Bless Us, Ultima

Recently I have been reading some of the things my kids are reading.  I liked Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolpho Anaya so much I was sad to see it end (like so many things in life and especially in parenting).  At the core of the story is a boy’s coming of age under the spiritual wings of his mysterious grandmother, Ultima—a healer, a curendera, a wise old woman, a being eternal and at one with nature, but not always with the evils of man.

I felt so disoriented and melancholy at the book’s end that I had to take a nap; I consciously wished to dream of Ultima, and then I did; carrying red and yellow chairs into my parents’ living room in the house where I grew up, directed by Ultima, she confided in me that she must speak to everyone (implying this was hard and she was weary but it was her task and she accepted it).  I could feel her strong wrinkled hand in my own, eyes piercing and kind, me still boy-like at fifty compared with her.  She sat upon black stone, ready to receive guests.

I awoke feeling blessed and free.  I can speak to a few people and I can hear from a few people, but Ultima blesses us all, Ultima knows better than us the mysterious source of being, the presence of the river, the juniper and what happens below it and further down at the roots; Ultima knows the owl, she knows the golden carp that swims god-like from the thicket awing children who still see with the eyes they were given.

The boy in the story, Antonio, has both moon and sea in his blood.  His father drinks too much and is restless in the context of difficult times, but late in the story Gabriel says:  “Understanding comes with life, as a man grows he sees life and death, he is happy and sad, he works, plays, meets people—sometimes it takes a lifetime to acquire understanding, because in the end understanding simply means having sympathy for people.  Ultima has sympathy for people, and it is so complete that with it she can touch their souls and cure them—”

“That is her magic—” (says Tony)

“Ay, and no greater magic can exist,” my father nodded.  “But in the end, magic is magic and one does not explain it so easily.  That is why it is magic.  To the child it is natural, but for the grown man it loses its naturalness—so as old men we see a different reality.  And when we dream it is usually for a lost childhood, or trying to change someone, and that is not good.  So, in the end, I accept reality—”

Ultima’s last words to Tony come softly, with her hand on his forehead:  “I bless you in the name of all that is good and strong and beautiful, Antonio.  Always have the strength to live.  Love life, and if despair enters your heart, look for me in the evenings when the wind is gentle and the owls sing in the hills.  I shall be with you—”

I don’t cry that easily, but tears welled up when I read these words and I cry again as I type them (asking for understanding if I fail to honor Ultima properly, or Rudolfo Anaya’s words, although it’s hard to imagine that he doesn’t wish Ultima’s blessing upon us all).  Much like babies cry when they hear other babies crying, resonant art inspires our own creative selves to sing our song while healing art vivifies the healer within all of us.

Bless Me, Ultima is a lovely book and worth the read, but its message is universal, and is whispering in the swirl of dreamy life that surrounds and envelops each of us and weaves all of us together.  Join me in finding Ultima in the river and the cloud, in the bird perched upon the wire, in the butterfly resting on the leaf, and in the touch and eyes and questions, the pulsing life spirit in all our collective children.  If we make use of Ultima’s blessing, perhaps we shall deepen our sympathy for each other and all our kids, for to truly feel loved we must feel understood, understood in our dreams but also in our anguish, our insecurities, our heartbreak and sorrows.  This is my clarion call as collective parents:  seek to truly understand our children and how they feel rather than (or at least before we) try to fix, heal, problem solve, therapize, medicate or change them.

Perhaps Ultima is the spirit that hovers between us all and connects us with each other, with the past and the future, with all of nature and with the mysterious and unknowable source of all things and even of nothing at all.  In this spirit we may suffer, but also relish the blessing of our existence.  Ultima talks to the plants when she cuts them for medicine, she thanks them and asks them to give their healing power.  This seems wise and understanding; we Americans squat on land that has many spirits rambling about, perhaps they implore us to honor nature, commune with it.  Great American spirits such as Emerson and Whitman seem to plug into Ultima’s wavelength, likewise with Bob Dylan and plenty of us quiet parents noticing the beauty of fall colors and the smells in the rustling wind, the feathery echo of spreading wings.

