Peace on Paper: Porter Rockwell's crazy freedom quilt

In the days before Civil War, legend says, quilts hung on a fence or clothesline directing escaped slaves to safety. As the fearful travelers crept through the dark and dangerous countryside in their flight for freedom, the designs and symbols in the quilts indicated the direction of safe houses. Quilt patterns still often symbolize history and stories for those who make the quilts, and those who receive them.

Our families and communities also make up a diverse quilt of histories and stories. This time of year serves to remind us of the good fortune many of us enjoy. It also reminds us that others are not safe or included. Members of our communities – maybe even within our own circle of family and friends – are rejected, and may be hiding or fleeing from oppression.

We find them in homeless shelters, living out of their car, in prisons, in foster care, or drifting from place to place as they search for safety. Perhaps they are fleeing personal demons, abuse and pain, economic woes, or living conditions that were just too hard to survive in, or perhaps they are fleeing a culture that believes they should be dead rather than be their authentic selves.

Too often our families or communities marginalize, reject or drive out those they deem as “bad” in some way. Yet the desire to belong is universally human. It is also human not to just be tolerated, but to be seen, understood, loved, and cherished for who we really are.

A young friend whom I met online had just finished High School when she confessed to her parents that she no longer believed as they did. So they cut her off. For two years, she lived in her car and worked three part-time jobs to survive before rebuilding her life on her own terms. She is in college now and found a nice boyfriend, but she no longer has any relationship with her parents or siblings. She is still not invited to the family table for the holidays.

Many, in all walks of life, are left out in the cold, even during these special times of the year when we should all come together. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) teenagers are considerably more likely to be kicked out of their homes, especially in places like Utah. The realities of street living are uniquely harsh for these teens as they scramble to survive without family, life skills or resources to help themselves, sometimes turning to drugs and prostitution just to survive.

Finding a new family, a sense of place or community after such loss can take years, even decades for these teens and for many of us. And on the very day that love should shine brightest, this loss of connection to loved ones can hit most deeply, sending the most vulnerable into a dark emotional tailspin.

I too, was an oddball in my community. At one point I left the safety and acceptance of those around me to find my own path in life. For us quirky, eccentric, or “rebellious” types, family and church gatherings can be particularly difficult. I remember years ago at an LDS meeting, a young mother stood to express her gratitude for her new baby. She said (in that tearful, joyful way that young mothers often do), “I’ve always dreamed of having the perfect family, like in a Porter Rockwell painting”. My kids shrunk in embarrassment as I simply couldn’t contain the laughter and brayed like a donkey. I’ve never been known for being “reverent” anyway.

Since then my life and my home have become a refuge for ‘irreverent” types. A safe place; a refuge from oppression or fear. I tell all who visit, “For mine is a house of loud laughter and light mindedness”. I love the diverse and unique people who show up on my doorstep of life and become part of that crazy quilt, indeed my own Porter Rockwell clan in that Porter Rockwell painting. We may not share a history of traditions or memories like blood siblings, but we have a whole future to make new memories together.

And in the end, I realize now that WE are the cautionary tale our family points to when they talk about “Crazy Aunt Dana”, but those of us who have experienced being left out, kicked out, or who chose to leave often find each other at some point in life’s journey. For WE are those odd scraps of fabric coming together to create new quilt patterns, showing others the way to freedom and creating new kinds of community where everyone sits at the table and is celebrated for who we really are.
For that is the greatest gift of all.

Dana DahlThis article was provided by the World Peace Gardens’ non-profit foundation which holds non-sectarian gatherings every Sunday to promote world peace and sustainable living. Gatherings are at 11:30 a.m. at Green Valley Spa, 1871 W. Canyon View Drive, St. George, Utah 84770. Admission is free. For more information log on at: on Facebook at:  or call us at: (435) 703-0077

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