(Photo: View of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon)
About a decade ago I went to a family reunion for my southern grandfather’s people.
Who were these folks? I didn’t know much except the stories.
Growing up, I’d seen a black and white photo of a large family in early 1900’s Turkish garb. I had a vague memory of my great grandmother and her glass eye. I’d heard my great grandfather came halfway across the world to be an indentured servant, and go on to found a town in the Yucatan. My own grandfather had told me how as a youth, living near the jungle, he would slingshot hummingbirds and swallow their hearts as an aphrodisiac ‘for the ladies’.
My grandfather used to say, “You’re part gypsy. Where are you off to now? Ai yai when are you going to settle down?”
I’d squirm and grin, “When the time is right. Not. Yet.”
He’d chuckle mischievously, “You get that from me.”
We weren’t the only ones.
At the reunion, my journalist cousin showed a documentary she made in the Holy Land. It was of our relatives still living there, and it told the story of those who left.
“Left” being the operative word.
She described how one morning, at 2 am, our elders were called to the front door by armed militia and evicted quickly at gunpoint. Told to grab a pillow and blanket, and they could return later. The political boundary lines had changed. Their neighborhood was now part of a different nation.
They were not allowed to return later. In fact, they were sent west. After that, they chose to go further west… across continents and oceans, eventually to land in the ‘wild’ west, in California, in a desert half way across the world.
The documentary finished. The group fell silent. I watched as all eyes focused in reverent support on a cluster of Elders in the middle of the room.
Wait. These people were here with us now?!
They sat dignified, hair coiffed, in their Sunday best, faces drawn quietly, gazes diffuse, energy inward. Memories were palpable.
There were quiet murmurs of love and support.
Eventually the moment passed. I stayed glued to my chair, mortified, in genetic horror, and unable to hide it. I was trying to process what I’d just learned.
Growing up, I’d never heard these stories.
Shock, sadness, and grief settled over me.
Some of the elder women saw my tears, whispered among themselves, and approached, circling. They were my height, but it seemed they towered over me, their Spirits were so large.
We were introduced.
“Who is this?” They wondered aloud.
“Look at her hair!” They reached out to touch it softly.
“She has Leetah’s eyes.”
Then, “Why are you so upset?”
They spoke curiously, with tenderness.
I was too embarassed to respond. I looked at them, blinking wet eyes, afraid if I opened my mouth I’d not be able to control the grief riding through. Afraid I’d say something stupid, or ignorant. They had made the journey, not me. Really, I had no right to be the center of such attention.
We had an awkward pause.
One spoke again with authority, “Why are you crying? You are too young to be so sad.”
Another said “This is our burden. It’s not yours to carry. Let it be ours.”
And “You should be in love, raising babies, and making good food!”
My brain felt like mush. Awash in emotional chemicals, it was hard to think straight.
I should be in love, making babies and food? That’s it?!
I became uncomfortable. Their intentions were genuine and tender. Yet, that reality had not been my path at all. Instead, I had been on my big adventure. The feisty part of me stopped my tears.
I got a grip on myself and fumbled a smile through the incongruency. I stood, gave hugs and thank you’s.
I left shortly thereafter, as hermits are want to do, to integrate the intensity, the foreign-ness, the shifting of something internal. Alone.
On the drive home, their words repeated inside. Something had rattled my cage.
I began to realize there were two layers in their message.
On the surface, their care spoke me out of sadness and into ‘love! babies! food!’.
But underneath, it was as though a chorus of voices blended into one much older voice. It was unifying generations of maternal experience that lived through nomadic fertility, mothering, lovering, widowing, food making, hand holding, and surviving war and exile.
That deeper voice said, ‘Do these things because they are life. They are hope. And continuation. Without them, we end.’
This was lineage wisdom, surfacing. Impersonal, but inheritance. It had journied across the oceans to land softly, unexpectedly, in a moment of Elder grace passed to me. Something unnameable in me shifted when I heard it. Something activated. Genes do that; DNA responds. Genetic memory is real.
That night in my bed, I tossed restlessly, contemplating my life choices.
The next day, I bought a cook book.
Fast forward several years later.
My boyfriend and I are up at dawn at a campground at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We are seeing our guest on her way. She is a family friend, a traditional Hopi healer. She had received special dispensation to spend an afternoon and night with us, giving teachings and stories in conversation almost the entire time. I am delirious from little sleep, and feeling my reality altered from our time together near the Veil. I love it.
I tell her thank you. There is no hug out of respect. She turns to me and stares down a tunnel of energy into this world, finds me, and then looks through me. (It really is like that with her.)
She tells me to take care of my partner. To propose marriage to him with good food when I’m ready, but don’t wait too long. To do home so he can do his work in the outer world. And to choose the way of loving and babies while he is having his adventure.
‘This‘, she said, ‘is what the world needs right now; people loving each other, being together.‘
Here it is again.
Spirit, I hear you.
As of 2016, this same message has repeated many more times through different experiences. It’s part of me, and it’s been reinforced.
Yet, it has not expressed through me the way I envisioned; genetic diversity has it’s place.
Sometimes, it’s isolating to carry. These are old world values. Where is their place now in a culture built on individualism, ego accomplishment and convenience?
Perhaps it’s not meant to fit in. Maybe it holds a spot of land outside the communal reality; lights a campfire where others gather who know that lineage counts.
These things are life. They are continuation. All we have to do is carry them forward.
However we do it.
“However” being key… there’s good news about being a genetic outlier and carrying the seeds forward in a different way. We get to be in the woods past the campfire, climbing trees! Like my great grandmother was, the day she met her husband. There’s beautiful things about being the wildish auntie.
The adventure ain’t over. Not yet, Grampa. Not. Yet.
May the beauty of our Tree of Life shine through the flower or fruit that we are!