about my dad or even his family for that matter. My siblings had told me some stories they’d heard from our cousins that my dad’s childhood was pretty hard. His parents, my grand parents, were very strict orthodox catholic people who lived and raised their family in a remote region of eastern Germany near Dresden. Their whole lives revolved around hard work and strict discipline doled out by my grandfather on a regular basis. I was told that my dad and his nine siblings shared a large barracks type room on the third level of the large farm house. The room had five bunk beds where the children were paired up by age from oldest to youngest. I was told the room had a wooden floor with only one small round window near the peak of the roof. There was a large trunk sitting on the floor in front of each set of bunks where the kids had to store all of their personal belongings. There were no shelves, dressers or chairs in the entire room and it was painted a dark forest green color. Only one small light bulb hung from the ceiling that barely lit the room. I also had heard from my oldest brother, that there was some kind of horrible accident that had happened years ago to my dad’s family, but no one spoke about it. Ever.

 

As I sat there at the kitchen table looking at by dad, I couldn’t help but sense that this small tin cup had a significant connection to something or someone in his past. I placed my hand on his and said, “Thank you dad”. As soon as I touched him, he immediately pulled back and wiped the tears from his face. He cleared his throat and blinked his eyes a few times as though he was waking from a trance.

 

I said, “Dad, you okay?” He looked at me directly and focused his eyes on mine. “Jeremy”, my dad said, “this little tin cup is very special to me. I thought I had lost it years ago when we moved here to our farm, but today the Good Lord saw fit to bring this cup back into my life. This cup is the only thing I have left of the house I lived in as a young boy. You may not know this, but when I was about 10 years old, my childhood home was ravaged by fire, destroying the entire house and my whole family died except your uncle Hans.” I was shocked to hear this. I knew that my dad and Uncle Hans were orphans, but we never knew how they came to be that way.

 

“Wow, really dad? What happened, what started the fire?”, I said. “Well”, he said. “Hans and I were outside feeding the last of the pigs before going into the house for dinner. All of the others had gone in before us to start cleaning up. I remember dumping the last bucket of old table scrapes in the trough when we heard a series of loud popping noises coming from the direction of the house. I looked at my older brother and said, “What was that?”. He said, “Those were gun shots!”

 

My dad continued his story and said, “We both dropped our buckets and took off running toward the house. It was about a 100 yards away, but it seemed like an eternity before we even got close. As we were running, I was thinking about how things had seemed even more tense than usual around the house. I remembered hearing mom and dad fighting in their bedroom the night before. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but there were loud shouts and I could hear my mom sobbing. At one point, I heard a door slam with footsteps going down the stairs to the main level. I thought about how my mother who just stood in front of the kitchen sink, staring out the window while we all ate our breakfast earlier that morning. I remember how my dad would make these occasional grunting noises and glance over at my mom.”

 

I couldn’t believe what my dad was telling me. I never knew any of this and I could tell that, for some reason, he was finally ready to tell someone about this part of his life. I sat there mesmerized, as my dad said, “When Hans and I where about half way to the house, we could see a bright orange glow coming from the front windows of the house and smoke was starting to billow out of a few open windows. As we got nearer, we both started screaming and yelling fire, fire, get out… get out!!!”

 

With these words, I could hear my dad’s voice crack as he caught his breath while holding back his sorrow. “We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.”, my dad said. “When we reached the front door, Hans grabbed the door handle and jumped back yelling in pain from the burn he just received from the scalding hot metal door knob. I put on the pair of leather gloves I had in my back pocket, turned and pushed the door in yelling for my family, “Get out… Fire!”

 

My dad’s eyes were wide and his face was flush as he said, “Just as I stepped into the blazing front room, I was horrified to see my mother and all my siblings sprawled out on the floor, all with horrified expressions on their faces and blood coming from their foreheads and chests. I could hardly breath as the smoke was filling my lungs. Hans had reached the room and grabbed me from behind by the shoulders yelling, “We have to get out of here!” I pulled away and yelled, “Dad, Dad! Where are you!” With that I looked over toward the kitchen doorway and saw him sitting on the floor. He was holding a large pistol in his hands that I’d seen many times before. It was from his time serving in the German army under the tyrant Adolf Hitler. My dad was saying something over and over, that I could barely make out. It sounded like he was saying, “Only pure blood. Only pure blood.” He just kept saying it over and over. I yelled at my dad to get out of the house and he raised his eyes to meet mine and I could see a crazed wild look in his eyes. He looked at my brother and has he did, he raised the gun and pointed it directly at Hans and pulled the trigger.”

 

As I listened to my dad tell his story, I thought, this was incredible! I had no idea what to do with this, but I couldn’t stop listening and I knew I shouldn’t interrupt. I could feel that he was on a roll and needed to keep the story going, and to be free of its grip on him. As he spoke, he was very animated, with his hands and arms flailing about and rocking in his chair as he told his story. It was almost like he was seeing and reliving it all again.

