I’m sitting at the kitchen table, drinking my third mug of coffee, flipping through the pages of my mother’s old phone book. What I hope to glean through doing this, I have no clue.
Names had been added and crossed out. I recognize my own handwriting in it, my mother’s, my father’s. I recognize the handwriting of a family friend, who used to live in Kingston, but now I wonder if she, too, has died. Probably.
There are names in it that I don’t recognize, names beside which there are Hungarian addresses. Excavating a life becomes difficult, post-mortem – as in life, we only seem to discover the things they want us to know while the rest is buried within them, within the past.
This tracking of my genealogical history has been difficult and unsatisfying. There are more questions that arise than answers, even in this time of technology and the relentless categorization and tracking of data. I do online searches today and find nothing. Ten years ago I could plug in the name of a person and find all kinds of various hits, but now that data is controlled and funnelled through a “smart” A.I. program, only the ones it thinks are relevant pop up. Only what the world deems important comes to our eyes.
So it’s always the squeaky wheel, the loudest voice, the most vociferous opinion that we see on the platforms which for two decades provided us with a wealth of information.
Today? Not so much. I might as well hole up somewhere with a box of microfiche and get to it. I feel like answers might be found in Hungary, but my command of the language has suffered much since my mother’s death, and was never that proficient to begin with. English is my language of choice, the language I have been educated in, learned to be curious in, to think in.
In light of the discussions within my ancestral healing group over the last several weeks, I mourn that loss of language, because within the language, its context and use, are the secrets of my past, the ones I can intuit in my bones.
Words hold meanings, the memories of things. In one language a word could mean the same thing as in another, superficially, but in each language it has a timbre to it that is relevant to the people whose mouths made those words, who spoke those words, a meaning that I will never really know as a member of a diaspora.
These meanings… they can be passed down, if people choose to, but often there is too much of a burden that is carried in their wake, one each generation that comes before the next wants to burden itself with but to not pass on to the ones that come after because they want them to have a better life, a brighter outlook, an untainted future.
But with that loss, there is also a loss of rootedness, a kind of cultural and historic amnesia. It is no small wonder that we find ourselves in a world that holds itself to nothing, that consumes without thought, where everything within it becomes disposable. Some days I wonder if we’ll recover from this illness of spirit, for that is truly what it feels like.
We find ourselves living on the lands of others, people who have suffered, just as our old peoples had, at the hands of others. They are still here, listening to the murmurings of the waterways, the flailing of the trees as they fall to deforestation, to the sound of the thick blood of the earth as it is getting bled out while its face is pitted with the byproducts that make teenage acne look like a walk in the park.
Our elders had gone silent in an effort to shield us from the pains they carried over centuries. We had a chance for a new start, but without their wisdom and the knowledge of all that came before, we made the same mistakes all over again.
When I was a teenager, I distinctly remember refusing to acknowledge any worth to the words of my parents. The separation required to become an adult is a tough journey, especially if those that teach us have become complacent in the comfort of their own lives by the time they come to witness our transformation, and don’t find a good way to guide us, to lead us through by example.
Maybe they are still struggling too.
Maybe by that point we’ve already seen too much of the darker sides of humanity to want to trust anyone else in this process.
I was young and brash, yet I was also sheltered, naive, and wholly unprepared for the world and its people, especially the ones who saw me coming and couldn’t help themselves in taking advantage of me – but I didn’t know that I had this deficit until it gouged holes in my spirit. I took advantage too, in my own way. I suppose that is how I learnt, but I can’t help but feel that there must be a better way to do this.
So here I am, on a Sunday afternoon, alternately staring out of the dining room window, typing this with two fingers on my phone’s keypad, listening to the birds calling outside (seagulls, crows, and another I can’t identify), to the chirping of the cross-walk signal, wondering what I will do with the rest of my day.
There is so much I want to do. I have a long list of chores that I keep ignoring, books that I want to read piling up into stacks that I may never finish reading in this lifetime, stories I have written but that have languished uncompleted, dishes piled in the sink that need washing, a refrigerator that needs to be sorted and cleared, choices to make on food plans for the week, clothes that need to be laundered and stowed, a cat litter box to clean out… to name a few.
In this overload of choices, I often choose… nothing.