What would you call this category of writing?
The Edgefielders is my great-grandmother’s hidden story. Public records show only birth, marriage and death dates so I composed a biographical novel to knit imagination into these bare facts. I invented scenes and dialogues to illustrate what happened before and during her four years at Edgefield.
How does imagination work with facts?
Margaret Mary was born in 1869 in rural Ontario and erased from family lore after she died in 1938 at the Multnomah County Poor Farm. I’d not heard of her until Aunt Margo handed me a stack of genealogy documents including a death certificate. Place of Death: Multnomah County Poor Farm. What? How could this be? Who sent my elderly ancestor to an institution for paupers?
Stories hold us together but hers had been deleted. I had to find out, even though it felt risky to probe into family shadows and secrets. Remaining elders had erased memories of Margaret Mary and they resented my questions. Shame went deep, it seemed, the shame of allowing Grandmother to end her life on the dole among strangers. I hate to stir up conflict but could not let this go. Someone had to bring Margaret Mary out of the dark and into the circle of light.
What did you hope to accomplish here?
Beyond telling a good story, my real purpose was to capture the truth of Margaret Mary’s soul and to illustrate the power of mutual spiritual care. The Edgefielders’ tales show how each person – no matter how poor – can contribute to compassion and generosity in the wider community.
And how did you do that?
Soul-seeing is tactile so I sat with my dearly departed ancestor and kept quiet, waiting for “something” to arise. The song of a canary evoked one story. The sensation of fingertips on a tiny golden cross brought forth romance. Cold bacon grease beckoned me into her melancholy, keeping watch with Margaret Mary where “the ocean moaned, tossing eternal waves of sadness against the shore.”
Where do meditation and imagination meet?
In stillness. And in love. Meditation offers a way to be with dread and fury, anxiety and confusion, to stay present to all those vulnerabilities we usually try to avoid. Meditation invites us to see through the surface of things to the light source of everything. Imagination arises from the power of love, the force of love between the generations. In this book, meditative imagination is the active, conscious practice of finding my way – with Margaret Mary – to the heart of Presence and recording what is revealed there.