Sunday, 3 June 2012

Not at Home in the Land of My Ancestors

( a not very scholarly post...)
I dreamed of home last night, as I often do. And the dreams are soothing and peaceful. I look on the faces of the ones I love, family and friends, and speak with them. We are together and we are happy and the deep ache in my heart—in my very soul—is gone. The dreams are vivid, and they linger in the few moments of the transition between dreaming and waking. And then they fade—they are the fragments and then gone—and I know when I wake up I am not home.

I do not hear the sigh of the wind through cottonwoods, in full leaf of summer. I do not hear the whirr of locusts in the heavy air of the late afternoon. I do not hear the chirping of a meadowlark.

The heavy pressure that settles back into my chest as I take my first waking breath tells me what my fading dreams do as well—I am not home.

I am in the land of my ancestors but I am not home. I cannot feel anything here of connection or belonging. I feel no tug of historical recognition. Somewhere in time and space, whether in my generation or in the ones before, this stopped being a homeland for me. I do not hear anything of ancestral voices speaking here. Maybe it is because they have nothing to say to me. Maybe they felt no connection to the place they were in the way that I do to the place that I am from, that is home to me. Maybe as peasants and warrior-kings and everything in between ( for my ancestral bloodlines branch out in these ways as do many people whose ancestors moved from the Old World to the New, there is nothing remarkable or unique in this) they had no particular love or identity with place. Maybe that is only some kind of New World feeling. But that is also hard to imagine—that they could feel themselves no identity or connection to this Old World land—it is after all a beautiful place of green valleys and heavy woods, a landscape that looks enchanted and other-worldly, wrapped in mist and soft rain. Maybe I am only in a place where they cannot reach me, cannot speak to me. Maybe I do not hear them through the intense drum-beat of homesickness that marks the beginning of each day.

There are words I want to write, things I want to say, that stray far from the dry and desiccated tomes of scholarly writing. I cannot even bring myself to face those words…not today. Not today. There are other things to think, other things to say, other ideas to fashion.

Today is part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebration and by coincidence, I am reading in the book Black Elk Speaks, by John Neihardt, of Black Elk’s experience with the Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Black Elk has travelled with a Wild West Show to England:

“Then we saw Grandmother England… Her dress was all shining and her hat was all shining and her wagon was all shining as so were the horses. She looked like a fire coming…

We liked Grandmother England, because we could see she was a fine woman, and she was good to us. Maybe if she had been our Grandmother, it would have been better for our people.”

But after that Black Elk becomes homesick:

“I was more and more sick to go home all the time now, because it had been two winters since I went away. I could not think of anything else..”

I find some recognition in these words if not comfort, exactly. I cannot know exactly what Black Elk felt or thought… I do not pretend or presume to feel as he felt. But I know what it feels like to be far from home… And time to do some of my own writing... to write some words of my own...

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