Rays of autumn light filled the room with the warmth of deep orange, yellow and red. Waiting to hear a lecture from Rev. Anita Phillips, I busied myself by scanning the crowd for people I knew. These sort of events always bring out an unexpected friend or acquaintance, but this time there was no one I recognized. So I relaxed from my mental busy-ness and listened without distraction.
Anita was to speak on the practice of storytelling as spiritual practice within the Native American communities. I had come to the lecture to gather skills that would help my work with Native American folks. However as I listened, I was surprised that her story and mine – or at least our generationally distant stories – had touched briefly 180 years ago as her relatives and mine walked 2,200 miles together from the North Georgia area to Oklahoma – commonly known as The Trail of Tears. I know very little about this part of my family history outside of my distant grandmother’s name, and that of the man she married who would become my distant grandfather. I have read accounts of those 16,000 who walked not by choice, but by government demand. One quarter, 4000 men, women and children died en route.
For me, it is a relatively unknown part of my story, and I wondered how the silence of this story within my family had shaped me. It is said if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. This is true of family history, from the past lineage, to our own time on this planet: those events we have personally witnessed, teachings we have breathed in, as air. Stories can reveal love and beauty, others leave us wounded. They may tell us our “worth” is dependent on a certain definition of success or teach us about the need to be perfect. Other times we learn to live a life believing we are not enough or can’t be loved. Some of our stories make themselves known, others remain hidden. Some beliefs come from our own lifetimes, others from our generations. The events we leave out of our history, the ones we never talk about are as important (if not moreso) than the ones we celebrate.
Now, a year later, Anita’s words remain with me: “I am here…so that you have an idea of where my voice comes from.” What a powerful reminder that we each have a distinct voice and all that we have experienced, even in generations before us has shaped it.
Our stories began long before we were conceived. They emerged from the experiences of past generations of family, from the culture(s) in which we have lived. Epigenetic research has revealed what happens in the generations prior can impact us in a profound manner. Our stories are complex and wonderful, and often both painful and beautiful – a divine tapestry that makes us who we are. Some of our stories could use some re-writing, others are gifts we want to embrace and hold close. Each has made us the person in the mirror.
As you move through this coming week, I invite you to consider the parts of the your own story that have remained silent. Silence has a strong voice, if we listen. What does it say to you? Are these parts of your story waiting to be embraced? Or perhaps to be re-written to bring healing… Begin to sit with your story. Journal your thoughts. Share with a valued friend. I will be here waiting to hear what you learn.
Begin. Be bold. Be brave.