In this spirit I seek to understand, growing as I go; I thank you for reading my words and I strive to receive the spirit of those who cross my path silently as well as those who speak up.  To any who care to tell whatever’s in your heart, not just to me, but to any and all of us, gathering here and there, in no particular place, but in the spirit of something beautiful and yet ineffable, please tell us your pain and your fear so that we can strive to better understand and thus love you (comment, email, blog and leave the link, or simply think and trust the vapors carry it across)—striving for compassion together in the service of what simply is, which includes our world and all our children.

Namaste, Bruce


22 Responses to “Bless Us, Ultima”

  1. Molly@Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce Says:

    Thanks for the reminder about this beautiful book. I read it years ago in a graduate seminar on Chicano literature. I need to find it in my stacks of books and re-read it.

    I love a book that inspires us to see the world anew.


    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Molly—yes me too, especially any literature, music, painting, etc. that helps us see with compassion and even more so if it helps us see the magic all around us that we generally get talked out of as we leave the so-called fantasy play world of early childhood.

      Here’s to magical and compassionate days.

  2. Randy Says:


    Thanks for several gifts in your writing today. I was not familiar with this book, but I will be soon. Also, thank you for reminding me about magic, it’s presence in our lives, and that it is not to be explained or explained away. It, too, is a gift to our humaness.

    I went to a photo seminar several years ago given by John Daido Loori, Abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery and he talked about his process for taking a series of nature portraits. He said that he always asked permission of the plant or object before he took the picture. He thanked them for their participation afterward. I thought that was wonderful and magical.


  3. Lesley Says:

    Just yesterday I read “Or maybe it had been too long since I’d had the blinders removed and glimpsed the radiant mystery at the heart of existence.” Reading your post reminds me that there is magic and mystery and love in the world, but sometimes it feels soooo distant . . . thanks for your post, reminding us that it is all around us . . .

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      We’re always, in some sense, time-traveling (or time-transcending) toward that non-time of natural exuberance and magical seeing that preceded not first moments following blinder-removal so much as the primordial eyes that saw before the first blinders were suggested, insisted even as we acclimated to shared and unmagical social reality… once upon a very long and distant time ago.

      Here’s to the radiant mystery pulsing eternally at the the heart of existence and perhaps even non-existence.

  4. Laurie Says:

    You’ve done it again Bruce. Thank you for the reminder. Magic is always around us.

  5. Deirdre Says:

    Your post inspired me to share this sort of random thought…

    From time to time, weird songs pop into my head (usually they are bad pop songs from another time). But this evening, i recalled a familiar tune and, without thinking, I sort of sang it aloud:

    “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream…
    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily — life is but a dream.”

    And afterward, I suddenly realized what a meaningful song that is, and how much depth there is in those words. 🙂

    Thanks for this post, Bruce.

  6. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    Sharing the beauty and sharing our burdens. This is life well lived.

  7. rebecca @ altared spaces Says:

    I read you comment at Motherese about Happiness and I was so touched I had to mark “ditto Bruce” in my comment. Thank you for those wise sentiments that ask us all to breathe in the moment of now and connection rather than looking for some magic formula.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hi Rebecca—thanks for your kind words. It makes me think about how writing and reading allow us to stretch and expand shared moments, helping us discover how the eternal moment transcends, and envelops us within, what we tend to experience as discrete moments in time.

  8. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Ah, magical realism–isn’t the term itself just beautiful in it the contradiction? One thing I admire about it is the assertion that it is just okay to “believe” sometimes…even when our brains are crying out that something cannot be real or true, our hearts are able to contradict and carry us through.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Hey KW, I do love the paradox of the opposites in the term magical realism and I’m with you all the way in finding the deeper and greater truths in the contradictions, the irrational and the… well… magical. Even science may be on the cusp of discovering yet more seemingly irrational truths at the sub-atomic level. Interesting and magical times (although even the concept of time is open to debate) we live and love in. Namaste

  9. Amber Says:

    I haven’t ever heard of this book! But, from your review, it sounds like something I would really enjoy.

  10. Mama Zen Says:

    This is breathtaking writing.

    I’ll look for the book.

  11. brian Says:

    i try to see the world around me…but this does sound like a rather fascinating book…thanks for popping in tonight bruce…

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