Friday, May 15, 2015

My Mom's Heritage



Last week Mother's Day snuck up on me. Mentally I think I'm still in early April somewhere. Rather than taking the quick out that e-cards afford, I thought I'd try what the founder of Mother's Day suggested. She was upset that people were just sending flowers or a quick gift, and said she wished that people would instead take the time to write a heartfelt letter to their mothers.

Well, that was good advice! It was exactly what my mother needed, and it was good for my heart, too. My mom said it was the best Mother's Day gift I'd ever given her.

I thanked her for many things, but that's not what I'm going to write about here tonight. Instead I'm going to write about what I *didn't* thank her for: my Cherokee heritage.

The reason is because there's no way I could easily tell her what it means to me. (Hey, that's like as long as this blog, and I'm still figuring it out!)

But I didn't grow up knowing it. And she doesn't know the culture at all. And of course, I don't know how to say thank you for DNA, you know? I was happy to spend the letter thanking her for the things that she had done for me in her love and actions.

But I am thankful. Maybe I'll tell her that when I see her in July to help her move. I've shared a little from time to time about Native American things, but there's just so much and it's just so deep that I barely scratch the surface... and really I know so precious little myself. I would love for her (or my brother or anyone else in the family) to have a "heritage awakening" like I have had. But you can't force that kind of thing. Like the Song of Songs says, "Do not awaken or stir love until it so desires."

I did get to tell her a little about "blood memory" the other night while chatting, and she found that fascinating. (We figure that her sense of humor came to my brother and I that way, haha.) Perhaps I will be able to share with her how, somehow, the blood memory in me awoke to our Cherokee heritage. It might sound odd, but I think somehow that she will be ready to hear when I share that. (Wado, Unetlanvhi, I feel Your Spirit's witness!)

I will tell her how our ancestors would pray for their children to the seventh generation. That will impress her. (But I may skip the parts about feeling my ancestors' memories and longings.)

As I was taking a bath last Sunday night, I was thinking about what I hadn't thanked her for. I thought of how my Cherokee heritage comes through my mother's line. I've joked before to friends that the reason I'm drawn to my Cherokee heritage more than my Mexican/Aztec heritage is maybe because the Cherokee (like most Native Americans) were a matrilineal society.

As I thought on that, the natural reality hit me: actually, I *did* grow up spending more time with my mother than my father. The divorce gave her full custody, and though I saw and spent time with my father, I didn't spend much time with Mexican culture or the Spanish language.

As I've written here before, he really didn't have too much to pass on for various reasons; but learning Spanish from him would have been a considerable thing, nonetheless. It would have been a bigger "hook" in my heart that would make me feel closer to the Hispanic community and identity.

But things didn't turn out that way, and that's ok. The force with which Creator awoke my Cherokee heritage lets me know that this is as it was meant to be.

I just found it interesting that the heritage which awoke strongest in me came through the parent I spent the most time growing up with. I don't know of there's a connection in that, but it makes me marvel anyway.

And I'm thankful.

I had a Creek/Cherokee friend make something special for my mom, which I'll give her when I see her in July.

Can't wait. :-)

****

"Wado, Etsi!"

There's one thing I didn't say
One thing I didn't thank you for
It's not something you've done
But still something you gave me

Thank you for my heritage, Mom
I can't begin to tell you
what it means to me
to be Tsalagi—Cherokee

It's not the cool Indian thing
that I thought when I was young
It's much deeper than that
I don't know where to begin...

Our Creator awoke it in me
I cried and cried when He did
He said, "Welcome home"
And I've not been the same since

It's like there was a part of my heart
Which I didn't know was there
And He reached in and touched it
He utterly melted me, Mom

When I saw them dancing
When I heard "welcome home"
Something inside me awoke
I knew I have always missed this

I knew I have always missed *them*
The people, the community
We never knew them at all
But the ache suddenly arose in me

It felt like a longing to go home
Like I had been torn from them
And was crying out inside
to return and be reunited

Our Cherokee ancestors prayed
for their children and grandchildren
up to the seventh generation—
And I am the seventh generation!

It was seven generations ago
that our ancestors left the people
for reasons I don't yet know
But it hurt them to leave

It hurt our ancestors
And it hurt their relatives
But our ancestors had to go on
and they repressed homesickness

When our Creator awoke this in me
it felt like seven generations
of bottled-up homesickness
came out in a flood of tears

He heard their prayers
He heard their cries
I'm reuniting with the people
I'm getting to know *our* people

I can't understand Creator's ways
And I can't understand His times
But somehow this is meant to be
From this heritage you passed to me

Wado, Etsi!
—Thank you, Mom!
Gvgeyuhi, Etsi!
—I love you, Mom!

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