For Whom the Bell Tolls

On the stormy Friday just past, the wind was howling through the Mission San Juan Capistrano courtyard; as a docent-in-training (a tour guide of history), I was following behind a group of 4th graders
4th Graders on blustery Friday
on their school field trip. The rain began to fall and the children opened their colorful umbrellas, when suddenly, the mission bells began to toll. It was 11 a.m. For the past 44 years our family has enjoyed the tolling of the church bells heard easily across the valley. They ring on a regular schedule for Mass or for special reasons. As I realized that the bells were not ringing at a regular time, the tiny hairs on my arms stood at attention. Serra Chapel was closed to our tour. It was in use. I understood that the bells tolled for someone in our community who had passed away. My memory flashed on the 3:15 p.m. ringing on the day that Tony Forster, an important leader in our town, died in 2007. I stood for a moment as that memory washed over me, made keenly aware of the unstoppable passage of time.

     My thoughts focused on what it is to be inside a "living museum," a place with a working church. I was walking in the footsteps of the past, a center of human activity for 240 years, during California's entire recorded history. Our docent class has been studying Don
Donna's great grandfather at Mission SJC
Juan Forster, Tony's forefather, who owned and lived in the mission from 1845-1864. My children and grandchildren have attended Marco Forster Middle school, more of Tony's relatives. In fact Tony's family continues to live here. History is alive. It is not gloomy words on pages in old books. I was standing where Don Juan had stood, and before him, where Father Serra and the early mission pioneers had worked hard to build something for our future. To study the mission is to respect its history and that of the peaceful Native Americans who lived here quietly for thousands of years. If you look closely, evidence of the Indians' lives can be found in many places of California. When our children were young we were having
Grandaughter Jayceline discovers native grinding stone
a snowball fight along the Santa Ana River headwaters, not far from Big Bear, when they yelled to us. They were excited to show us that they had found an Indian grinding stone from prehistoric days! A few years later we discovered an even bigger grinding stone further down the river. When our son, Dan, was a little boy digging around in the rain run-off behind our San Juan Capistrano home, he found an arrowhead. It was thrilling to think we lived where the natives had hunted. It is still fascinating to understand what we have inherited. If we take time to reflect on this: the Mission system, the Spanish, Mexican, Russian, English, and Indian influence on our way of life, one can perhaps appreciate the depth of our local history. For me, I am falling in love all over again with "place."

     Personally, I notice that I am once again reinventing myself. Maybe that's what we need to do as time passes. Nothing stands still. I am energized and excited over my recent mission studies. Perhaps one of the keys to human happiness is appreciation and gratitude. It may be that novelty fits in there as well; something new to think about. I sat with a new person at a luncheon the other day. As I explained about my grief work and life coaching, she asked, "So what is the most important thing that you teach?" I said, "To live in gratitude." She smiled, "ah..." I also believe that if we can discover new things to fall in love with our lives will be richer. Right now, I am
Historical marker along north bank of San Juan Creek before La Plata
deeply researching where the first site of the Mission San Juan Capistrano actually was before it was moved to its present location. It was right around where I live right now, writing this note to you........where exactly? Hmm. Records from the National Museum in Mexico say: "This mission was founded November 1, 1776 but because of water failure at the place where it was first founded, the site was transferred to that which it occupies today...it is located about three fourths of a league (about two miles) distant from the original site." (Two Hundred Years in San Juan Capistrano, Hallen-Gibson, p. 20, 1990). There is a brass marker in Reata Park on Ortega Highway pointing across San Juan Creek in this direction. I will keep you posted. 

I hope you are finding new areas of endeavor to excite your soul. I would love to hear what you are thinking about and working on. My best, donna

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