by Jackie Powers
“Have fun at your mid-life crisis ritual.” Her husband’s teasing words returned to Angela Brady as she opened one of the stained-glass doors and stepped into the Lolehothizh, the women’s belonging place. She didn’t like the words “mid-life crisis ritual”; they sounded so crass. She perferred the softer sounding Láadan word, shebehatheshun, which literally translated into change-time-ritual, but it meant so much more. Shebehatheshun encompassed a life-long series of rituals commemorating the changes in a woman’s life, from birth to death.
She crossed the white tile floor of the entrance hall, stepping through streams of color falling from the intricate glass windows high above her head. As a young girl, she’d loved coming into this hall on sunny days and dancing in the colors. She smiled at the memory and the familiar feeling in the pit of her stomach, anticipation mixed with anxiety.
Today was the day for her next shebehatheshun, the ritual designed to help her choose her ruhobehal, her middle-career. Her son was almost a teenager, and her daughter was finally settled into a full-day school schedule. So, now was the time traditionally set aside for a woman to train for her next career, and today she would choose. But what would it be?
Some of her friends who’d gone through this shebehatheshun had been shocked by their new careers but had settled into them with delight. Others had continued their háahal, youth-work, their first career out of college. Would she do the same? Return to engineering or start something new?
On the far side of the entrance hall, Angela approached a pair of doors that always seemed more art than merely functional doors. Inside each wide, wood frame was an irregularly shaped opening filled with an intricately carved flowing tree overlaying clear glass that showed hints of the room beyond, but the trees never failed to capture her attention, as they did now.
“Wil sha, Noline.”
Angela gave a start at the sound of the voice, then smiled when she recognized who’d come up behind her and the words spoken: Let there be harmony, Angel. The words of greeting, and the childhood nickname, soothed the rumblings of anxiety, and left only anticipation in its wake. She turned and greeted her mentor and favorite teacher, “Wil ada, Láahomá.” Let there be laughter, Perception Teacher.
“Yes, there shall be, my dear. Are you ready?”
Angela nodded. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Her teacher grinned and reached around Angela to open the doors. “Then enter our othelehoth and follow the hall; you know the way. They are waiting for you.”
Angela stepped into the othelehoth, the blessed place, and took an appreciative breath. The smell–walls permeated with incense from countless rituals–brought back many fond memories, the fondest of which was the preparatory ritual bath, the shunobahéthe.
With a laugh, Angela bowed to her teacher. “Yes, Láahomá, I’m going.”
Angela walked down the hall, the beige carpet soft under her feet, and stopped before the doors leading to the shunobahéthe room. This was it. No going back. She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly as she opened the door. She didn’t want to go back; she wanted to go forward.
The shunobahéthe consisted of more than a bath. First she was led to a bathing room where she showered with soaps that were fragranced to begin moving her into hahodo, the meditative state. From there, wrapped in a large, soft, white towel, with another around her wet hair, she was taken to the massage room. The scented oils, soothing music, and the massage-woman’s talented fingers relaxed her to the point that she dozed off. She woke to a gentle hand shaking her shoulder and laughing smiles; she’d fallen asleep the last time she’d gone through the shunobahéthe, too.
The next door led to a changing room, where she dressed in a soft, loose-fitting, deep blue jumpsuit; then she pulled on matching fuzzy socks. It wasn’t attractive, but it was the proper color for this ritual, warm and very comfortable. Her husband had told her how he’d dressed when he’d gone through the men’s version of this ritual several years ago, and she’d just shaken her head in astonishment. As far as her teachers were concerned, the only thing less meditative than being uncomfortable was having cold feet.
The final part of the shunobahéthe was the best part; she opened the changing room door and was led into the next room. She sat on the edge of the soft chair, accepted the crystal goblet offered to her, and drank the héedarana, the scared drink, sweet and fruity. After returning the goblet, she relaxed into the chair and the towel was removed from her hair. The feel of the warm air of the hair dryer and the gentle strokes of the brush worked together with the mild hallucinogen in the héedarana, and soon she was in hahodo, calm yet energized.
Her teacher entered the room. Angela rose, and followed her teacher down the short hallway into Láashod, the perception room.
Láashod never failed to awe her. Soft lighting shown up from the cornice around the room and a single brighter light shone on a low cushion centered in the room. It was a room built entirely of native wood and stone, stone dug from the land on which the building stood, wood cut from this land’s trees. Materials dug, cut, chiseled, and sanded by her foremothers so many generations back they’d almost lost count. In this room, the final part of the ritual would take place… she would choose her ruhobehal, her middle-career.
Incense flowed around Angela, heightening the effect of the héedarana.
“These walls,” spoke her teacher, repeating the same words Angela’s mother, and her mother, and her mother before her, had heard when they’d undergone the shebehatheshun, “are permeated with the creative forces of your foremothers. These walls overflow with eons of wohothulewoth, the wisdom of your foremothers. These walls have no choice but to tell you of the needs of your lol, the community to which you belong. They willingly tell you of the needs of your óotha, your soul. They will guide you in choosing your ruhobehal, be it using pens or brushes, or participating in business or politics. All this is available to you, if you will but sit and listen. Listen well, child.”
“Yes, Láahomá, I shall listen well.”
Her teacher bowed to her and departed the room.
Angela was alone… yet not alone.
She approached the single cushion.
* * *
Angela returned to herself abruptly, clear-headed and alert. She looked around the room to orient herself. All was the same in the room, but she felt a profound shift within herself.
She smiled, rose from the cushion, crossed the room to the side opposite where she’d entered and opened the door.
Her teacher raised an inquisitive brow. “Did the walls speak?”
“Of what did they speak?”
“I am to be a dedidethodá, a storywriter. A novelist.”
Her teacher nodded. “Go forth, learn your ruhobehal well, write wisely, and may your writing bless all who read your words.”
Angela paused, the departing ritual words on her tongue, then shook her head uncertainly and gave an exasperated sigh. This was her teacher, a woman who’d been where Angela stood; she would understand. “I’ll try, Láahomá, but this is a huge change! I mean I feel it. I know it’s right. But… but…” She threw up her hands. “I designed bridges, for goodness sake. And I raised kids. I don’t have a clue how to write a story! I don’t even know enough to know what questions to ask!”
“I’d suggest,” her teacher replied with a gentle smile, “that you start with: Where’s the university course catalogue? And: How do I find a writers’ group?”
“Oh.” Indignation flowed out of Angela. “I can do that.”
“Yes, you can, my dear. Now go and do it.”
“Yes, Láahomá, I will. Wil sha.”
“Wil sha, my dear.”
© Copyright 2007 Jackie Powers