 

“It was like I was having a nightmare.”, my dad continued. “In that instance, I simultaneously braced for the gun to fire and jerked backward crashing into Hans. I heard the gun fire and both my brother and I tumbled onto the floor. I could hear Hans scream in pain. I quickly turned over and saw him holding his left arm with blood coming out. I saw that he was hurt bad but still moving. In the same instance, I spun around to see my dad trying to get to his feet all while pointing the gun in our direction. I screamed, “Dad what are you doing?!” and just as he steadied himself to fire again, we heard a loud CRACK from above us. We both jerked our heads up to see one of the large ceiling beams above my dad give way and crashed directly down on top of him. I rushed toward my dad only to see one of his hands lying motionless from under the burning beam.

 

The intensity of the fire was growing and I knew it was too late to help him. I turned and saw that Hans was crawling toward the front door. I ran and grabbed him around the waste and even though he was twice my size I pulled him up, and in a blur, we both ran out of the house just as we witnessed the house’s front porch and roof cave in.”

 

With that, my dad stopped his story and looked at me as if coming out of a dream again. He shook his head and reached for the glass of water sitting on the kitchen table and drank it all. As he set the glass down, he said, “I lost almost my entire family that day. It wasn’t until years later that I heard more stories that my father and mother spent several of the first years of their marriage trying to have kids, but weren’t having any luck. Being a virile German man, my father just assumed my mother was barren, but then surprisingly, my mom became pregnant with my oldest brother Frank. And just like clockwork, they began to have kids one after the other until all 10 of us were born. I just never would have dreamed I’d loose them all in such a horrific way and least of all by my own father’s hands.”

 

“I remember a few days after the fire”, my dad continued, “my brother and I sifted through the rubble of the house and the only thing of value we found was this little tin cup that my mom always had on her night stand.” And with that, he reached over and picked up the cup where I’d placed it. He said, “I don’t think I would have ever found it if it hadn’t been for our neighbor Ephraim helping us that day. He seemed to take the tragedy pretty hard now that i think of it. He was a good man who lived alone in a small house about a mile from our farm. Every year for many years he would help my dad during the planting and harvest seasons. Ephraim was a Jewish man who was kind of a loner in our part of the country. We thought the world of him because he would always make us kids a small gift on each of our birthdays. This seemed to work out because all our birthdays happened when he was working at the farm. We always wondered why he was a bachelor. Some say he had a girl in his younger days, but their love was forbidden, and her family moved her away to live with a distant relative in Dresden.”

 

My dad looked at me and he seemed to be a lot more calm. He looked at me in a way that spoke to me his love, and he smiled. “I just want you to know Jeremy. I love you very much. I know I don’t say it.. well, at all really, and I’m sorry for that. I know this was a lot to hear in a story of my childhood, and how Uncle Hans and I became orphans. I don’t know if I’ll ever know why my dad did what he did, but I thought it was important that you knew. I just hope that as our years go forward, we try to talk more. I know I’ll certainly be trying my best.” With that, my dad stood up and put his hand on my shoulder for a second, and then strapped on his bibs and walked out the door to the yard. I watched him out the kitchen window as he walked away with a huge urge to hug him, but I knew that it wasn’t quite time to do that yet. But I knew we would get there.

 

I sat back down at the kitchen table and picked up the tin cup. I turned it over to examine the symbol at the bottom. I took out my pocket handkerchief and rubbed off the dirt and grime stuck to the cup from years in the shed. As I rubbed, I could tell that the symbol I was seeing was not a ballon tied to a pitch fork, but it was a Jewish menorah that had little oblong flames coming out of each candle stick. I smiled and thought about Ephraim and how he had made my dad feel as a child. I was glad that he had that kind of man in his life and I wondered what ever happened to him. Maybe some day my dad will tell me the rest of the story. Maybe…

 

Dwight J. Raatz
11/05/2017
(NOTE: The events depicted in this post are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.)

I Am Not Important

I was born in 1965 in a small town in southeastern North Dakota.  My family and I lived on a small farm where my father was a second generation farmer on the land my grandfather had homesteaded in the early 1900’s.  My father had taken over the family farm about the time I was born.  He diversified his efforts at making a living by milking cows, raising beef cattle, pigs and chickens.  We also farmed several sections of land where we raised a variety of grain crops.  For me, my childhood experiences were by many standards, unremarkable.  I am the youngest of 5 children. I can never remember feeling like we were poor or rich.  I always felt safe, cared for, and I really can’t think of a time that I needed anything.  I will admit that being the youngest child, with my next oldest sibling being about 5 years older than me, I did tend to get more things from my parents than my siblings.  I don’t really know if it was because my parents had more disposable income as I grew up, or if they somehow felt differently about buying things at that time.  I don’t remember being a needy or a complaining child in any way either.  Life just seemed to go on and on and I was mainly an observer of it.  I can’t really recall interacting with my siblings or my parents in any great depth, other than working on the farm or at the evening meals.  With the age difference from my four siblings (each of them being about a year apart in age), I tended to spend most of my time alone from what I remember.  I was often wrapped up in listening to music, reading the encyclopedia, or later on, playing with any sort of electronics I could get my hands on.  Other than the occasional teasing from my one brother, I didn’t experience any real trauma as a child.  Or at least that’s what I thought anyway.

