My friend David Stang shares cherished childhood memories of his sister Dorothy Stang, "Angel of the Amazon" who was murdered in 2005 for standing up to the rapacious landlords of the Brazilian Amazon, She was a graduate of the University of Creation Spirituality; she is now being considered for sainthood as a martyr and model of sanctity.
Early Family Experiences of Dorothy Stang and Creation Spirituality
By David Stang
The noise that shook the house was a unusual summer thunderstorm in Dayton Ohio. The lightning flashed across the afternoon sky, bright and pervasive. Then came the loud thunder that shook the old one hundred year home.
The big wooden house shook to its foundations. We could now see the vibrant maple trees outside due to the enormous lightning. The trees were bright and green, with their big maple leaves waving with the winds. The flashing, lightning enhanced the visual effects of the trees. The outside rain quite visible. Again and again, the house shook.
We young ones could not deny the power of nature around us and it affected our very breathing and emotions as we huddled inside the house. The storm, lightning, rain, lasted for hours. We knew to the depth of our being who was in charge of our environment. It was not us.
As the time moved on we soon began to see candles being lit around the house, especially by the Virgin statues that Mom so loved. After the candles were lit by our Mom we saw her lay on the floor with her arms out and breathing slowly and at peace. We too felt the power of peace with our Mom’s presence.
During that period of time, we wondered how to rate what was most important, the candles, the statues, the thunderstorm, lightning, or the shaking of the house, or Mom. We could not deny the power of the shaking of the house, or the noise, or the pounding of the rain on the roof. We could definitely feel the incredible power of nature. This power we never forgot as it entered deeper and deeper into our consciousness.
We had heard enough stories about the Irish goblins and faeries from our Mom to know that they existed, so we always wondered if that also we could add to the candles and the statues that fit in to Mom’s life, and was this a different way of feeling and knowing about life. Such thoughts were never taught in school or in our catholic catechism.
Whatever, Mom lying on the floor with her arms out, breathing peacefully had its own effect on us. After all there we were seven of us, our two older brother were no longer in the house, who were protected by Mom during this extravaganza of nature.
We however, also began to trust Nature as when the storm was over and we went outside, we could smell the energy of the incredible air, see the fresh energized ground, the new power of the trees, and our garden looking fresh and alive. The vegetables in the garden seemed empowered, enlivened by the incredible event of nature and the energized water.
The thunderstorm did overwhelm us for those past couple of hours but our house was still standing, even though during these storms we could hear the fire trucks in the distance and hear about this or that house, or this or that garage had burned down. We were however safe, secure and ready for the next storm and candles and Mom lying on the floor. We were appreciative of the food growing in our garden.
We young ones not only lived to even enjoy and feel the energy of the storms but were pushed outside to be with all the wonder and awe that existed outside. We were outside a lot. We at young ages, jumped on the back of Mummas Farm trucks at 7AM to ride to the farms to pick berries, weed the land, and make a dime to help support each other during the depression. We knew what a sunburn was and suntans. We knew how to protect our backs, protect each other from strangers and behave.
We all had nice tans and good appetites even though the strawberries at Mummas were excellent, with no pesticides, we knew we needed more than fruit, though at autumn time the apples, apple juice was a taste we never forgot. Arriving back home from Mummas, we would go to our own garden to weed it and eat the green onions, carrots, radishes, green beans and we even had a pear tree and walnut tree.
Mom would be inside preparing supper for seven of us and of course she and Dad were organic farmers (even though in those days was there any other way to farm?) and the food was healthy and none of us had health problems, such as cancer or muscle or other health issues that existed at the time. We did know that there was the existence of city people but felt excluded as we were different, with our hand me down clothes, shoes, and interests.
Dad was a scientist who worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Such a job and his skills kept us from starvation and living on the streets. He must have been good because he was never fired, even though he had the reputation to speak out strongly for his belief in the protection of Nature and against the chemicals that were beginning to appear in our foods.
