Where does it hurt?
I have unlimited strengths and weaknesses. My eyes are pretty. Blue and moon cratered. They crinkle at the corner when I smile, like I can see in my paternal/maternal great grandmother’s photo. My eyelids are those of my maternal/maternal great grandmother. My irises, they belong to her husband, my great grandfather.
There is a history of pain and sorrow. I can feel it flow through me. My whole life I’ve wondered why I am the way I am. Is it just me? Is it my fault or weakness? Where did I come from?
In my search, gifts of knowledge and wisdom have found me. I accept them and gingerly unwrap the offering.
Console me, little one
feathered friend said “Hello!”
You’ve found me here from
The last time we spoke
I was in flight.
on a ship made of timber & steel.
On the night my maternal grandma was dying, I paced my parent’s backyard. I would have been at the hospital but this was during SARS in the early aughts. It was a balmy late spring evening when everything seems green, blue tinged, muted, fresh, and the grass feels cool after releasing the day’s heat.
I spoke to my Grandma in my mind. It didn’t matter whether she could hear me but I thought it was reasonable to think she could. My body is tethered to place but my mind is expansive.
I told my Grandma that she was loved but it was time to go, that it was okay to go and she didn’t need to stay any longer for us. I assured her that we’d be okay and always love her.
I left the yard to lie down inside on my bed. I’d had a busy day at my new job setting up a store opening in just days. I was awake lulled by the silence of waiting, punctuated by the sound of my dad brushing his teeth down the hallway. Without warning, I choked on my breath, feeling suffocated. The feeling left as quickly as it came. I yelled out asking my Dad if he thought Grandma had just died. He replied “How would I know?” and went back to his brushing.
I continued to lie there in the darkened room when several minutes later the phone rang. My Dad answered and reported back to me that my Grandma had died 15 minutes before. My dad raised his eyebrows and maybe, somewhat, he was slightly less skeptical of me after that night.
My Grandma was not one to share her family history. The last time I tried to question her about her childhood, she arranged for me to drive us to Delhi for lunch with my Great Aunts. After lunch I was going to interview them on video tape. The Aunts looked confused when I said it was probably time to set up in the living room. Grandma had tricked me. She hadn’t even told them my plan. The actual plan? I was to be their chauffeur to the nearest casino and my consolation prize was a roll of quarters to spend on slots. After my Grandma and Aunts had played their luck and all the money was lost to the glitter and glamour of money eating machines, we found ourselves at a local restaurant dining on soup and bread because funds were now slim. If memory serves me, I footed the bill or maybe it was just the tip, because the bill was higher than they expected. I never did get my questions answered but I am incredibly grateful for that amusing day spent with my Great Aunts and Grandma.
Now my Grandma is making up for what she wasn’t able to share when alive. I believe she’s orchestrating behind the scenes, weaving ancestral threads, nudging me to take action. She walks with me from where she stands on the other side.
decadent embrace of mystery
i hoped to find myself here sooner
but i was lost in thought
for far too long
shifting wonders of the world
karmic debts being repaid
in blood and lust
of pain and suffering
we were wrong
believing the stories
we were all told
promises of a journey to
lands of gold & ownership
entitlement & superiority
dismissing the cautions of fairy tales
as flights of fancy
ignored at our own peril
truth and fiction
my life is a blur
i believed in a linear path
where humanity becomes better
i feel betrayed
i want to be better
Every family has a lineage of gifts and grievances, passed down one generation to the next. This inheritance shows up in different ways. One cousin might become a surgeon, gifted with mental clarity, skilled dexterity, and a strong desire to heal others. Perhaps even then with a lifetime of A+ report cards, prestigious accomplishments, financial security, and helping others, they feel shame that they’re not enough, that they can never be enough, without knowing why they feel this way. Tendrils of that shame poisoning every area of their life. A cousin might love to embroider complicated patterns while absorbing knowledge from every podcast and audiobook they can fit into their day. A compassionate soul, curious about the world, wishing for fairness and kindness in the world, while struggling with the day-to-day life of a chronic illness. Their warm inner light dimmed by shame of not feeling like enough in a world that doesn’t always include them. Another cousin might have the most incredible imagination that could fuel their success in any direction but they choose a more practical life that doesn’t make waves, and checks off the boxes, leaving them empty and struggling. If only they’d known how to embrace their inner magic and to use those skills at work and in life. This cousin finding other ways to cope, unhealthy ways to find fulfillment while dulling the ache of knowing they’ve betrayed themselves.
I’ve delved into genealogy for over two decades. Starting out knowing little more than a few snippets of hearsay about my Great Grandparents and a particular family legend or two. What I’ve learned from cemetery searches, government records, and historical references is that I’m made up of people trying to survive, trying to make something of themselves, trying to overcome an often harsh environment. Men in their roles as farmers, soldiers, paupers, factory workers, and masons. Women playing their parts as life bringers and caregivers. Heroes in the background. People leaving behind what was familiar in search of something better in a land new to them. I don’t blame them for likely believing they were superior by race and religion, or for inhabiting land that wasn’t theirs to settle. The men likely believed they were the superior sex. The women likely felt shame internalizing the notion that they were inferior to men. Or inherently wicked, even. Some were more than willing to enslave others because they were told it was acceptable to do so, maybe even “God’s Will”. Some likely rebelled even if only in their heart of hearts. I don’t believe most people have bad intentions for the harms they cause. They are born into a complicated web of rules, expectations, and hypocrisies. The parts of ourselves that we learn are not acceptable, we shove to the back corner of our minds, and we perpetuate the myths we’ve been told are true. We reinforce the message that we are something that deep down we know we are not. That message passes from one generation to the next with a defensive and dogmatic arrogance, invisibly coated with shame and regret. We are the victims and the perpetrators.
My love of genealogy has expanded to include Ancestral work. I don’t know what death looks like when loved ones shift to ancestors. I don’t know what work it takes for dead people to become self-actualized or healed. I don’t know how quickly the deceased see beyond their life experience to where they can see the threads of connection, the causes and effects of actions or inaction, or the cycles of victim and perpetrator. I don’t know what abilities souls gain upon death, and what limits them. I don’t know where they wish for reconciliation, or how they’re able to initiate it. Do they need a living person to set the intention? There’s so much I don’t know and that I yearn to know.
As a descendant, it is up to me to be honest about those who came before me. To see their strengths and their weaknesses in the midst of the worldview they likely held. It’s up to me to scrutinize the lens through which I see the world, made up of opinions of others. It is incredibly hard to unlearn what we’ve been taught directly or subconsciously from a young age. We inflict so much harm on ourselves and others simply because we did not know better. Or we knew things felt wrong and could be better, but we had no idea how to make that change. Or we’re so attached to our defence mechanisms, we can’t even grasp what pain we are inflicting. It’s my job to show gratitude for my ancestral inheritance, hold a space where I can have compassion for the struggles of the human condition, while also holding my ancestors accountable. It’s my job to decide where I will no longer participate in passing on a behaviour or belief that causes harm. For any damage I’ve done, it is up to me to take ownership of it and to make amends. This is how I can reconcile the past.
Just some thoughts swirling in my mind as I read over notes I’d written months ago in a women’s writing circle, that I decided needed to be shared on a Sunday afternoon in mid-November.