“And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”~ Khalil Gibran.
One hundred and thirty years ago today, my paternal grandmother was born in Argentina. She was born to a family of immigrants, Welsh settlers who had set sail for a promised land, and found a much harsher reality. Eventually her family packed up and left Patagonia, leaving behind the graves of siblings who had not survived. Six years ago this week my granddaughter was born, granddaughter of immigrants, one whose ancestors originated in Africa and Europe. It is good to reflect on our roots, it helps to keep us grounded and reminds us of errors made that we should not repeat.
I remember the first time I saw my mother’s hands at the end of my arms, glanced down and realized my thighs also had somehow turned into hers. The folly of youth, to think that somehow, we avoid becoming our parents! But what is even more interesting is the fact that those who have left me, still somehow linger on, like angels on my shoulder, putting thoughts in my head. When I am in a challenging situation, a difficult conversation, I find myself channeling one or other of my parents. So when I am a little less patient than I should have been, or speak the truth in a harsher way than necessary, I conveniently blame my mother. But just as my hands and thighs are my own, I have to acknowledge that my impatience, my sharp response originated with me.
Finding someone to blame for our shortcomings, for our negative situations, for our mistakes is like taking a drug. It masks the symptoms and may delay the diagnosis of a problem which needs to be rooted out. We are living in some serious times. Every day there seems to be an example (with an accompanying video) of an act of outright racism. Some (white) body perceives the presence of another person (non-white) as being threatening. Whether in a coffee shop, a neighborhood, a park, a dorm common room, a parking lot, on the street. As they say in Jamaica: “Jackass say the world no level” but this is ridiculous. How did we get to this place where the first thing white people do is reach for a phone to call 911, or a gun? Has the world gone mad?
I often write of my childhood, of growing up white in rural Jamaica, at an age when I had no preconceptions and had parents who lived Christian love for their neighbors, whoever they were. I married a man who was so fiercely aware of his ancestors’ origins and culture that our children were given African names and taught early about the inequities of race and colonial oppression. My children were taught their A B C’s alongside the giants of African history, learned to do long division and to recognize the divisions in society. At their father’s funeral, the eulogies delivered by two of his children were as political and as aware as he would have wanted them to be. Before there was a hashtag, he made sure his kids, (which included nieces and nephews, the children of neighbors and friends) would ‘stay woke’; mindful of the ever-present threat to the wellbeing of people of color in a society that is pervasively racist. I am sure he still whispers in their ears, warning them never to be complacent, reminding them that ‘the struggle continues.’
It is time for us all to wake up and confront the ugliness of the past, and the harsh reality of the present. Sometimes it is easy to face the truth when presented as fiction (my granddaughter recently reminded me that a movie we were watching was fiction, granny!). A music video (This is America) dramatically demonstrates the gun culture, the culture of violence and racism that exists. It has already been dissected and deconstructed, a piece of art that may well become the subject of a college course, so complex and variegated are the threads. We are blessed with many talented people who can use music, dance, poetry, paintings, fiction and non-fiction to wake us up, to force us to identify with those who may look very unlike ourselves. If we are to survive together, we must learn that we are all connected.
Growing up in the country, I learned that the problem with walking in the dark with a light (whether a candle, a flashlight, or a ‘bockle torch’ – a kerosene-soaked wick in a bottle), is that beyond that circle of light in front of you the darkness is absolute. The light actually renders the darkness more impenetrable. The inequalities in our present society seem to be allowing one group of people to be living in the light, while the majority are cast out into absolute darkness. This is America.
This Friday morning too many angels are talking in my head, and I find my words are not flowing the way they should. I hope that somehow my intentions are clearer than these sentences. I think of the prayer of Francis of Assisi (as sung by Sinead O’Connor): “Make me a channel of thy peace…where there is darkness, only light…” I keep hoping that the darkness that we see on the news each day will be followed by a more encompassing, a more loving light. I hope that the current distressing climate will compel us to be better, to follow our higher angels, to make a more perfect society.
Have a wonderful, peaceful, connected weekend, Family.