 

In one way or another, I believe that we all are searching for some sort of peace for our lives.  From my observations, some of us have similar struggles, but at times, very different perspectives on our struggles or even how to resolve them.  When I think about the various ways people experience trauma, it really has a broad spectrum.  Depending on how you look at life or your belief systems, trauma can even begin pre-conception.  Most certainly it can be agreed that trauma can begin in the womb with exposure to various drugs, physical abuse, or even environmental factors. I believe that even the feelings and emotions of the mom and dad toward being pregnant can cause trauma to the child before they are born.  Then moving forward, you have the actual birth itself being the first standard trauma that everyone has (no matter how well the pregnancy and birth went).  If you can imagine spending 9 months being completely carefree and supported in every way, then suddenly forced into the world to deal with gravity, breathing, hunger, bowl movements, you name it.  Heck, that’s pretty traumatic right?

 

No matter what your traumatic experiences have been, they play a part in how your life is shaped, the person you become, and how you view the world.  Some of us have very good support systems and/or families that are highly aware and conscious of their bodies and emotions.  This can help you to grow up more balanced and you naturally have various ways to release the tensions of trauma through physical activity, deep conversations, and overall support from those you love.  This however is not so common from observations of my little corner of the world. So what do the rest of us need to do when we experience trauma?  Well, some will stuff the feelings, some will act out in various ways including anger, depression, anxiety, self mutilation, danger seeking, drugs, over-working and various other destructive methods.  Then there are others who have tried more “positive” avenues like therapy, psychics, energy healing, meditation, religion, athletics, etc.  It seems to me that most, but not all, methods tend to start with the mind when trying to find peace.  The mind is indeed an important place to focus the healing practice, but only when you approach that healing from a positive perspective, that is focused on releasing tension in both the mind and body.

 

It’s very interesting to think about all of the classes I’ve taken and methods of “connection” or rituals I was shown.  While many of them are important and relevant, I could never really understand why they had to be so complicated (e.g. having to speak a mantra in a particular way, moving your body in a particular manner, vocalizing in a particular tone, etc).  I believe that there is purpose to these methods and they can even be valid depending on where you are at in your journey.  I kept going back to my childhood, sitting in church and thinking, why does this all have to seem so complicated and wrought with possible ways to fail?  I just could not believe that an “all-knowing” being that created us from dust, would even have a need for us to do anything complicated let alone be worshipped.

 

Like many, I’ve done a lot of the abovenegative andpositive methods for finding peace for my mind.  As I look back at many of these methods, the focus seemed to be outside of my body and mind, as if the solution was “out there” somewhere.  I can remember going to several psychics searching for one of them that could just reach inside my mind and flip the proverbial switch to allow peace in and the rest to go.  I even got to the point where I saw so many different psychics, I would consider myself a junkie.  As I spent a lot of time and money, I realized I was getting more and more angry that “they” weren’t fixing me. I realized that I was looking for the solution outside of myself.  After about 10 years of trying many avenues, I finally began to see that the solutions have always been inside of me.  I know this is not news really, as I’ve heard that kind of thing for years, but I never really believed it.  This was until I was introduced to a method of healing that is based on a very basic human function, breathing.

 

When I was introduced to Rebirthing Breathwork, I initially thought it was just another fad that sounded interesting.  However, on the very first session, I experienced an unexpected shift and release out of a seeming nowhere. At this point I knew I was hooked and I needed to know more, so I signed up for a year long training course to become a certified breathwork practitioner.  It’s been about three years since first learning the technique and I’ve been through many sessions myself and I’ve coach many people in their own sessions.  As time went on and life happened, I got distracted and stopped for several months from doing any sort of healing practices on myself and others.  Then I got an invitation from my teacher to attend a workshop called “Loving Relationships” with Sondra and Markus Ray.   This workshop was focused on improving all of our relationships, but more specifically our intimate personal ones.

 

One of the first exercises we went through at the workshop was to do sentence completion related to the negative thoughts that run through my mind.  The idea was to determine our personal primary negative belief that we have underlying our thoughts.  I started out with, “I’m not enough”, then, “I overthink and worry”, then, “I am a fake”, then, “I’m not important to anyone”, then, “I’m not important enough to be loved.”.  As I looked at what I had written it struck me that my primary negative belief is, “I am not important”.  This really resonated with me as I could see it was at the very heart of many symptoms I’ve experienced over the years.

