Sitting in the Presence of our Ancestors
“To acknowledge our ancestors means we are aware that we did not make ourselves, that the line stretches all the way back, perhaps to God; or to Gods. We remember them because it is an easy thing to forget: that we are not the first to suffer, rebel, fight, love and die. The grace with which we embrace life, in spite of the pain, the sorrow, is always a measure of what has gone before. ”
― Alice Walker
I breathe in my grandfather’s name and watch as others around me do the same during our libation ceremony: naming loved ones and the gifts they have left us with. I can feel the room heavy with the range of emotions that fit the complexity of life.
In our current school systems, we are educated with a focus on linear time. But for many cultures time is not linear —we share connections with both ancestors and descendants within a constant dialogue between our past, present, and future. Our ancestors inform our paths, walk with us as we make sense of life with the wisdom of the paths they have walked before us.
In both Black and Vietnamese traditions, altars are part of honoring ancestors. Altars act as a visual reminder of our ancestors presence, while also being a space to give gifts of remembrance and veneration. During our potluck we talked about what these look like and also about the power of passing down stories from one generation to the next. Oral tradition is especially important for generations that go through particular struggles where physical altars and written documentation may be lost.
But we don’t need names to feel the strength and presence of our ancestors. One potluck guest shared about an ancestor she did not know the name of. Sometimes the altars are physical, but we ourselves are the manifestation of these altars - the embodiment of the stories. Our discussion continued to center on how we regained parts of ourselves the more we knew of our history, our stories.
I left the potluck with renewed interest in sitting in the presence of my ancestors. To close my eyes and feel them walking alongside me. To live their stories through my life.
If you would like to join our next potluck on October 28, RSVP here.