Who do you come from and to whom do you pray

ripCary & Nana 7-4-95I don’t come from a faith that much honors the ancestors (that is my mother, above with my first born. The B&W is me, circa 1981). That’s why when I read about African belief systems that make ancestor worship central, it feels foreign.

The ancient Celtic bent toward Nature as guide and source, on the other hand, fits like a glove. No wonder I love the writing of Mary Oliver — her poems read like 9th century monastic poetry from Ireland. I find sustenance in her words. Wisdom.

In writing about human bondage in early America, I have often wished for (and on occasion asked for) some sign from the ancestors of the enslaved. Should I be writing this story? Is it okay? Am I okay?

Thundering silence.

Hard not to wonder. But because I am such a master of doubt, it’s hard to give it much weight either.

IMG_7910(A little aside — This cloth, from my Middle Passage series, is somewhere. I never backed it because of the beautiful stained glass effect when hung in a sun-filled window. The others in the series use my favorite house motif to examine both loss and sustenance of culture from one side of the sea to the other. This one, though, explores the sails. All those sails, riding the currents, powering ships packed with black bodies, flapping signals of wealth to some and horror to others).

IMG_7521Anyway, maybe because the anniversary of my mother’s passing was two weeks ago, maybe because there is so much transition in the lives of my sons, making me reflective and sometimes sad or anxious, and maybe because one of my characters is modeled closely on my mother, I have been thinking a lot about my parents.

And duh! It is the guidance and help and esteem and love of my very own dear parents that I should be calling up. My ancestors know me. They dwell in me. They know where I trip up and why. And they (most importantly in this business of moving forward), understand fully my strengths.

They’re the ones to call upon — even about writing a novel about black and white people with NO GENETIC links to me whatsoever.

And so I did. Call upon them. And they did answer.

16 thoughts on “Who do you come from and to whom do you pray

    1. deemallon

      In my clearly imagined conversation, my father remarked, in a kind of sad sort of way, that I needed to have more confidence. My mother said, JUST DO IT, which while a well-known slogan really fits her style of expression and what she would say.

  1. Ginny

    P.S. I remember our conversation about your mom, and how pretty I thought she was. My memory of her, at probably 30 years old, she was indeed a beauty. Not that she isn’t attractive here, but she was lovely as a young mom.

    1. deemallon

      It’s so funny to read this again because I did not see her as beautiful. Lively, animated, well groomed, yes. Funny isn’t it?

  2. grace Forrest

    i love how when suddenly we are ready to see things with different filters, suddenly, they are There. Where they have always been. Just there. But we were elsewhere and seeing through the elsewhere filter.
    This is a very Beauty FULL post. I will read it again and again, several times.
    Thundering silence is incredible.

    1. deemallon

      thanks, Grace. sometimes good stuff happens, as you say, with just a slight turn to one side

  3. Michelle in NYC

    I just wandered into the room where intimate conversation is like smoke on a mirror. I heard it all before you turned and noticed me, and I understood every word…it’s so like us to doubt and call on helpers only to find the help we were asking for is already within us. This from Mary Oliver:

    You can
    die for it-
    an idea,
    or the world. People
    have done so,
    their small bodies be bound
    to the stake,
    an unforgettable
    fury of light. But
    this morning,
    climbing the familiar hills
    in the familiar
    fabric of dawn, I thought
    of China,
    and India
    and Europe, and I thought
    how the sun
    for everyone just
    so joyfully
    as it rises
    under the lashes
    of my own eyes, and I thought
    I am so many!
    What is my name?
    What is the name
    of the deep breath I would take
    over and over
    for all of us? Call it
    whatever you want, it is
    happiness, it is another one
    of the ways to enter

    1. deemallon

      Leave it to you Michelle to quote such a perfect poem! Thank you. How does Oliver do it? Take a tiny moment and expand it outward into such big truth and joy? “What is the name of the deep breath I would take over and over for all of us?”

      Btw I wished you happy Tibetan new year yesterday on your blog but my wordpress open source would not verify. I think another glitch arose on my end yesterday and it’s gonna take me a bit to sort it out.

    1. deemallon

      glad it brightened your morning. Maybe whenever we give up struggle there is a little more light. Not that I won’t continue to struggle but there is a new arrow in my quiver and I think it’s a reliable one. “Mom? Your thoughts, please?”

    1. deemallon

      thanks, Mo. that was an apartment in the Berkshires. I slept in the living room and gave the bedroom over to drawing and painting. Funny to think that I was doing that back then. Such a long road, so often unacknowledged. I think of the picture as my Page of Rods portrait.

  4. ginny

    I was lucky to have a mentor of sorts, actually a really aggressive boss, who had the “just do it” mentality, but it was a “just do it or die a violent death”. No kidding either. I have used the training to move myself along when self-doubt or other obstacles appear. It works quite well and it is one of the few things I am truly grateful for. I had another anti-mentor, not nearly as motivating, who often said it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. You might apply that strategy on doubts of validity on themes. But overall I say don’t let anyone, not even yourself, pigeon hole you in or out of anything. Screw that! Just do it. 🙂 <3

    1. deemallon

      Thanks Ginny. I know how prolific your are so the “just do it” mantra clearly works for you. But I really want to thank you for the idea of moving from asking for permission to asking for forgiveness. Much truth and wisdom and inspiration there.


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