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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Of Ordinary People

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

Albert Duquette on top. Eclippse [i.e., Eclipse] Mills, North Adams, Mass. 1911. Noon. Richard K. Conant, Witness. Location: North Adams, Massachusetts.
Mills, North Adams, MA 1911 Public Domain

As a historian, truth-seeker, and author, I often write and speak about the unrivaled value of firsthand accounts of ordinary people. The information with the most clarity, integrity, and authenticity has come to me through journals and diaries.

I would not be able to accurately describe the plight of the common man if only relying on propagandized historical accounts written by the winners. Not only is it inaccurate, but it is also boring. I, for one, like the truth.

The ultimate goal of the average man is to survive—have access to food, shelter, and good health. In the face of adversity, these citizens that represent the masses, tell it like it is. Other than stability, they have no ulterior motive. Drawing a breath and all-out prayer sustained them. For example, during the nineteenth century, most millworkers paid “pew rent,” so that they could attend church. As if money was not hard enough to come by. But, that is neither here nor there, it was worth paying for their little slice of Heaven. It was the going rate for their unwavering faith. 

My work relies on the words of these folks, penned amidst some of the most severe challenges faced by our world. It is from these very personal and often harrowing accounts that readers from the future will gain a real sense of how various events shaped and affected the general population. In fairness, such awareness of the actual facts could serve as a model for correcting and healing. The ordinary people who came before us were the ultimate survivors or casualties of systems and rules set forth by a small percentage of those who carry the gold and hold the keys to the kingdom. It is not old. It is not new. It simply is.

It requires courage to enter into these wretched places. I am getting better at it now because I have learned to expect it. At first, when I was shocked about the way the poor and the common man were often treated, I had to sit with it. When I came across the actions of famous historical figures who are remembered for something else, something other than their actual disdain for the poor, I had to sit quietly. I will say that I am impressed by the almost successful attempts to hide unfortunate, character incriminating speeches or sermons from the past. It was easier then. Recording technology did not exist. 

I used to discover atrocities and would then have to meditate to let them in, to feel, and acknowledge, before writing down the words or sharing with a trusted friend. 

I have been known to cry when discovering suffering that has been whipped into a false narrative. I have leveled-up. I am getting tough because I learned to give thanks for the discovery. It is through this knowing that I shine a light where there once was none. It’s a way of returning to an earlier timeline to put things in order, ultimately bringing forth healing to the now and future generations. It is never about judgment, again it is pure acknowledgment. 

If one feels sadness or discomfort when reading my historically accurate books, then it is right. The mission is accomplished, but it does not end there. Allow the grief to come in, up, and out. This is historical, cultural, and intergenerational trauma integration. This is when we learn. And with intelligence and compassion, we can recognize where we continue to fail, as humans. Only then can we move forward and be effective and thrive. Until then, it is back to the cycle of churning about in our self-made suffering. Time marches on.

Here we are, now, deeply entrenched in one of those times—bigger and more intense than what we know. As an observer, participant, and keeper of records, it is my responsibility to witness and preserve my observations and experiences. This is for future generations. To you, dear reader, I pledge to do so without a political, religious, or cultural agenda. 

I could not always say this. But at this time, I am not aligned with any particular political party, religion, or news source. I obtain enough information to be aware of statistics and what is presented with the least amount of drama. I carefully weigh and sift. As much as humanly possible, I have learned to inhabit neutrality. 

Some of my ways of helping are at the local food pantry, speaking, teaching, and writing about topics such as this, eco-psychology, foraging, and self-care. I play music. I listen. And I share what I know. I lead a simple life here on the farm, growing food, gathering and making plant medicine while illuminating the art of rewilding. 

Working on and with the land is natural. In addition to my Native ancestors, ancient Celts, and founding families of the New World, I come from a long line of farmers. My roots go deep. This is true for us all, we must honor and follow them.

In fact, if my Ingersoll ancestors knew me, the heathen that I am, I assure you, I would have been dangling from a noose a long time ago. But I am not. I am here, a witness and teller of truths. 