 

When I was very young, probably under the age of 20, I don’t know if I ever thought much about feeling important to anyone or not.  When I look back and try to remember how things were during that time, I recall being connected to a very small group of friends more so than being connected to my family.  My friends seemed to fulfill that part of my life that wanted to be acknowledged and valued.  They would seek me out to do things.  They went out of their way to listen to me, try to understand and to relate to me their own stories.  It wasn’t until I went to college and afterwards when got my first career job that I started to notice how very disconnected I felt from my family.  When they would ask me how my life was going, I would tell them about my job or what I’m learning and I felt that they would just stop listening.  Sometimes they would say something like, “I just don’t understand [insert whatever topic I was presenting].”  I found that the harder I tried to explain my life, my career, my spiritual growth, or my thoughts, they would become more and more disconnected.  Finally it got to the point that I just stopped trying.  I just gave them what they wanted to hear, which usually meant saying something like, “Oh yes, I’m very busy at my job.  Lot’s of projects to work on.”, and that was it.  This was very common in all my interactions.  I became very skilled at giving a short answer and then turning the conversation around to focus on them.

 

Things seemed to progress over the years where I would start to attribute people not acknowledging me in one way or another, as me not being important.  This belief infiltrated my relationships with my wife and kids, my employer, my social friends, you name it.  I got to the point that I felt numb to even wanting to feel connected to anyone, or to allow love to be given or received.  It was easier and safer to protect myself than to be hurt by allowing someone into my heart.  So it went on like this for over 30+ years.  I was living my life, but in a very closed way.  I was quick to have anger, which I directed inward.  I had cycles of good days followed by many fraught with anxiety and depression.  I worked hard at keeping all of this bottled up inside of me.  I tried desperately to “protect” my wife and kids from all of this, but they suffered from the side effects despite my best intentions.

 

All of my thoughts around not being acknowledged, respected, smart, good enough, you name it; all came down to feeling or thinking that I am not important; not to life, family, friends, employers, or neighbors. If I were to cease to exist in this very moment, the overall rhythm of life would only experience a very small, mostly unnoticeable bump in the road.  This feeling was pervasive in my life making me feel very lonely, depressed and angry.  After the weekend workshop I made a promise to myself that I would start again with my own healing practices and I made an appointment with my coach the following week for a breathwork session.

 

When I went into my Breathwork session with Deanna (my coach), I really didn’t know what I was going to focus on. We started out by talking for at least an hour about what I was dealing with lately, I talked about my desire to be heard by others, feelings of being disrespected, and having no path for the future. Since I didn’t feel at the time that I had anything specific to breathe on, I decided to choose my primary negative belief (or primary personal lie), as this seemed like as good as anything else.

 

The breathing was done the same way we had at the retreat I attended. My mouth was more open, and with a relaxed jaw and with a fuller breath.  I began to breath in the specific cyclical pattern for Rebirthing Breathwork, having no pause at the bottom or top of the breath.  This makes your breathing a bit faster than normal.  My breathing seemed unremarkable as my mind flitted from one topic to another. As I saw each thought come up in my mind, I would just release it using the rhythm of the breath. This process went on for some time until I could feel “the flip” happen.  The “flip” is that moment where you move from consciously breathing, to a more automatic rhythm and your body takes over breathing.  My breathing became faster yet and my body started to cramp a bit, and my jaw and hands got stiff, which is normal in this process. Deanna was there to keep me on track, telling me to relax my jaw and open my mouth more, and to breathe through the cramping. I’ve definitely been in worse shape for cramping when I first did this technique, but I’ve since learned to recognize and release that tension.

 

At some point I relaxed more and I could feel my whole body, or what felt like an energetic representation of my body, began to rise up off/out from my physical body.  The sensation was similar to a heavy vibration that encompassed my whole body.  As the vibration lifted, I could feel my physical body become more still and relaxed.  Somehow I knew I needed to release this “representation” of myself, so I really amped up my breathing even more.

 

At times I became distracted by visions or dreams and my breathing would slow down. When this happened, the energetic “self” started to descend back into me. Deanna would coach me to focus and get on track again which would push the energy further and further out. Finally I felt that the release or separation was far enough away that it could no longer come back unless I willed it to. In those final moments my breath pushed it far enough away and I could feel it disconnect and vanish!

 

As I came out of a sort of trance I was in, we began to talk about the experience I had where I described each detail as I’ve written here. Deanna shared with me how she also could sense the release I was describing. Now that I’m writing this and processing more, I now know that the release was a sort of shield or armor. I had no idea what it was at the time, I just knew it needed to go.

