Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Day of the Dead #4: Ancestor Reclamation Project

A few summers ago
New Mexico morning
found me on a remarkable piece of land in northern New Mexico. Fields of wildflowers blanketed the labyrinth where I walked every morning and dramatic displays of clouds and thunder lit up every afternoon, sometimes with rain, sometimes just with cool winds.

I was with a group of seekers working with a shaman when the conversation turned to honoring our ancestors. My life rather uniquely separated me from my blood kin so I questioned what ancestors I should be honoring.

The shaman listened and then mainly left the question for me to chew on. Out of that experience in a sprawling wilderness, I came to a commitment to make gratitude a bigger part of my life, to actually  practice  gratitude using a journal I designed to be fast, easy and based on the latest research. After weeks of using the rough prototype of this journal and improving the process, I published it as Gratitude Miracles, the 5-minute journal that could change everything!

available from amazon.com
After about three months of religiously recording my gratitudes and watching for miracles, I came to the sudden realization that a good many of the miracles in my life were dead. People who touched my life, changing it forever, making me the person I am today, then continuing on their own journeys. These are my ancestors. Perhaps they didn’t give me their DNA but they gave me a piece of their spirits and nurtured something they saw in me, something I couldn’t see for myself.

Ancestor reclamation project

I have now embarked on an ancestor reclamation project, remembering and giving thanks for those people who are woven into my spirit. Some stayed for years, some handed me a gift and moved on. Each of them are as much a part of me as if they had passed along their genes.

Polly took me by the hand and led me into an art supply store, convinced that I needed to start painting. She also showed me thousands of photographs that changed the way I look at the world. Polly was a woman ahead of her time: a southern woman with little interest in marriage and children. She finally relented when Hank begged her to marry him and promised to clean the house if she would. They were together over fifty years until Alzheimer’s  carried him away.

My aunts Wanda and Lerrea were best friends
Lerrea was always there. I was one of the many stray children she fed, loved and encouraged. Long, late night, Pepsi-laced conversations about spirit and life spread over almost four decades and wove our spirits together, changing the very fabric of my being. I got to spend two of her last years with her and she left me with Missy, the toy poodle we shared and who reminded me of her every day.
Wanda was a non-DNA aunt who inspired me with her life and love. In her I saw the relentless force of creativity that pulled her into music, ceramics, and creating beauty all around her. I also saw someone dealing with a beyond-fiction life of abuse with unceasing kindness and love.

Maggi, 80, dying, laughing all the way
Maggi, magnetic, colorful, dancing Maggi, drew me in at a time when my spirit was arthritic and needed the salve of her love. She was a whirlwind of abundance, lighting up the world with her smile, listening to my tales, encouraging me to go forth and create beauty. She made my heart bigger and brought joy to everyone who entered her dance. Preparing for her last Thanksgiving, we went to Costco where she was an absolute terror on her motorized shopping cart.

Richard and Ava in the Sierra
Richard, sometimes the wisest man I would ever know, sometimes not, but always loving and kind. He supported every new direction I wanted to take and gave me the courage to take leaps into the unknown. Not all of them worked, but he was always there supporting my next try. Marriage to him was a 26 year adventure.

Jerry said yes to a ridiculous idea in a way that made me think it might not be so ridiculous. For twenty years he shared his ideas and encouraged mine. When we talked and he called me “Joyceeeee,” my spirit felt like seeds were sprouting after a spring rain.

Layne chose to spend a lot of his last year of life involved with one of my projects. I met him when he walked up to me after my first Innovation Network Convergence and gave me a check for the next year. Being around him made me a better person, humbled me and made me work harder to make our time together meaningful. About a dozen of us were part of the project he chose to support in his year of dying and his spirit hovered over everything we did long after he was gone. I still think about him whenever I’m taking on a new project and wonder if it would meet his standards.

Becoming an ancestor and wondering about my legacy

These are just some of my ancestors. Thinking about them and the gifts they gave me fills me to overflowing with wonder and gratitude. And, as I grow closer to the time when I, too, will be an ancestor, I wonder if I’m making as much of an impression on those coming behind me as these amazing ancestors made on me. 
What gifts am I leaving? Whose lives am I touching and changing? What will my legacy be?
Who are your ancestors?

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