There has been a deep well of thought swirling around inside of me since my reading of the incredible book Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson. The depth and sincerity of his inquiry in to what makes a good death, and what makes a good life, have unfolded layers of possibility I have not known prior to this time in my life. I am sure I will be unpacking this work for a long time to come. He discusses at length the historical and cultural need of humans to know their ancestors. The terrible poverty of spirit we suffer in the loss of this connection to people, our people, and place. Truly knowing our roots, let alone having any type of tangible connection to the land of our people is a foreign concept to most of us here in the west. This touched a chord deep in me, as sense of loss. I knowing only bits of my family history, nothing past my great grandparents and of them truly not knowing much. There is no blame here. My parents have shared with me much of what they know, and I am blessed to have a family that is quite intact and connected. Yet, I know there is so much more that I do not know than what I do.
I certainly do not know where the bodies of my dead lie. I do not know with any certainty, even in what countries they are buried. This feels like aching loss to me. What were the names of these people before me? What words were native to their tongues? What songs did they sing? These feel like questions of great importance to me in this moment. There is a sense that a part of me is missing ,an integral piece of who I am just not there. If you don’t know your past how can you know your future?
This is the plight of the immigrant, and we are almost all children of children of immigrants to this land, here in North America. We cannot leave our homelands without leaving our homes and without leaving the bones of our ancestors behind. This was their greatest fear, all of our greatest fears..to be forgotten. To be left behind. The hurt of this abandonment runs in my blood and if you look deeply I would imagine that you will find it runs in your as well. Though you may not have seen it there before and you may not feel its deep ache at this moment. It is there, a rift, a space, a longing for something so old we almost forgot it existed, our history.
As often happens when I am in process of something that feels big to me, a poem erupted out of the space of this inquiry into ancestry and belonging. Poems are healing balm for my human soul., maybe your soul as well. I leave this one here to share with you and with all my own ancestors, back and back and back. May they know my gratitude.
I have lost my ancestors.
Their bones lie buried in the ground
many miles from here,
many miles from me.
I do not know under what earth they lie,
Nor where they breathed their last breath
That memory is lost to me, if ever I had it at all.
My ancestor’s lives are shrouded now,
cloaked in fog, mostly gone,
whispers of that time before
heavy beneath stones in some land that I do not call home.
I know not where they are
Nor what of them I carry inside myself.
Yet I know I am born and built of the same material,
and I am here due to their surviving
Again, and again and again,
Generation on generation.
They must have been good hunters, good mothers, survivors
with strong bones and sharp teeth.
My ancestor’s bones lie buried in my bones
I carry their blood in the rushing of my blood
I sing their songs in my own voice
I feel the cool earth in my hands,
it is the same earth that came before me
Earth made up of the bones of ancestor’s
Earth made of life
Earth made of death
I call this family.