 

At this point I felt like I was done and the session felt complete as I was relaxing on the table. Deanna was telling me how I had done well. Then, what felt like words from another source or dimension , Deanna said, “You are so important Dwight.” At this moment time stopped, and I could feel this transfer or a gift of love energy enter into my body and spirit. I felt shocked and very surprised by the feeling. It was like something I’d never felt or experienced before. I can only describe it as being very thirsty and you take that first mouthful of cool water and you feel it wash over your throat, chest and finally your whole body. In that moment, my breath caught in my throat and I felt a sense of laughter or joy that came out of me. It was just a moment, because directly afterward came a huge cascading feeling of a perfect mix of pure joy and sorrow flooding my whole body.  In those few moments, I felt like for the first time I had allowed myself to feel love, to feel my amazing importance, and it was so powerful I didn’t know what to do with it.  I was sad that I’ve been without this miracle in my life. I could feel the pain and sorrow releasing and joy receiving. The sorrow was from knowing that I’d starved myself from feeling love. My body and spirit were, what I can only describe as, being released from a concentration camp, a starved, emaciated skeleton of a person walking out of the wire gates of the prison. This flood of emotions manifested in my body by letting loose with sobbing, short breaths and a sense of fear of the letting go. My voice came with the sobs in short bursts as I fought the release, but Deanna coached me to let go and breathe!  At that moment I had to decide.  Was I going to trust that I was safe by letting go?  Was Deanna safe to do this with?  What would happen to me if I let go? Would I be able to come back or would I be lost in the emotion of this?  In that split second of thought, I decided it no longer served me to keep holding on.  I needed desperately to grow and to release the pain, and this was the moment.  I trusted Deanna and I trusted this process.  The breathing allowed me to let go of the last blocks, and to even sob harder than I can ever remember before in my life. I had no idea that all of this wastrapped inside of me.

 

As the exchange of released emotion and the taking in of love happened, I simply surrendered to it all. Deanna coached me along and I remember having my left hand over my eyes and forehead. I could feel the tears and sweat all over my face. My right hand was on my heart and I could feel Deanna’s hands on me. I reached for her hand and held on, feeling the connection to Earth and to humanity through her. I could hear her repeating the phrase, “You are so important Dwight.”, over and over in low soft tones. I remember my breath flowing and all of the tightness in my chest releasing more and more. It’s so very hard to explain in words the release of the pain and emotions.  It’s hard to describe the thirst I felt for allowing myself to feel love.  It’s hard allow myself to feel this vulnerable with anyone.  What would they think of me now after seeing me completely lose it?  Would I appear to be weak, not a man, not more in control of my life?  I believe many of us feel this way when faced with letting go of emotions and the possibility of being embarrassed or even ridiculed for doing just that.

 

I began to calm and felt the wave ending. I relaxed and wiped my face and blew my nose. As I laid there, I felt an amazing peace in and around me. We talked a bit and about the experience and I tried to express what I felt, but mostly I was quiet. Then Deanna started to say the mantra again and again, “You are so important Dwight.”, in continued low and soft tones. Thinking that I was done with the session was silly because the whole thing just cut loose again! I could feel that there was more that needed to be released and my body knew it, and apparently so did Deanna. This cycle was shorter but even more intense than before. For the first time in my life, I can actually say that I not only sobbed, but I wailed with sorrow and joy. I used my voice to transmute that feeling and energy. This final wave subsided after a time andI was finally done. I lay there completely spent.

 

It’s very hard to describe my session in words. The big releases that I had were nothing like I’ve ever experienced before. I know that I’ve never in my life allowed myself to be so raw, to be so vulnerable to the feelings I was having in those moments.  I only know that this was a life changing moment for me.  I had made a big step toward my own personal freedom.  I’d allowed myself to feel love and know that I needed and wanted this to be more prevalent in my life.  This is a huge thing for me because I’ve found the concept of love to be somewhat of a mystery. It’s not a that I didn’t understand it at all, I just never really “felt” love to any huge degree from what I remember. I knew enough of love, to realize that I was missing something.

 

In the moments and minutes that followed, I did some more processing with Deanna, drank water and talked. I found it difficult to move my body.  I felt like I was trying to force my very essence back into my physical body.  It was hard to coordinate my muscles to even move me out of the room and the building out to my car. Since I’d had some experience with doing this in the past, I knew I needed to be extra careful as I drove home. Breathwork like other types of healing practices can cause you to be in an altered state and even feel as though you are “out of body” at times. It’s important to spend time re-integrating, and a good way to do this is by drinking water and eating a small amount of food. Dark chocolate is one of the recommended foods to eat, but anything that is organic and unprocessed.

 

I know this is not the end. I know there is more, but for now I’m in a really good place. I feel blessed and loved. I’m ready now to move forward into the days to come full of love!

 

– Dwight Jon Raatz, 10/11/2017

 

(Edited 11/21/2017)

A Change of Perspective: Your Assignment

Take a break from what you think is your reality.

 

Just for a few minutes I want you to come along with me on a journey of release and imagination.  To do this, I need you to go outside somewhere and find a comfortable place to sit or stand.  It’s best if you are in Nature somewhere, but this is not a requirement.  Please take your time to find a place where you will not be interrupted but you can most certainly be with others around you.

 

Now, for this to work I need you to suspend some of your knowledge of the world around you.  I need you to forget that wind exists.  Yes, that’s right.  Just for a bit, pretend that you don’t know what wind is or what effect it can have on things around you.  Got it?

