Last week, my mother would have been 104 years old. “Would have” because she died 32 years ago. I don’t know the exact day any more, but I can anchor the event of her passing to the summer of 1991 when a lot of things happened in my life, some of which were facilitated by her death and an unexpected inheritance that made it easier to quit my job, travel to California with my new wife and five-week-old son, and to pursue a vision of a spiritual path that I had started exploring five years earlier.
Today, it is not my intention to recall that nexus in my life when—as sometimes happens to many of us—a new phase of life opened its arms to me; nor do I plan to investigate those first moments when–as happens to all of us when we are born–senses long in preparation during nine months in my mother’s womb awakened to an unfamiliar world. I tried to reflect on those early experiences in my previous post.
Today, as well as the nine months that preceded my birth and the eons over which the human species evolved from our swimming and crawling ancestors to produce me on July 15, 2042, I want to consider the culture and family into which I was deposited.
It might sound as if I am gearing up to start a memoir, but I simply want to continue what I posted last week in the blog “Taking Unfair Advantage”. I would like to acknowledge my early experiences with the people and situations I then encountered.
I’ve always found it difficult to honor the lineage that produced me. I appreciate the family into which I was born and feel lucky to have had parents who cared for me in a stable home from which I was able to launch into my own independent life as an adult. But when I try to look further back and contact the stream of relatives from whom I have inherited traits, customs and values, what comes up feels very thin. Apart from one grandfather–who wrote my sister poems and sent her playful drawings (but who must have found in me a rather sullen child) –my family history goes no further back than my immediate birth family. There were a few stories that I received from my sister, who gleaned them from our aunt and later followed them up by visiting relatives in England.
In the wake of these thin and patchy antecedents to my personal background, I appreciate that an on-line class I am currently taking asked me to visualize the two streams I mention above: my birth after nine months in my mother’ womb during which the body, organs and senses had time to develop; and the evolution over eons–from life in the ocean, through that of a four-footed land animal–to our species as it exists today.
These visualizations helped me to feel more connected to my own life, and to realize that I don’t need to have met my grandparents to appreciate the people who came into my life and supplied me with access to a greater world than the one immediately surrounding me. I also realize that—although these days I meet people who remember their extended families and have a sense that they have been formed by their cultural background—just as many have been left feeling neglected by those who brought them into the world.
It seems that—whether we felt valued by our birth family or felt like an inconvenient millstone around their necks—we are all confronted with the need and the opportunity to find our own way in a world that has more urgent issues to deal with than noticing us. If we are to find our way, we will feel called upon to take our own journey of exploration.
That’s where it gets interesting. Do we find guidance close at home and take on the practical and spiritual traditions around us as our own? Or do we feel that those traditions—if such a thing even existed in our family—failed to nourish us; so that we look for something else, something that catches our interest or even makes us want to fly into skies we didn’t know were stretching out above us?
Either way—as exemplar or searcher—we have reason to feel grateful that we have been born as a human being and that we are able to appreciate each breath we inhale in the passing winds; the water of our blood circulating in our bodies, which makes every cell and organ its port of call; the earth element supporting our bones and muscles that enables us to stand upright on the Earth; and the fire of the Sun animating our metabolism and digestive system.
We have evolved from the animal kingdom with a capacity to understand that our journey began eons ago. But now we are living in an age that is no longer guided by spiritual traditions, which ask us to be stewards of the land and to value caring for each other and our planet above prosperity and progress.
That makes it all the more important that we remember our kinship with the creatures of the land, of the air and of the water. We would not be here breathing, our hearts circulating the waters of our planet, if we did not carry that inheritance in our innermost being.