The following was submitted for a short story contest last year. Some of you may not think it’s very short, but there are certain spirits that can speak to you while you read it, if you let. I hope you enjoy.
CORNUCOPIA (Written 9/23/09)
By Elise H. Peltier
If you find yourself reading this, you have finally reached the age to understand just how intertwined your spirit is with the great abundance of life. For years I wondered how I was supposed to relate to you how you have helped me to grow into the woman that I am; or how I could possibly be the one chosen to guide you along your path. Either way, here I am now. Alive in this moment because you are reading my words. Our words.
There can be a fascination with words: how if you link them together they can become sentences. If those sentences are combined properly, they become great ideas that then become actions. But most intriguingly, sometimes just one word can mean it all. In order for me to tell you our story, I have to tell you its story.
Most people in Western civilization immediately associate the word “cornucopia” with a cone-shaped horn overflowing with fruits and grains. This symbol often appears during the autumn season before the Thanksgiving holiday. It is during this season where our story begins.
My mother walked into my bedroom the morning of October 22, 1998, her 40th birthday, to awaken me with the news that one of my best friends had died. Waddy was a senior at the neighboring Catholic high school, Notre Dame. It was the week of their homecoming football game. He was driving home after the parade on a road a half-mile from his house. We’re not exactly sure what happened, but his truck overturned. His window was halfway down and he wasn’t wearing a seat belt. He was killed instantly.
When my mother broke the news to me, I was beyond devastated. I had yet to experience the death of someone close to me. I remember walking around in a daze for days. I kept thinking of different reasons as to what he was doing in the truck to make it flip. I figured he was probably changing out a CD and went off the road into the gravel, then over-corrected and the truck flipped. It was no surprise to me that the windows were down. They were always down, so everyone could hear his music from miles away. I’m sure he was excited that night too. The coach had told him he was going to start a game for the first time. I could just picture him smiling as he drove his big maroon, Chevy truck down that country road. The same wind that flowed through the surrounding fields probably danced with his freckled face as he reached for a CD…and that’s when it happened.
I remember crying waterfalls at the funeral. I remember going sit at his grave with a few of our mutual friends after the service. One of the guys had “I really miss my homies” by Master P blasting through the stereo of his old white Honda Accord. The ten of us sat scattered across the grass with unspoken questions churning through our saddened, unsuspecting minds.
I reminisced about how Waddy and I originally met. Although his younger sister and I had played softball summer league together, it wasn’t until middle school youth group that we formed our independent friendship. We both allowed our stubborn personalities to cause arguments at first, but slowly our bond shifted when we recognized our similarities. He became a big brother figure to me. Since I’m the oldest of four girls, I was used to being my own protector. Although I refused to give up any control, he taught me how a real man gives genuine compliments to a woman.
We remained very close despite the different schools we attended. I was with he and his friends every weekend. He was the first friend I really discussed and shared the presence of God.
The day after the funeral, we decided to make t-shirts in his honor. The back had a quote Waddy said once at a youth group meeting, “To live and believe in God is a great adventure. To die and be with God is a greater one.”
It may seem strange that I am talking about death, when cornucopia means quite the opposite. However, some religions view death as the surface level appearance of the true birth of the soul. According to a modern dictionary, Cornucopia is derived from Greek mythology, which continues our journey with the word into a deeper history.
When Zeus was a baby, his mother Rhea brought him to a cave on Mount Ida in Krete. There, he was nursed by a she-goat, Amaltheia. Legend has it that her horn was cut by a tree and never-ending fruit came from thee.
The relevancy of this story is quite intriguing for our own purposes.
The shape of a ram’s horn is like a spiral. Waddy’s death began this cycle in my life; a spiral.
In January of 1999, my aunt Carla, who was only seven years my elder, asked me to be a godmother to her daughter. I was a junior in high school and was to make my confirmation into the Roman Catholic Church in March. For months, I awaited the birth of my first godchild, Malorie. I thought my role would be to teach her about our faith, attend all of her sacramental rites, and give her presents for holidays.