 

Next I want you to start looking at things around you.  Look at the trees.  Look at the leaves on the ground. Look at the flags on the poles.  Look at the clouds in the sky.  Do you see that they are moving?  Now, I want you to shift your perspective a bit and forget that wind is moving them, and that they are moving themselves.  What if the trees are moving on their own, stretching, waving, alive!  What if the clouds are on an adventure moving across the sky and taking in the scenes of the Earth below them?  What if the flag is waving because it’s excited to represent the hope and dreams of a country?  What if the leaves are racing around, playing, finding mischief in getting stuck to your window, in your hair or car grill?  Notice how the world is alive around you and notice how you have been oblivious to these wonders.

 

Indeed, we all spend way too much time in our heads or stuck to a portable screen to notice the life around us.  Take a break now and then to notice how much life is all around you.  Notice that by doing this, you become more connected to life, you appreciate life more and feel joy in being part of it.

 

Let me know how you did with your assignment.  What did you experience?  How did you see life around you differently?  What can you add to this assignment that might help others?

 

American Beauty – Plastic Bag Scene

 

Peace,

 

Dwight Raatz

What Is Real?

Lately I’ve struggled with what I perceive to be reality.  This struggle has, at times, given me pause to even question my own sanity (which can be quite frightening).  As I dove into the feeling of this, it put me on a path of thinking about how I perceive reality in my own life as well as the lives of others.

There seems to be a couple ways to learn about what is real in your life, and one of them is through experience.  For most people, we think the things we can perceive with our senses (sight, sound, touch, etc) makes them real.  The other way to learn is by being taught what is real. If there are things we can’t verify with our senses, then there must be accepted scientific or mathematical ways to test and verify something is real as proof. Another seemingly acceptable way to view something as real is to hear someone else tell us that it is (friends, family, media, etc).  But what if you have experiences that cannot easily be verified in any way, nonetheless you had the experience and it was very “real” to you?

Have you ever had the experience of driving in your car and you come to a stop light in the midst of several other cars and you are stopped for a length of time?  While sitting there, you kind of lose focus on things as you look at the cars beside you, and suddenly you get the sensation that somehow your car is moving backward, like you are rolling back for some reason?  Then in a short panic you press on the break harder to stop, but you don’t and then you snap out of it only to realize that you are not moving, but the car(s) next you are moving forward?  In that moment you thought you were rolling backward, you thought that was really happening right?

Another example of a perceived reality happened several months ago where I was driving home after a long day on a very familiar road.  As I was driving, I had a sense of where I was and the direction I was going and what I was expecting to see next, but all of the sudden I came upon a stop light that should not have existed.  For a second I was completely disoriented and I could feel the world around me spin slightly when I realized that I was on a completely different road and hadn’t driven as far as I thought I had.  In the moments leading up to my realization, I thought where I was, what I was doing, seeing and experiencing to be very real.  These kinds of “re-orientating to reality” moments have happened to me several times over the years and each time it was quite disturbing. It usually takes me several minutes to come back into alignment with the reality I’m perceiving in that moment. Was what I experienced real or not?

About eight years ago, I was driving to work in my 1996 Geo Prism on a very cold and snowy winter morning.  I was heading for downtown Minneapolis at the intersection of Hwy 55 and Hwy 100 going east.  The roads that morning were snowy and a bit icy.  As I was stopped at the light with no other cars around me, I looked in my rear view mirror to see a large black pickup truck driving straight toward the back of my car.  What I perceived was that this truck was going way too fast for the road conditions and was invariably going to crash into me.  Well, if you know anything about a Geo Prism, it does not have any getup and go, but instinctively, I stepped on the gas and floored it (even though I was a a stoplight) and I braced for impact. What happened next, was nothing at all!  No impact.  As a matter of fact, when I looked in my mirrors, there was no truck at all, nothing!  I even slowed so much I physically looked out all my windows and there was no truck or any other vehicle around me at all in any direction.  In those few seconds there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be rear-ended by that black pickup truck.  So, was what I saw and experienced real or not?

In the Summer of 2010 I was taking a nap in the front room (we called it the parlor) of my home in Buffalo, MN.  I was in that kind of pre-awake state where I could sense that I was awake, but my eyes were not open yet.  As I laid there on the couch, I felt very relaxed as I could feel the summer sun coming through the windows warming me.  I was enjoying that feeling and sense of peace when quite faintly I could hear a kind of buzzing or fluttering sound in the room.  Initially I was thinking it was a fly in the window, but the sound didn’t quite match with my memory because the sound was much deeper and fuller.  I continued to keep myself in the space of “not awake” with my eyes closed and I could hear the fluttering sound circling the room getting near as it circled.  Then it came very close to my face and I could hear the deep fluttering sound of wings and even a slight movement in the air around me.  In my mind’s eye, I started to get a sense for what the being or creature looked like.  I then opened my eyes only to have the sound and feeling of what I thought was there with me to instantly dissipate.  What did I experience?  Was it real or not?

