As we get closer to the actual possibility of planting seeds that will germinate and produce grain and fruit, I have been pondering the reality that we rarely grow anything alone. Life (both inward and outward) is quite literally co-operation, a collaboration that stretches back through generations of DNA and natural selection and family practices, and stretches broadly in an interconnected web that encompasses companions and friends, mentors, role models (positive and negative), supporters, the lives of other species, and creation itself.
So, perhaps it is not a coincidence that my eye was caught by a fascinating book at the library last week called The Who, the What and the When, which is subtitled 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History [Jenny Volvoski et al, Chronicle Books, 2014] And my suspicion is that you would have had no better idea than I did who many of these people were, including Brownie Wise, Rosalind Franklin, Nat Elias, or Yakima Canutt. Some you might be able to guess at: Anna Dostoyevskaya, Queen Ka’ahumanu, or Majorie Greenblatt Guthrie. And a few you might know from history, such as Thomas A. Watson, Friedrich Engels, Giuseppina Strepponi, Frank Wild, or Lesley Riddle.
But I would observe that few of them were “sidekicks” as we use that term colloquially, which carries a strong connotation of ‘a person of lesser importance’ or ‘a subordinate’ because the fact is, the group of folks whose mini-biographies fill this book, were – in the vast majority of cases – people without whom the ‘famed’ one of the pair would never have made the discovery, proven the theory, accomplished the task, written the book, been noticed by the world, or (in some cases) escaped literal starvation.
Wikipedia suggests that a sidekick is actually someone who “can provide one or multiple functions, such as a counterpoint to the hero [or heroine], an alternate point of view, or knowledge, skills, or anything else the hero [or heroine] does not have.” This is a much better way to describe these 65 sidekicks of history who were in most instances important teachers and guides in the lives of their more famous compatriot, colleague, spouse, child, or friend.
As an exercise in appreciation, I began to consider who would be the sidekicks in my life – and what was the gift or blessing or wisdom or inspiration each of them brought to me. There were some of the usual suspects, but there were also some less usual ones. My mentor in preaching, The Rev. Peter Gomes, certainly is among them, but so is Nancy Chinn (who I have never met and who is certainly far better known than I am) whose vision of liturgical art was a catalyst in my fiber art work. My godmother is on the list – a published writer herself, she encouraged me to write and publish my first book, and so is the woman who edited most of my professional writing across almost two decades, whose trust and care and questions and gentle prodding nudged me deeper and further in my theology. The list is still evolving (having passed the 40-person mark a couple of days ago).
Unlike the famous people whose sidekicks appear in The Who, the What, and the When, there isn’t just one person who is my muse or the person who sees that all the daily nitty-gritty of life is removed from my shoulders so that I only need to worry about my earth-shattering research (art, political career, inventions, scientific theories, discoveries, travel….) I wonder if for most of us, there aren’t myriad such wonderful folk.
And I wonder whose sidekick I am or will become. To whom have I brought just the right something at just the right moment? Or for whom have I been a support across many years? And how do I do more of that? There is a lot of worthwhile knowledge and experience we gather across our specific lifetime, and its value lies not only in how it shapes us individually, but in how it serves as a resource for others who need some prodding or some comfort, some watering or some pruning, some inspiration or some peace and quiet.
The world seems to be tilting more and more toward “proprietorship”. Monsanto wants to own plant genes…and, darned if our legal system doesn’t believe that they have a right to do that. If we are paying attention, we are watching the same thing happen with water. (And if you aren’t paying attention, you should start. This is not a minor issue.) We are entering more and more deeply into divisiveness, into parceling out molecules and minutes, into making everything into a commodity.
Sidekicks challenge that system. They have a different mind-set entirely. They see life as free gift. They share what they have and who they are with a certain prodigal abandon. They appreciate those on whose shoulders they stand, and give a hand up to those who are coming behind or beside them (and, occasionally, a boost to someone ahead of them…)
I invite you to join me in pondering the web that includes your own sidekicks and the people for whom you are a sidekick. I invite you to marvel with me at the rich abundance of that living community, and to strengthen our common present and future by committing to more generous participation and co-operation in the lives around you.
In that spirit, I offer these words:
Weaver of the Sacred Web,
your tapestry unfurls across
dimensions we cannot even imagine.
Having spun me with generosity,
use me as you will.
String me as warp,
to give strength and confidence,
to hold sturdy and true.
Cast me as weft,
so that the color and texture of my life
become beauty, variety, wonder.
Stretch me as far as you desire
so that every fiber of my being
will permeate creation
as every atom of creation
permeates my being.
May it be so.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos ©2011 and 2015 Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE: The first photo is the fiber art piece, Maize Mother, which can be seen in the Archives. The second piece is Matrix, which is part of My Story in the Gallery. The final piece is Rebirth, which is available through my Etsy Shop.
The photo of the hands is also available from the Etsy shop as a card or print.