Until I stood on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I'd assumed that other times were tapped into with the mind or with the ethereal essence of oneself. I didn't know we could take our bodies with us, or enter into the bodies we've occupied at other times.
My mother and I, sitting together in my living room, discussed the likelihood of our having been sisters in a past life.
"In Austria?" I was prompted to ask her, seeing in my mind the two of us as young women in a field, at the edge of which stood a colorfully painted ox-cart.
"Yes!" she said. "In Austria, I think that's right. When they had those ox-carts with the big wooden wheels, and they painted them with so many bright colors."
"Oh my gosh, that's what I just saw, too," I told her."We lived on a farm!" she said.
"Yes, I see a field that's been mown, some kind of golden grain gathered into bunches." I tried to hone in on a date. 1673 came to mind.
"I think it was in the 1600's," my mother said before I'd opened my mouth.
"Yes! In the 1670's, yes!"
"But you left me. I didn't know what happened to you," my mother said wistfully, taking my hand. "I'm so glad you're with me now."
A scene flashed through my mind as I squeezed her hand. I had left my younger sister at the farmhouse, and I was out beyond the field, on my way into the woods, when a soldier grabbed me. A chill shivered through my body at the memory. He had raped me, and then, frightened by the possible consequences of what he had done, he had jammed his bayonet into my abdomen and killed me.
I told my mother what I'd just seen.
"Oh, my sweetie, I never knew. No wonder I was so happy to have you back with me when you were born!" She had told me often that my arrival was one of the most treasured events of her life.
"Did they have bayonets in Austria in the 1600's?" I asked. Neither of us knew. I pulled out a volume of the encyclopedia and looked it up. The bayonet had become a weapon of war in Europe in the mid 1600's. The uniform of the soldiers was exactly as I had seen it. I remembered more. And the more I remembered, the more I was certain that I knew who the soldier was in this lifetime, and why we had met again.
But that was a memory, scenes flashing into our minds as my mother and I sat in the comfort of my living room, putting the past behind us and delighting in our reunion all over again.
As I stood at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, overlooking the fountains and the traffic circles lined with trees, the city scene before me began to waver as if dissolved by heat waves, and I found myself standing on a grassy knoll on the riverbank, overlooking a wild marshy meadow, having just wandered here from upriver. Suddenly I was startled by a transparent vision of the future that made no sense, it was so imposing and alien, towering hardness with shimmering water surfaces, rounded forms of gleaming colors moving below, enormous carvings of humans and animals. The vision faded and the meadow returned to normal, but I stood there momentarily stunned by what I'd seen. I didn't look down at myself to see who I was. I was me, in my scanty animal skin coverings, alone on the riverbank, with no interfering thoughts racing through my mind, for my language was simple and didn't demand to be heard or framed into stories. I wouldn't be telling anyone what I'd seen.
But for a moment I'd known something, and it made my world both more intimate and vaster. I saw that this marshy meadow was not permanent. I looked into its depths and saw that it had accumulated over time, that it had undulated through time, that it had once been much lower, and steaming, but there was something physically dangerous about then, so I withdrew. The vision of the future was not dangerous so much as overpoweringly complex, and yet it made me sad, but then I knew that there was a future beyond that one, in which there was no trace of what had been.
I snapped back to the sounds of traffic and people talking around me and found myself in the future of a long forgotten past, gazing down at the Franklin Parkway.
From Rock with Wings, years later, I took a day trip to the pueblo ruins of Chaco Canyon and was walking among the flat-stone structures when I found myself listening to the children laughing. They ran past me, naked and brown and supple, toward where several of the women of my tribe were chopping squash, preparing a meal. Suddenly I grew enormously sad, for even though I was dressed in leather and my skin was brown from the sun, I sensed that someday I would return here in strange thin clothing with pale skin, and I would look at my village in ruins. I saw what I would see then, that my people had long since disappeared.
I shook off the vision of the future and wandered from building to building with enhanced affection for what would not last. I thought of my time in the circular birthing room, and how the father of our children had sat with our brothers in the other circular room, seeking visions for the names of their newborns. I followed the path to the farther cluster of buildings, where he had lived before we built our own room, industriously laying flat rock upon flat rock, day after day, until we were sheltered from the sun. I loved that our children had added their own sleeping rooms to our living quarters when they were old enough to want their privacy. I passed the kiva, silently enjoying my memories of its double use, for sacred ceremonies and for entertainment, drama and story telling, on long winter evenings. I went to the river, and again the future imposed itself on me. One day it would be nothing but a dry channel, and my people's children's children would have to move on. Again I was tugged at by some younger, pale woman who would someday be me, returning to this home of mine. Ah, but I was old enough to let her pull some wisdom from me. I released my reluctance and poured what I knew toward her, so that when she came back, she would remember this feeling of community and family, the beauty of this way of life.
When I came to, surrounded by the remains of an ancient village being examined by tourists with cameras and brochures in their hands, everything looked transparent.
