It’s 4 AM. I can’t sleep so I go outside and am rewarded with a huge yellow moon spilling golden light across the still water as it sets across the bay. I can see the reflection of stars on the glassy surface. The seals are making occasional night noises, but otherwise silence has wrapped a sweet blanket around this cool October night. The unfathomable space of the night sky always makes my concerns and oppressive task list seem so small. Sometimes the cosmic arena is hard to remember in the rush of things on my small stage. The particular and the infinite seem merged at this moment.
It feels the fitting moment to write about the Patra Passage’s end to its year of travel.
For weeks bowls have been returning in drifts. Delivery trucks drop off square boxes several times a day. My assistant Kristin and I gently unpack each and hold again the returning pilgrim. There’s a little triage table for the wounded that will receive repair, and rows of stacked wooden boxes with red ribbons line the workshop. Like spawning salmon (a subject much talked about in the Northwest this time of year) almost all the Patra have now made it back to the place they were created.
What an accretion of life stories these 108 bowls hold from time with their 488 recipients. I feel privileged to have heard and read many of your experiences and corresponded with you personally. Though I’m aware of only fragments, I sense an inexplicable pulse in these small bowls now, something more to them than when they were sent off a year ago. The vessels have founded a personal bond with each of their bearers, and also created a larger community within our common experience.
Launching the project a year ago was a bit like blowing dandelion seed to the wind – releasing two years’ work to whatever fate would befall. One of the best surprises of the Patra Passage was that the experience continued to be meaningful and sometimes even amplified though many waves of participants long after the familiarity of my friends in the first group. The Patra vessels seemed to know when, where, and to whom they should go. This sounds a little “out-there” perhaps, but by many people wrote about the inexplicably perfect arrival and departure timing. The vessels seemed to choose who to pass through.
Gift giving is surprisingly complex. The Passage has been a massive experiment in the ways people give and receive. Many commented how they enjoy giving it, and just as many said how they were reluctant to give it away. After one reminder to pass along the vessel, I laughed when I read the return reply: “Come and make me!”.
As Rumi wrote, “there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground”. In the Patra Passage experience, there are myriad ways to experience the bowl: they were cherished, ignored, broken, viewed as inanimate or animate art, not taken out of the box, and used in contemplation or actions of the deeply sacred. They have traveled at different speeds – a few changed hands only twice, while one had ten recipients. Participants were a wide range of ages: a Patra bowl was a newborn’s first gift, one came to a five year old, while several others were gifted to people who had reached their eighth and ninth decades. Vessels moved across the US and to other countries around the world. I’m thinking here of Dr. Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go!. Some Patra stayed within a family circle; a few music-loving bowls spent the whole year with musicians; some were extremely photogenic; some connected to animals; some given names; a few daring bowls took adventures (one even rafted down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in a Tupperware bowl!); others sat quietly at home active in more subtle ways. Some vessels were written about, some photographed, some stories privately told, some mute. There were Patra bowls used in wedding celebrations, reunions, and to release loved ones’ ashes. They were present at life’s conception and babies’ births. Clasped during grief, illness, recovery, and even death. More often than not, the vessels were just held in stillness as a reminder that whatever one faced, there was enough for the day.
The vessel concept is one of our earliest learned ideas. Vessels are instruments of keeping — whatever we deal with has to be contained in some way. Each participant’s encounter, whatever that experience may be, is as much a part of the object as its physical materials. The “art” of the Patra Passage is what has been brought to the bowl. In this way, it cannot be absent even when the vessel moves on. You are the vessel.
This continues to be a mighty collaborative effort and I thank you for all the ways you have and will continue to participate with the Patra Passage as the final exhibition and events lie on the horizon.