Jan. 12, 2015 has been selected as Remembering Our Ancestors Day, as the trial of Wayland Gray, goes to court resulting from an effort to use sacred tribal lands in ceremony. Their efforts have been framed as activist, terrorism, vandalism, and attempted arson, with absolutely no evidence or effort apparent in published commentary acknowledging the validity of cultural spiritual claims or actions. The story can be read here.
John Trudell has been sharing a series of poems he has entitled, “Coyote Logics,” as the date of the trial approaches, and I took up his call to remember our ancestors.
It crosses my mind how easily this could become just another day commemorated virtually with Facebook posts and tweets asking us to #rememberourancestors. What would it take for me to make a significant and impactful effort to remember –before I even begin to focus on my ancestors– how easy it is to FORGET.
How to remember the Ancestors… that is the question. How to bring them back together, re-member them. Locate them in the here and now. In our own lives and bodies. it comes to me that I must find the space and time to listen, to see, to notice, to re-member.
It is a heavy and beautiful task of love.
Like so many other spiritual aspects of life, this began before I was conscious that it was what I was doing.
Phase 1 was the clearing of 5000 items from my home last fall. This was followed by Phase 2, when I experienced the gradual shock of the disarray that this clearing of my material possessions created in my home and inner world. I became aware of how much more I have, and how I’d like to live the life to enjoy what I already have. I became aware of how much of what I have is not material, and is rooted in who I was born to be, my ancestry, my history, my culture. I reconnected with old friends and relatives from whom my academic life had distanced me for decades. Phase 3 has been the gradual discovery of space, both inner and outer, that gives me room to breathe, to move, to rediscover, along with my old relationships, old ways I was taught by my elders–old ways that give me comfort. And in this comfort, I re-member them, in my own life, in my body.
Throughout all of these, I have ventured into the beautiful abandonment of childhood thinking and adolescent and young adult approaches to opportunity. I have come to recognize the way maturity and being an elder are not structurally, interactively or socially, encouraged. And yet, as a woman in my fifties, seeing the horizon of the sunset more clearly than the sunrise sometimes, that is increasingly where my gifts are now. What I have to give comes from the life I’ve lived, not only from the new things that I “can do.” I am not concerned about a “bucket list,” as if life is running out. I am concerned less with kicking the bucket than filling it for others who might be thirsty for whatever lessons the Creator put on my path in my life to learn.
The transition of this year for me is about the discovery of the springtime of elder life, the opening to sunrises on days full of the life I’ve lived and rich with inspiration. I see the folly in cultural work trajectories that set up career paths that do not allow one to live a human life of seasons, with attention to the winds of natural change. Those who have chosen me as their mentor honor me, but they honor my ancestors, too.
Tomorrow is a day for remembering our ancestors, but rather than limiting it to one day here and there with commercialized ritual and time-intensive artistic displays for fickle audiences, I realize it’s the way I live and work every day of my life that honors, and therefore, re-members my Ancestors. For they live in me. Every act I take, every word I speak, and thought I nurture, is drawing on the DNA that is their legacy inside me.
The meaning I create for this, the narratives I spin or repeat…these are less important than what I’m actually DOING. It is far better to abandon the building of an edifice to which one committed when under a cultural trance than to be bound in captivity by one’s own collaboration with that which binds. It is worthless to be able to cite Butler, Fanon, Foucault, Marx, Moraga, Anzaldúa, Jesus. Buddha, Kristeva, Fox, King, and others, while one’s body and resources are used to live a life in contradiction to what is championed.
I’ve “said” such things before. But the body-self is speaking now. And it is the voice of joy expressed through the beauty of a life well-lived, love acknowledged and undenied, and confidence in the power of what is bigger than my ideas or CV to see me through the life I live…WITH my Ancestors.