I returned to Rock with Wings that evening, knowing as I approached that I would have to visit the cave again the next morning, where I'd left my diamond-shaped stone. I parked in the desert beside the double-tracked trail, about a fifteen-minute walk from the Rock, and slept in my van with the side door open, beneath the brilliant stars. The next morning, as I pulled on my hiking boots and filled my goatskin canteen with water, a red four-wheel-drive vehicle drove past my parked van toward the ridge near the base of the Rock. Even though we were the only two visitors to this vast stretch of sacred land, the blond driver ignored me. He parked, got out of his vehicle, a camera slung over his shoulder, and climbed to the ridge. Instead of taking a picture, he faced the stone ridge, leaned his arm against it, and leaned his head against his arm. Feeling intrusive watching him take this position of apparent despondency, I turned and headed up the base toward the cave, soon out of sight of this person who obviously needed to be alone.
Perhaps an hour later, elated with the discovery of my initial in a diamond formed of twigs and my little stone turned star-side up, feeling opened again to hope and faith and eagerness, I headed back down the slope, leaping from boulder to boulder. The red vehicle was no longer in sight. I trekked across the desert floor toward my distant van, when suddenly a wave of nauseous anxiety overcame me. I moaned and almost doubled over, stumbling across a pair of fresh tire tracks, wondering what was happening to me, but within a few steps I felt fine again. I frowned, shrugged, and walked on, starting to think about the crackers and tuna fish in my cooler, and was only a few yards from my van when I was hit again by an overwhelming wave of fear and hopelessness. Groaning, I stumbled forward, but this time, noticing how quickly I recovered, I looked back, and saw the cause. I had just crossed the fresh tire tracks again.
In this remote place of purity and power, the energy left by the driver of the red vehicle was unmistakably intact. I wondered how people can survive in a city, where trails of energy crisscross every inch of walking space. What I'd experienced in Chaco Canyon, in contrast, had not been a tapping into energies left there long ago. It had been mine.
Now I know why I tend to compare what's happening in our society not only with an ideal that comes from a future of blissful harmony, but also with an innate standard of tribal values, devoid of superimposed, distantly contrived laws and governed only by the immediate needs of the people involved. How fortunate I am that an ancient woman, living intimately with the land, in love with its beauty and with the beauty of her people, poured herself into me when I most needed to remember and recover my soul.
Or did I pour myself into her? Are there any boundaries, really? No. All time is now. Now I'm beginning to understand that gift of memory of past and future.
When my three-year-old daughter and I drove past her cousin's house instead of stopping there as we had every other time, she turned around in her seat, craning to keep an eye on it, and asked in amazement, "Where's Kyndi's house going?"
I can walk from one end of a railroad car to another, watching the landscape fly by, and adjust my perception to accommodate more than what my eyes are telling me - it isn't the landscape that's flying by blurringly fast nearby and comparatively slowly way out there, it's me in my little time capsule that's moving past an unmoving countryside; and it isn't those mountains that are so tiny I can fit them into the circle of my thumb; it's me that is dwarfed by their immensity.
As my perception gradually becomes inclusive enough to see the whole tree instead of just my leaf, I begin to understand that the gift of memory is the same gift as lucid dreaming. As paradox. As astral travel. As all of them.
I'd forgotten, so I could enjoy the indescribable pleasure of rediscovering, my infinite and eternal experience.
I'd forgotten, so I could enjoy the indescribable pleasure of my tiny, insignificant little life's tiny, insignificant little moments. "Eric," I asked my three-year-old son, "don't you want to put on a shirt? It's getting cool outside." He pulls on an adult-size T-shirt and flies out the door yelling, "Here I come! I'm Supermarket!"
Lesta Bertoia was born in California of German/Italian immigrants and now lives near Philadelphia in an earth-sheltered home she helped to build. The daughter of internationally renowned sculptor Harry Bertoia, she is a visionary artist and woodcrafter in her own right as well as a gifted, insightful writer. She received a bachelor of arts degree from UCLA.
The mother of two children and the stepmother of three, Lesta is graced with the patience and quiet wisdom of a mother and counselor to many. Her beautiful artwork is exhibited by a number of galleries; write for a listing of galleries or more information on Lesta.
"Once and Future Past" is reprinted from Somewhere Between Kindergarten and God, Lesta’s superb book of stories about fluidly moving back and forth in life between the worlds of angels and children, lovers and Light Beings, the mundane and the mystical, and somehow keeping it all together. This chapter of her book is reprinted with permission from Hampton Roads Publishing, Inc.
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc. works as a team to seek, create, refine and produce books and other media containing authoritative, well-written, responsible information specifically in the fields of metaphysics, complementary medicine, visionary fiction, and metaphysical non-fiction and fiction for teens and children. The publisher's books promote positive change in the world by helping people to acquire new ideas, concepts, information, and tools they can use to help them live more conscious and fulfilling lives.