Thursday, January 14, 2016
Connecting with My Self
My ancestors mean a lot to me. They have always meant a lot to me. I feel them with me in my dreams and in my blood and in my heart. In some ways they have always been a source of pain, in other ways they have been a source of love, of knowing, of seeing. Ogsie taught me pain and he taught me pride. Babka taught me grace and taught me compassion. My grandpa taught me selflessness and he taught me humility. My grandma taught me the power of faith and taught me that our family is all we have, even when it's hard to be around them. The lessons I learned from them were just the start though, connecting to the past both in books and in my body has shown me a path towards inner peace.
I am writing this on the eve of my birthday, on the eve of completing my 22nd year on this planet. In my lifetime, the world has changed so drastically that my disorientation is all too common. Just, ask anyone who grew up alongside the internet. It's freaking weird.
I remember at an early age visiting my great-grandfather. He showed us his favorite thing, an old ham radio set up in his basement. Atop a long desk cluttered with decades of use, boxes filled with strange electronic components were surrounded by wires, antennas and notepads. As I looked into this world, unable to parse what was going on, my great-grandfather explained what it was that kept him coming back down to this dark basement day after day. His friend in Australia, in Russia, in China, in Ireland, in Turkey. Among the hundreds of people that he somehow met by sending morse code out into the world, a few long lasting friendships developed. The warmth in his heart as he spoke of these people and their lives was something I hadn't expected to see that day. Something I aspire to still. Yet, something ultimately separate from my experience with communicating on a global scale.
Growing up alongside the internet, alongside the development of personal electronics, I can only dream of what the world was like before we were all thrust onto the world stage. But dream of it, I can and must do. For the noise of bombs falling on the middle east, of children dying from pollution all around the world, of bigots shouting hate, it all crowds my mind with pain. Not only pain that these things are happening, but the pain of an empath, knowing where those making decisions are coming from. The story of the white man is one founded in the fire of war, disease, and pain. It is one defined by the fear of losing what has been taken away before. My ancestors survived the dark ages in central and northern Europe through terrible times, only to be tricked into imperialism by those in power. These brave humans, those who managed to survive the formation of our systems of power, were told they had no choice but fight the battles they faced, even when the rulers just kept bringing fights to them.
My mind flashes to a scene of a blacksmith in rural france, I see my shoulders in his as he brings his hammer down on hot metal. I see his eyes in mine as he guides his son in the process of heating, shaping, and quenching new innovative tools. I see the bravery and pride my grandfather taught me as he faces the local magistrate's messenger. There is a war breaking out over some small parcel of land far away, and an army is being formed. The blacksmith, his hand protectively on his son's shoulder, knows what this means. He must go to war, for if he doesn't his son will have to. If he refuses on both counts, his livelihood will go up in smoke. His son sees the pain in his father's eyes, but knows not of the sacrifices to be made. As the years go by, his pain turns to anger and fear, he spends his time at the forge hammering with his father's shoulders, cursing the magistrate for breaking his family, cursing his father for abandoning him, cursing himself for letting it all happen. Still he works and grows and survives, against all odds. This is the system in which my ancestors fought to survive. This is the weight that my shoulders have born for generations.
My mind flashes to a scene in a dark forest grove. A small shelter is tucked into the underbrush along one side, the only sound is the fire in the center of the clearing. A body lies on the ground, feverish and grimacing, covered by a thin blanket and wet cloth on the forehead. A slow figure walks slowly from the shelter to the ill, chanting under her breathe. With great care she sits next to the figure, presenting a bowl to drink from. When the figure cannot bring themself to consume it, she lifts their head and feeds the dark bitter liquid to them. They manage to consume the drink, and she lets their head rest back on the ground as she quietly begins telling them the story of the forest spirits who cultivate the herbs and flowers used as medicine. She tells them, although they are barely lucid staring up at a starry moonless night, that she has known and loved these spirits for years, so they share their knowledge with her. Only by realized that we are no different than the spirits or the flowers, can we all thrive together - she whispers - half to herself and half to those who might be listening. Her heart aches for the pain suffered by the figure on the ground, but she doesn't let it hamper her efforts to help. She sits quietly by them through many nights like this before they slip into stillness, she knows they have reconnected with the world for good, never to be back in the body on the ground. This is the wisdom of my ancestors, and of all of our ancestors. This is the heart which pumps our blood, working to make every moment count before returning to the world.
I love my ancestors as I love my self. Not because they are perfect, but because they are not. Because they have struggled and survived and when possible thrived. As the system defined success, when they won, they did so atop the bodies of others. I know not who among my ancestors hated this trend as much as I do, but I feel in my heart that I am not the first, nor will I be the last. I carry with me the wisdom and pain of the ages, I carry with me the suffering of my people and the suffering my people have inflicted. I carry with me the wisdom to know that I am not powerless to change the world around me, and that this life I have been given shall be used for good.