I think perhaps the most significant experience I’ve had around perceiving what is real is my own thoughts around how I believe something will turn out or how someone will react or respond to my actions.  There have been many times that I’ve held back from sharing myself with others (especially family).  When I’ve thought about sharing something important or possibly controversial with them, I would often think I knew how they would respond and usually the thought was not favorable.  I would often spend weeks, months or even years with anxiety, afraid that if I did tell them, they would reject me or they might possibly stop loving me or talking to me.  This fear would infect my life and relationships with others and get to a point where I knew I needed to come clean.  The interesting thing is that in every instance when I finally confessed, they never responded the way I had predicted.  It was a total lie. Every time, they were thoughtful about my issue and very accepting of me.  Each time this happened to me, I would not only be relieved but I would reprimand myself for having spent so much time believing this spell of fear.  What I assumed to be so very real was not real at all.

Most recently I’ve been going through what feels like a large shift or transformation in my life.  This shift is a culmination of many factors including career, marriage, aging, and the ever present ebb and flow of the Universe.  I find myself having a powerful drive to seek more fulfillment in my life, in how I spend my time and who I spend that time with.  I feel as if I am in an in-between place moving from the role of raising kids, building a career (which was created from necessity and not from my heart), divorce and re-marriage, and an ever evolving change in physical health. I’m now moving toward a deep calling from the bowels of the Universe within me to finally allow myself to bring forth the full possibility of what I have to offer this world.  This in-between place feels like my own primordial soup of possibilities.  What I can create for myself in the next phase of my life?  It has been so intense at times I find myself having out of body experiences with my “Self” being the observer of my body and the interactions of it and the world around.  It has been at times very frightening because I feel if I were to just let go a bit more, I would never be able to reconnect myself with this world and physical reality I am in.  I also have the dual experience of being intrigued with the experience because there is a great sense of peace, wonder and interest from the Observer’s perspective.  The Observer is not invested or involved with the interactions of the body, ego or even the physical reality of the experience, it just sees or senses.  So is what I’m experiencing real or not?

As I think about what I’ve written, I feel a common theme has appeared. Reality is based on whatever I chose to focus my attention on at any point in time. This “attention” is really perspective on any given situation. I find this fascinating.  I’ve often thought about how each of us perceive things and if someone else sees the same things or not.  For example, when I look at the color red, is what I perceive as red the same for you as it is for me?  This perspective is also described in a story I wrote in my blog the-more.com a few years ago called “The Reality of Fog”.  I was on a trip to Peru with a friend, when we found ourselves slightly lost in the airport as we tried to figure out where to go for our next flight.  We each had a perspective on what we thought were the right direction through an airport, only to find out we each were looking at the same signs in a slightly different way. Another good example is found in a TEDx Talk titled “Dying to be me” where a woman named Anita Moorjani describes her experience with cancer, her death and coming back to life.  Her message on her awareness of the world was strikingly similar to what I described above in my “Observer” story.  I highly recommend you watch!

I’ve experienced many profound things during my journey from within, and from the world around me.  Each of these experiences has allowed me to grow more and more into who I truly am as a person.  This tangible and palpable experience of the Observer has been challenging, but I truly believe it is all a part of another transformation the Universe is providing for me to grow.  The challenging part of all of this is the intensity of the feeling and how overwhelming transformation can be. The one thing that allows the process to flow, is in the sharing of the moments, and connecting with others in their own similar experiences.  How are you perceiving the world around you, and allowing the experiences to change your life?

– Dwight Raatz

What I’ve Learned So Far

A dear friend asked me some time ago what I think I’ve learned in my life. This seemed to be an ominous task to recount all of it until I realized that learning can boil down to some over-arching concepts. Yes of course I’ve learned to speak, write, walk, etc and I won’t go into these more mundane aspects of my training. The purpose of this writing is to share the deeper concepts of my own learning and to hopefully spur some of your own thoughts around what you have learned in your life.

What have I learned so far? – (in no particular order)

