“Ancestors, O Ancestors—reach me, teach me, bless me through…Ancestors, O Ancestors—reach me, teach me, bless me through…Ancestors, O Ancestors—reach me, teach me, bless me through.”
And who are our ancestors, anyway? Those beings some call our “Beloved Dead,” or as I say, our “Mighty Dead.” Because, after all, not all of them were beloved in life, and it is difficult to love them, even after they have passed from this existence.
But they are Mighty Dead, nonetheless.
Why? How? What do I mean?
One night, while my father and I sat at my grandmother’s bedside, I was morose. I was sad that she was dying, but I was more sorrowful for my father. And for the love of my grandmother I had lost long ago.
But then I looked at her hands. They were ancient and swollen and lined with blue. And then I looked at my father’s hands. And then at my own.
They were all the same. Different ages, different states of wear and tear. But the shape was unmistakably the same. And I realized that I will carry these hands of mine, of his, of hers, until a tree is growing over my fertilizing ashes.
My brother does not have these hands.
And there are only two of us, my brother and me. I have no children. This shape, this unique, particular, pudgy shape will pass out of existence and time with me. I am the last.
Unless, of course, they appear again in my nephew, in his children or his children’s children, should there be any. Who knows?
But for now, I carry the shape of these hands, the shape I suspect belonged to my great-grandfather, since my great-grandmother was a tiny bird of a woman.
I also—as do you—carry characteristics of people long gone, whose names have been forgotten.
See, I don’t believe in the maxim, “No one is truly gone until they are forgotten.”
I believe that no one is ever really gone. Because every single being, whether we perceive its life or not, affects us. Every single one.
Our bodies, despite all our attempts to the contrary, break down. Even the mummified royalty of ancient Egypt could not stay perfectly formed. We will all one day be part of something far beyond human imagination. And we will be part of Earth for as long as She exists.
We all are part of the Big Picture, living or dead. We are all part of the Big Picture.
Who knows? Does my down-turning mouth come from some unknown ancestor, nameless now in memory? My way of using my hands when I talk comes from my father. My quick thoughts, I recently learned, are passed through my maternal line, down through the ages, since human beings and our earlier ancestors were born.
Furthermore, in thinking of the Big Picture, in thinking of how much bigger everything is than we usually believe, I think of another maxim. “We’re all in it together.”
There are people I don’t want to be “in it” with. I don’t want to be “in it” with rapists and sociopaths and narcissists and lots of other people who’ve hurt those I love and have hurt me.
But I don’t have a choice. None of us have a choice.
As the UU Seventh Principle says, “We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence.” Not just the interconnected web. Not just the interconnected web of life.
It’s the interdependent web of all existence.
That’s why I think it’s important to consider not only our human ancestors, but those who began it all when lightning struck the sea just so and those minerals appeared that made tiny, fragile life possible. They are our ancestors too.
And that’s why I think it’s important to remember that even those with whom we vigorously disagree, those even whom we (I do not want to write it!) hate…even they are in it with us. Even they are “our two-legged relations,” to borrow a phrase given to me in a Lakota-led ceremony.
And consider further, that we ourselves, every one of us, is a giant colony of microbes. Our guts—our “second brains”—simply would not work without the trillions of bacteria there. I used the term”colony” advisedly: There are ways in which are indeed more colonies than individual beings.
Everything affects everything else. Everything. And so we cannot escape our interdependence. The unwanted gifts from our human Mighty Dead, and the gifts of oxygen that dead and down tree gave before it died.
We are all in it together.
Plankton making oxygen.
Mosquitoes being eaten by bats.
Pacific jade worn to sand.
Barn swallows swooping beautifully.
Gray whales attacking their attackers.
Mica flaking into panes like glass.
Coal running out and running over.
Earth and all Her children are our relations, and all of us are in the Big Picture together, whether we are alive or dead, whether we like it or not, whether we are soil microbes, worms, or human beings.
It’s not just the shape of my hands. It’s not just the love of my grandmother that I had and lost before she died. It’s not just my birdwoman great-grandmother. It’s everything.
The prospect delights me. How does it land for you? How do you intend to honor your Ancestors, your Mighty Dead this year as the Veil grows thin? And whom will you count among those dead who brought you into this world?
For whom can you say, “I am in the Big Picture with you. I am in it together with you.”?
For whom can you not bring yourself to say it?