In today’s world, this is almost impossible to navigate, because the truth is buried deep within a labyrinth of layers not meant for our comprehension. This is why we must be observant and not fall prey to duality and separation. Don’t hate. 

What we are supposed to believe as being separate, is not. People are forced to choose sides, falling off the cliff and into a ravine. Stay off of the cliff. Stop running on autopilot. Rethink everything.

At first, I was hopeful that by returning to the cave, the proverbial womb, that we would be able to find our place in unity. Yes, it seems odd that forced separation would have such an outcome. It seemed possible until the past week. With the various conflicts of interest, information, and fear, we have been given a deadly cocktail. Wait! Before you drink too much, get intoxicated, and maybe even sick with a dreaded hangover, take a step back. Do not rush to any conclusions. Allow this to be the opportunity for your instincts to rise up. Take advantage of the quiet time. Go outdoors. Sit. Think. Think some more.

As conditioned as we are to hate the other political party, religion, economic class, or whatever else comes to mind. Give yourself the gift of alternative thinking. The last thing any of us want to do is make all of this worse. Stop. Breathe. And keep your triggers in check. They (radical reactions) are convenient for those making life and death decisions.

Try to consider your unique offerings and strengths. What can you do to help? I am talking about assisting yourself as well as others. Maybe you just need to sit it out a bit longer and reach into your own well of knowledge and reserves. 

Reaching back to the ancient texts discovered in Nag Hammadi Egypt in the 1940s, the arrival of my relatives in the 1620s, the Salem Witch Trials, the Great Famine in Ireland, the nineteenth-century Poor Farms of New England, the American Civil War, the Textile Mills of New England, the Orphan Trains, and the Five Points of NYC, I have been and continue to be a witness. I do not fall for the watered-down, whitewashed history books with a clear agenda. No. I go where the people are, where it’s messy, uncomfortable, and not meant for human consumption.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I borrowed much of the following from the preface of The Angels’ Lament, Book Two in the EIG Historical Fiction Series. 

It was not enough to recover the names of 268 souls buried anonymously in a long-forgotten pauper cemetery. It was not enough to pen a historical novel about those who lived and died there. And, it was not enough to place a monument at the burial site to acknowledge them. Yes, these events served a higher purpose, but it was the beginning, not the end. Many untold stories are begging to be unearthed and acknowledged. 

Insight brings illumination. The most profound narratives are tucked away in rare books—considered controversial in their time—yellowed newspaper articles, diaries, and letters. This extraordinary information consistently pulls me deeper into the complex structuring of our social history while broadening the spectrum of varied strands available to weave into the fabric of who we are today.

It was my examination of the power struggles within the political, economic, and cultural development that sparked a desire to acknowledge our shared and often misrepresented or (intentionally) forgotten past. 

This land is a blend of people from very many backgrounds—race, religion, ethnicities. Except for the first peoples here in North America, the Indigenous, we are all immigrants. For me, it is impossible to focus on one group and not the others. 

Throughout time, in many dire settings, I have learned that as divided as they appeared to be, people were often bound by their afflictions. Setting aside their differences, they came together to stand up for their rights. They were agents of change. This civil unrest has been a work in progress now for almost two centuries. Looking back, it may appear as if much has changed. However, it is wise for us to examine their efforts through a more transparent lens and refocus.

Within this high-charged environment was an ever-present undercurrent—a conflict between gender, race, ethnicity, social class, and religion. All of this existed in the face of oppressive paternalism, the growth of corporate power, and textile capitalism.  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Well, here we are again. Please, as I mentioned earlier, look inward. Find and follow your own compass. Separation, anger, and vicious attacks on any level are never the answer. Perhaps we have been on the wrong path. What does your intuition tell you? We humans are resilient creatures. It appears that we have gone astray. We are built for survival, growth, and development, but only if we are aware and fully present.


I leave you with a phrase that I believe is appropriate.

In Lak’ ech Ala K’in, meaning I am another yourself, a modern-day interpretation. 

It also means I am you, and you are me, a traditional Mayan interpretation.


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