I learned…

  • . . . how much others allowed me to behave as I chose (the good, the bad and the ugly).
  • . . . how badly I behaved at times without regard to other’s feelings or needs.
  • . . . how much those close to me, love me and want me to be happy.
  • . . . that allowing me to behave badly does not serve you or me. I now realize that calling others on their behavior can be a very loving thing to do.
  • . . . how much I considered myself a victim of my environment (parents, society, etc)
  • . . . that I have a lot more anger in me than I previously thought… about many things…
  • . . . that awareness of perspective (mine and others) is critical to enlightenment
  • . . . that truth is the conjoined twin of perspective
  • . . . that my own need for control is at the deepest part of my fear (as so succinctly and directly shown to me by Mother Ayahuasca)
  • . . . that no matter how much I want someone to see my perspective (my truth), that they may not have a way to understand it and that I cannot take it personally if they don’t understand it.
  • . . . that no matter how much I try to show someone how their behavior and method of communication is poisonous (in my perspective), if they believe they are doing the right thing, I will likely never convince them otherwise.
  • . . . that my perspective of someone else’s behavior can be flawed and full of righteous judgment
  • . . . that no matter how I was treated as a child, my parents, siblings, friends and neighbors were all doing the best they could.
  • . . . that a person’s best changes and that I have no way of knowing what they’ve been through in their life that causes their best to be what it is.
  • . . . that sometimes a person’s best is horrid and unspeakable and likely a result of them trying to survive their own demons.
  • . . . that fully giving myself to someone can be the most terrifying and beautiful experience I’ve ever known
  • . . . that I never fully gave myself to anyone, because I don’t know how.
  • . . . that being angry is not a bad thing but is simply is an indicator of a needed change.
  • . . . that my anger can be used as fuel to propel me forward into the unknown territory of change.
  • . . . that sharing my perspective is best when another asks for it.
  • . . . that my obsession with sex, women, the female form, is all normal and I no longer need to feel bad about it
  • . . . that I am in love with my body and the more I honor it, the more it loves me back.
  • . . . that I don’t need to figure it all out, and that I need to trust more.
  • . . . that another person’s emotions are not my responsibility.
  • . . . how wide spread shame is used as a method of control, and this makes me very sad.
  • . . . that growing up on a farm was an amazing way of learning about life and death, building a solid work ethic, developing my intuition, connecting with nature and respecting it, knowing how to work with others, developing problem solving skills and creativity, enjoying solitude, and many other things that I’m appreciating more the older I get.
  • . . . that the only true and powerful way for me to vote for change is where I choose to spend my money.
  • . . . that the only way for me to truly be free is to take responsibility for how I respond to life.
  • . . . that through awareness and diligence, I can train my mind to do my bidding instead of the other way around.
  • . . . that peace comes from having an open mind and taking the time to truly understand someone else.
  • . . . that traveling (near or far) is a great way to know your planet, to build empathy for others, and for others to better know you.
  • . . . that I will continue to learn and experience every day of my life and that is really the whole point.

Gratitude,

Dwight Raatz

The Truth of Senses

Do we make ourselves blind so we don’t see the color of skin?

But we could still hear and know the dialect, the language. We would still judge.

Do we also make ourselves deaf?

But we could still taste, touch and smell and categories would be established to segregate us.

Do we remove all the senses and become living vegetables with only our minds to interact within ourselves?

Our own thoughts would betray us and leave us utterly trapped thinking of what we did, what others have done, what we are missing and all manner of thoughts that mean nothing.

Do we stop living, abandon our corporeal self and free the spirit, the very essence of who we are? Is that what it will take to know that you and I are really the same? It will happen eventually and you will know the truth regardless.

But why wait?! Why not know the truth of how we are but reflections of each other in the shards of life. The truth is here in seeing the beauty of our skin, the rhythm of our voices, the tender kiss as we taste our lovers, the touch of our hands as we walk together, and the sweet smell of our bodies we are together in work and sex.

These all satisfy my senses, but it is my heart that knows you; that knows we are the same

Dwight Raatz – 07/19/2013

Pointless Protection

We each have our struggles in life.  Many of these struggles are emotional pains that we have experienced at some point and we continue to carry with us each day.  These experiences at times have been things that have been done to use from others and some are things that we have done and we feel shame from them.  As we live our lives with these pains they not only have a direct effect on how we enjoy and perceive ourselves, but they also have a profound effect on those that love us.  Many times we think that the best thing for us to do is keep this pain away from others, that somehow by carrying it all on our own we will protect those around us.  The truth is that those who love us, who want to be close, see and feel the pain anyway.

The worst part for them is not that they are affected by it or that they are witnessing the pain even though you may deny it is there; the worst part is that you are denying them the connection with you that they so desperately want.  Even if you are going through the shit, it is better that you share your doubts and fears with your loved ones, allow them to comfort you and allow your vulnerability to show them what’s going on.  This will help them to at least partially understand and maybe enable them to help.  It’s in the sharing, that connects and binds you together.  If you continue to shut them out, their own pain will grow unanswered and their desire to be with you lost to time.

The key to relationships has been touted as communication.  I’d suggest that it is this, but much more.  I believe the key is being completely vulnerable to another and through this vulnerability an open place of communication can form which will create a space for you and others to grow and Know Thyself more fully.

Dwight Raatz

The Goddess Shook

It is time for change and the layers built years upon years ache to be set free.

She takes stock and prepares, there are signs and she heeds them.

She spends time to reflect on the years, the good times and the dark. This brings wisdom and the urge grows stronger.

She Shook

She gathers her resources and plans the new course to be manifest.  This is the new her, the one of her choice and making.

The elements are prepared and nothing will stand in her way as there can be no other way.

The time has come and all is ready. Now, this Goddess, this Mother, this Divine Being will erupt and bring forth new life. Her new life.

She Shook.

 

Dwight Raatz