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*** ILA ***

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I am lonely. I am so lonely. I am standing in the door way of my hut, looking into the village that I belong to. I am so lonely. I am left alone, to be by myself. I am not an outcast, I am not being punished. I am loved by the villagers. They bring me my food. They repair my hut when it is needed. The villagers see to my daily needs.

It is our way. Out of respect, out of reverence, and out of fear, they leave me alone. The loneliness is almost unbearable. I feel as only an empty shell, longing to be filled. I have no mate. I never had a lover. There have been times that I have awoke in the night, with so much longing... Have you ever awoke in the night with such a feeling of loneliness that you think of dying? It feels like there is nothing inside, just a great empty shell that your soul is all alone in. That you will fall to dust. Forgotten.

When at an early age I showed the signs of having the special gifts needed to carry on in the traditions of the village healer, I was sent to the Old Woman to learn. I was afraid to be left alone with her.

Now, I am the Old Woman. I live in her hut. It seems as though our lives are but one, continued through one aged womans body after another. I realize now, how that old woman who frightened me so much when I was still going through puberty and sent to live with her, how terribly lonely she was.

I look down at the ground. I see my old wrinkled feet in rough hewn sandals made of leather, wool and coarse twine. My gown is the natural light brown of the fibers it is made from, weaved in a loose pattern from the same twine of my sandals, into a formless dress. My long hair gone to gray hangs free.

I wanted a family. More than anything I wanted to be a mother! I helped bring most of the villagers into this life. The nights I spent in my hut crying are too many to count. I am the old woman now.

I have the Spirits. I still learn from them, it never stops it seems. I have been happiest when I would go on my Walks. I would be gone for a week or more. The villagers never liked it when I left. But I would tell them that it was required. The Spirits needed me to go to them from time to time. I say that it was not proper to always call upon the Spirits to guard and protect our village and people, and not expect something in return. That something was me. I made sure that our home was well guarded and that there were no serious illness or injury, before choosing the times to go.

How I walked and walked and walked! All the way north to the Mountains. The Earth would comfort me in my loneliness. She taught me, sang to me, loved me, held me in Her arms. I would pick my herbs, and let the Wind caress me with quiet secrets. I felt so loved. When I would lay down, weary and tired, I was wrapped in the love from the many arms that held me. Never was there any fear. I was more loved and at home than at any time in my life.

I have not gone for a walk in a long time. I am getting too old to go to my mountains. There has been a young girl with me now for a while. As much as I try to love her as a mother, I still see the fear in her eyes. But she is a village healer. She sees many things with ease, and it is a joy to teach her. She will be a strong healer. Soon I hope, I will get to go on one more walk...

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copyright © Jennifer Sanfilippo

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Old woman portrait by Louise De Hem

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