It was mid-June and Carla was patiently, but crankily ready to have Malorie. Who could blame the uncomfortable nature of a woman who is pregnant in South Louisiana during summer months? To my surprise, Malorie was born on June 27th, Waddy’s birthday. After careful consideration, I knew in my heart that it was no coincidence. The connection would be strong with my godchild.
Here is an interesting twist to our correlating stories: a godmother in South Louisiana is often called “Nanny” ( this is the case with me and Malorie). The term nanny is used to describe a child’s caretaker. In older times, it pertained to a wet nurse, which is derived from Almatheia.
One more tid-bit before I continue: Greek mythology is very similar to the Cajun lifestyle due to the nature of story telling and parables in order to explain valuable life lessons. Also there is a congruency to Greek and Cajun heritage: the lushful nature of drinking and eating. I soon became abusively involved with this culture.
It’s odd as to how fast one’s life can change. A year later, I started college. The direction of my spiral went downward with the speed of a vacuum-like black hole.
For the entirety of my adolescence, I was the good kid. I was involved in school activities and youth group. I graduated ninth in my class. Once I moved out of my parents’ house, I guess you can say I went drunk with freedom. I joined several college organizations, but I was more active in night life. Eventually, I flunked out.
I could delve into detail here, giving examples of anonymous adventures, booze and bad decisions, and crazy connections, but that can be revealed at a different time during a personal conversation–should the need arrive.
Let’s just say I had to abandon everything I once practiced to make sure I was choosing what I believed in. I never lost this sense in my heart that there was a truth for me to know, understand, and feel. The void kept me searching.
As I approached truth from a more intellectual level, I began to see how many different people throughout the history of humanity, held different truths in their hearts and minds. Before college, I didn’t realize there was really a religion outside of Christianity. There isn’t much religious diversity in Rayne, Louisiana. I knew there was St. Joseph’s, the church I attended where pretty much every family tradition has occurred, and there was another Catholic church for the majority of our black community, and then there were a few Baptist churches and a Methodist Church.
After researching different religions and world history I started to ponder this possibility, “How is God only experienced through one type of worship or lifestyle?” The notion made me very weary of the validity of everything I was taught while growing up.
I started to-study Eastern philosophies. I would read the teachings of the Buddha every night. I began having conversations with people around me about what they believed. Did they have faith in anything at all? I needed something to happen.
That’s when I felt God again. It happened out of nowhere. I had been talking about philosophical principles with a group of friends and a pal made the comment that I was more of a spiritual teacher than I realized. I walked from his apartment to mine considering if that statement were true. By asking questions, did people think I had the answers?
I brushed my teeth, contemplating if it were possible to feel the answer. The song switched on iTunes and I found myself closing my eyes. Suddenly, everything drained out of my brain and my being felt like a frequency of light. I no longer felt like I was a person standing inside of a small bedroom in a corporate complex. I felt like I was a part of everything. There was no boundary between me and the objects around me. I felt alive. I felt like nothing. I felt peace. I felt me.
I opened my eyes and the room seemed to possess a hue of God’s residue; because everything was God to me.
I fell asleep with a smile and hoped to awaken with this same knowledge. I didn’t want it to disappear as fast as it appeared.
The next morning was Mother’s Day and my family was celebrating the occasion at my mother’s sister’s house. I decided to bike there since it was such a gorgeous day. Breezy, non-humid days during May in Lafayette, Louisiana are almost unheard of. Normally, the humidity is as thick as gumbo and your sweat drops are the size of nickels. Instead of claustrophobic weather, I felt like the universe wanted to me to soak up the proof I had experienced the night before.
As I biked to my aunt’s, I began to think about the importance of Mother’s Day. I was 24 at the time and had no children, nor prospects of a husband. This is rare for a woman my age around these parts. One of my younger sisters was planning to be married that July, the other one was in a fairly serious relationship, and the youngest was only 14…but I think she even had a boyfriend at the time.