Dad was a chemical engineer who believed in the organic route and regulating the chemicals that were just being invented. He took on the leadership of Montsanto that was just beginning to develop its corporation in St. Louis and Dayton Ohio. In fact he was even offered a job with Monsanto, as one of the leaders was a Catholic graduate from the same school.
Dad would often take us on walks and educate us about what mushrooms we could or could not eat, where to find them and also about the animal kingdom that existed in our area which area was called Miami Valley. I only learned later in life that my twin brother and I were born during the time of the enormous floods in Dayton that almost destroyed the city, a city which was thriving at the time with many engineers, scientists, and inventors.
The Wright Brothers had their bicycle shop in Dayton and of course National Cash Register, General Electric, Frigidaire, and the Big Wright Patterson Air Force Base was thriving in Dayton. A side story for those who remember, that a UFO landed in New Mexico in the 40’s. It was announced even on the radio which we all heard, and the alien bodies were sent to Wright Patterson where our Dad worked in the Analytical Laboratory where the bodies were supposedly sent. Oh, the memories and stories of our youth.
How can one forget Winter. We did not have double paned windows or insulation in our walls. We did have heavy blankets and heavy clothes. We slept well under those wool blankets and I even remember snow on our faces one night because, of course my twin brother broke the window near our bed and Dad would not fix it immediately, perhaps to teach us a lesson.
Mom was a sharp buyer when it came to good clothing for winter. I do not remember any of us ever having frost bite. But we loved winter and we did not need to be told to go outside. You can imagine if we preferred to stay inside how we would have driven each other crazy.
We all had hand me down ice skates, well worn skiis, though the hills were small and so we rarely used them. More importantly we had the old sleds with metal runners that could hold four or five of us and lots of children around the neighborhood and a couple good hills. We did not suffer from not having other kids to play with.
Not too far away, maybe two miles was the Miami River. During the forties the weather was colder and the river often froze over. Sometimes we could even ice skate all the way down from our house to the river. We became good ice skaters and knew how to judge the safety of the ice. We can still remember skating on black ice as it went up and down as you skated on it. Even though periodically we would hear of someone drowning in the river, this never happened to any of us as we were good judges of ice.
At night the people who lived near the river would put on their back porch lights for us to see and even make us hot chocolate. Feeling the warm chocolate in our tummies, and the snow on our faces and the blades on the ice, for us this was heaven. I could be having forgetfulness, but I do not remember any of us complaining about the cold or not wanting to be outside. Life was full of awe and wonder for us as only children can feel such wonder.
Summer was just as wonder filled season as winter. Besides, working on the fruit farm, we were known as the Stang Gang and we challenged all the neighbors in football, baseball, and basketball.
The best players in our family of course were the girls, especially Dorothy and Norma. When the teams were chosen, Dorothy and Norma were the ones that chose the teams. The boys in the neighborhood highly respected these two girls. Also, Tom and I never had to worry about any bullies in the neighborhood hurting us.
One time as we were coming home from school a couple boys challenged Tom and I. Oh, what a mistake. Quickly two of my sisters showed up and tackled the two of the boys, the other boys ran away and the two boys on the ground quickly surrendered. I only remembered this happening once.
I am sure I could remember other stories but perhaps this gives one a picture of our early childhood. With such memories, as we get old, they become so important.
But more importantly this helps us understand the strength of our sister Dorothy who was not afraid to take on the bullies in the Amazon and was not afraid when they put a price on her head and who said, “I will not run away from my family” when she was offered the chance to move on.
Creation Spirituality was an essential part of our lives from childhood. Dorothy going to the Amazon was just another amazing part of her being with nature with the diversity of creation.
Dorothy’s time spent with Matthew Fox in California studying Creation Spirituality was an incredible experience as it confirmed her beauty as a woman, as a nature filled being, and that there were other great women who felt like her over the centuries.
Dorothy saying “I cannot leave my family,” included the forest, the animals and her relationship with all of life that existed around her. Spirituality is not whole when we exclude such thinking and people from our existence.