The Storyless ~
It all began with a wondering, about the stories never told — the secrets protecting a desire to turn away from a traumatic past and assimilate into a new future: an American future, a future filled with freedom. Free to be a woman unrestricted, a Jew unencumbered, happily single, childfree by choice or wildly homosexual.
My ancestors came to this land searching for the freedom to be one’s self, to live in a place that promised to uphold the conditions necessary to sort out what that even means.
I’m standing now in Minsk, Belarus, at what was once the heart of a village. Modern tall buildings occupy the ridge behind me, while tourists meander along the river below me. I close my eyes to sense the echo of days of old, wondering if the stories I was never told happened here. Soon I feel what might be ghosts gathering around me. I being to wonder aloud.
“What was is like for the people who dwelt here hundreds of years ago? Are you them?” I ask.
I pause and remain still, listening intently with my whole being.
“Are you my kin?” I continue, feeling my comfort with the unseen realms.
“I’m sorry I’ve forsaken you,” I say with tenderness. “I didn’t know better. My parents and grandparents never told me about you.”
A giant black bird lands on the tree across from me and caws loudly three times.
“I’m sorry,” I say softly. “I’m here now. Please share with me your stories.”
The wind rustles and then it’s quiet. Terribly quiet.
I question whether I’m even worthy of their time.
When I was growing up my parents told me I could be anything. If I worked hard enough I could have whatever I wanted. I was worthy.
Though my grandparents never counseled me or showed much interest in my upbringing, their insulated lives and quiet despair spoke volumes. As a young woman reaching maturity in a country pulsing with options and possibilities, I cringed and turned away from their old fashioned ways.
It’s true they didn’t tell me tales of being persecuted, confined to ghettos, or incinerated in ovens, but they did pass me their lineage through blood. It flowed with a script that screamed “We are the chosen ones. We are special. We know the Truth and nobody else does. We need to keep ourselves separate and pure. We are the Light unto all nations.” Thus …
I grew up thinking I was special in a not good way. In a not true way. And college was the beginning of the end of my identity as a Jew.
I chose to learn about sameness and not focus on differences. Instead of looking at people’s skin color I looked into their eyes. Instead of thinking I knew the right way to be human and nobody else did, I asked questions. Slowly I began to find myself more at home in the world.
It’s not surprising that I discovered that the same human essence inside of you lives and breathes in me. It’s so obvious I began to assume everybody knew it. I realized that I was actually born into the community of humanity, not the tribe of my ancestors. I finally felt like I belonged.
As I stand beside the bank of the Svisloch River, I ponder: In my rebellion against my personal past have I missed something I might need to help make the dream of one human family a reality? Have I forsaken something from my past that might serve me now as I take my place in writing a new story for humanity?
Let me be clear: I still have no interest in separatism. I can’t bear the impulse to disconnect from the whole in order to stand apart. It feels unnatural. However, I absolutely do have a passion for self actualization, for the right of each individual life to blossom to fruition, whatever that means. This striving for a mature and radiant selfhood is my life story, after all. And my life’s work.
Contrary to the general trajectory of the cult of modern western individualism, I choose to actualize and individuate in service to the whole.
I take a deep breath of the familiar humid air and walk over to the nearest tree to rest in its shade. I imagine my grandparents and try to picture their parents and siblings.
It occurs to me …
There’s modern scientific evidence that claims our ancestors’ experiences are passed on through DNA. I reason: If their trauma is in my DNA, their good memories must be, too.
I call in the memories.
I day dream.
In my dream there is only green for as far as the eye can see. I feel the earth beneath me and deep inside my bones. I am able to track the cycles of this planet like my own monthly cycles. I am happy when I live in harmony with the cycles — the ones I am not in control of. The ones that drive me and leave me feeling the most alive when I yield to them. My ancestors knew this. They lived this wisdom, too. This is what they are wanting me to remember right now.
As for the monotheistic self-righteous holier-than-thou separatist fearful identity, “It’s time to release that,” a voice whispers into my belly. “Your grandparents and parents couldn’t let it go, but you can.”
Numerous beings now gather around me and begin to breathe a song into my breath about Life, not about Jews. They whisper secrets and tales of the Great Mystery and the beauty of the human experience. Their voices wash over me like a warm spring. I drink like a dry river bed.
I feel a strong presence right beside me. An older woman. She gently turns my head to face the giant hotel across the river and says to me, “Do not reject or turn away from what we humans have done and are doing still. Everything can be integrated into a new way and everyone can be a part of it.”
I understand what she means. I’m an up-cycler, after all. I want to tell her I get it. I want to shout. But I feel her presence hush me like a mother would her toddler. With the full force of her entire being she hovers. Then she walks in front of me and lifts my chin to look straight at her. I see an infinite chain of women inside her, stacked like Matryoshka dolls. They sit down unapologetically in my lap then fall right into me.
My throat begins to burn as I open my mouth letting a long and silent song escape. I feel like I’m breathing an ancient language and its essence brings tears to my closed eyes.
Tomorrow morning is the summer solstice. I will enact a ceremony that I’ve done for more than twenty-five years — a ritual passed on to me by the Native People of the Americas. When I was first initiated into this quarterly ritual, I was asked to promise that I would never forsake the chain of solstices and equinoxes, to keep the ritual going until the end of my days. I recall feeling daunted by the request. I was only twenty-seven, after all. How could I promise anything forever? Yet something conspired to get me to agree and, in my saying yes, I found the ancient ways kept me to my promise. It was not that I felt I had to keep the contract, I simply never wanted to break it.
Sitting now on the land of my ancestors, longing for a connection to them, I realize that the most powerful connection to something sacred that I carry in my bones came to me from the people of the land I was born on. Not my ancestors.
I feel torn, wondering again where I belong.
“That land is my land,” I say as I touch the grass around me.
“There is only one land,” she says into my heart, “and you are home wherever you are.”
A New Story
In my solstice ceremony I bless and thank all of the ancestors. The next day my husband and I continue our ancestor walk to Odessa, the birthplace of his great grandfather. Along the way we talk about our mission in these times.
There is a new story being written through us, we agree. It’s the story that I will tell my grandchildren so they’re not storyless like I was. It’s the story of one land and one family, rich in diversity and variety. It is the story of one human family finding a way to take good care of all life and thrive individually in the process.
I imagine it will take a generation or two for the story to take hold, but I know that my breath with live on in future generations and they will find their way home, too. I also know that I will be there for them in some mysterious and magical way if they choose to call upon me.
Just in case, here are the Cliff notes.
- Your personal story is important. It defines your individuality. Self actualize!
- Always remember: Diversity is the exquisite woven fabric of the one human family. Individuate in service to the whole.
- When you go back far enough in your family tree, you will meet the ones who knew how to live in harmony with the land and one another.
- When you go down deep enough inside yourself, you will meet the one in you who is the same one in me and every human who has ever walked this earth.
- When you slow down enough to listen, you will hear the song of the new story being sung through you.