I contemplated how fortunate I was to have such spiritual, genuine women in my life as role models, especially my mother. I have never seen anyone strive for such a positive existence. She follows the rules, but also goes above the guidelines. She’s the kind of woman who saves bottle caps and popsicle sticks for the kindergarten classes. She volunteers to babysit, what seems like the entire town’s children. She recycled before it was cool. Needless to say, I always felt like I had a lot to live up to.
My thoughts reverted to my internal explosion the previous evening and the same burst of peace created a lightening of proactive force in my mind. I needed to explain this type of experience to Malorie. That was my role as godmother: not just to be there for the rites of passage, but to explain how to reach God, which is not having to reach or search at all.
She was only seven at the time, so I knew I had years to develop my own understanding.
My life took a more upward spin in the spiral. I left my secure job to return to school in order to pursue a more purposeful calling.
The following Christmas, my sister asked me to be the godmother of her child, almost precisely the time Carla had asked me nine years before. Of course I said yes. I felt I was at a more mature level to handle this responsibility.
June came around and it was no surprise that Ellah was born on June 27th. It would have been Waddy’s “golden” birthday –27 on the 27th. I cried in the waiting room because I felt the connection physically bonding the three of us.
The need to relate this story became strong in my heart, but I knew it needed time to mature.
I finished school as Outstanding Graduate of my college, then took a four-week road trip to the Pacific Northwest. I returned home in order to celebrate another sister’s wedding…on June 27th.
From death, spiraled birth and commenced with matrimony. It is the classic definition of cornucopia; abundance.
For the first time in a decade, I found myself living back at home, just in time for me to celebrate my 27th birthday.
It’s peculiar how the comfortableness of your home town can appear to be just a setting of past memories through matured eyes. I spent hours driving through familiar roads listening only to my thoughts.
One afternoon, I was lost in a daydream, taking rights, then lefts that turn into long stretches of country highways that suddenly curve without much warning. The serenity of the wind through my open windows made me wonder how I ever left this peace for a busy, dramatic lifestyle.
I found myself taking a right onto “Coin Road” and I was immediately plunged into the present moment. This was his road. It had been years since I drove past the cross that had his initials and football number, “W.F. #59”. I realized I had never told his mother about how I had two godchildren that were born on his birthday. In fact, I hadn’t talked to her about him since a few months after his death. At the exact moment I contemplated trying to write out our story, I passed in front of his cross and my cell phone alert went “DING DING”. The text message couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I had goosebumps and I knew it was more than a coincidence.
I was listening to NPR that night and the DJ used cornucopia to describe something…from that vague description you can note that nothing else stood out to me. Yet, the word haunted my memory for days. Finally, I looked up its meaning and everything made sense to me. It was the word that defined my life experience for the past 27 years.
Humans have tried to explain our purpose for life since the beginning of recorded history. For centuries, It has evolved through different religions and philosophies in order for each generation to understand and relate their own internal journey. Some stories sound absurdly ridiculous to a differing culture, but it doesn’t make it any less real to an individual searching for their own truth.
Waddy passed on before ever having to question anything. He died with an unwavering faith and childlike wander. He never had to worry about social media or what information appeared when you googled your name. He is that innocence in my heart.
The only conclusion I have come up with is that if you pay attention, we are connected in more ways than one: through words, numbers, dates, people, places, interests, etc. Life can occur anyway you choose to view the lens of your glasses. The beauty of today is you have more options of what color or prescription you want in your frames.
Waddy was right when he said “To live and believe in god is a great adventure. To die and be with God is a greater one.” Once you are no longer physically here, you can spiritually be present to multiple people at the exact same time. This knowledge brings me such a sense of joy and that’s how I feel every time I look at either of my godchildren. I experience the possibility of abundant opportunity and connection. Waddy has made my life a great adventure and affirms my belief in God.
You see, sometimes you just need a reminder as to why it is imperative to stay optimistic. Pessimism will lead you nowhere. Hope, however, will always bring another day. Then your life will be your own creation, your own cornucopia.