The following is an excerpt from the book, Tapping the Power Within, A Path to Self-Empowerment for Women, pages 26 – 28.
The Circle of Life
One powerful way to honor our ancestors is to embody the principles they taught and continue the traditions they live. African people are a “we” people. We, in a cultural sense, moves us beyond the shallow consciousness of “my life is only about me”. We encourage just to remember that everything I do is a reflection on everyone in my line. We motivates us to be better for those watching and those coming behind.
My sister understood this and lived it. She taught me things that had empowered her as a way of sharing, expanding, and evolving the traditions that sustained her. She taught me what our mother had taught her, what may, in fact, has been taught for generations. Of course, things change, times change; people lose track of stories in the people who passed them on. We can, however, still honor the lives of the ancestors by remembering what we can, practicing and passing on the positive traditions that have been passed on to us.
For example, I always washed and combed my daughter’s hair on Sunday evenings. I was tickled when I saw one of them had continued that tradition with her own daughter. This is a profound and practical way to elevate the spiritual energy of the ancestors to do as they did in order to sustain the group. Without knowing it, many of us probably do it anyway. When, however, we can remember the name of the one who taught the practice, or lived the principle, we create a more intimate connection.
What I know now is that how I live my life either honors or dishonors my ancestors. I also know it is not important for me to dissect, evaluate or judge their behaviors and dysfunctions. My job, our job, is to respect the continuum of life. We must embrace and embody with reverence the good/positive qualities that our ancestors demonstrated because it was this essence of their lives that pave the way for us. They have set the example for how to live in family and community.
Find the good your ancestors left behind and live your life as an expression of it. We carry the energy of our ancestors in our DNA. Therefore, living the best of who they were, what they taught and what they believed elevates their essence and advances our growth.
What I know now is that every life, every being that ever took a breath and the physical form, is an ancestor. What I know now is that all things fade into God. All things are neutralized, brought into equality, balance out in unity with Spirit.
My sister is now an ancestor. Not just my ancestor, because we do not have the luxury of owning spirits; she is an ancestor. In my heart I knew that it didn’t matter that we hadn’t spoken. It no longer mattered that she had been upset with me or that I had been angry with her. It didn’t matter that people had exaggerated the problem with gossip and innuendo. What mattered now was that the ancestors were watching and waiting to see how we, the family, would behave and what I, the next in age order, would do. My sister had taught me what to do when a member of the family made their transition and it was now my responsibility to make sure it was done with prayerful excellence.
If someone had told me that I would one day voluntarily stand within arm’s reach of a dead body, I would’ve told her she was crazy. Had she told me the dead body would be that of my sister, I probably would’ve lost my mind. But there I stood next to my sister who was dressed in a clear plastic bag covered by a white sheet.
In that moment I did not need to think about what to do. I had to do what I had been taught. My friend Tulani, a master braider, braided my sister’s hair. I polished her nails just as she had taught me; one-stroke up the middle of the nail, one on the left side, one on the right and two coats. Next, I applied her makeup. I pulled her eyes taut just as she had taught me. I made a very fine, very straight line of eyeliner across her eyelids. I added just a touch of blue shadow in the corners of the lid. I lined her lips and added just a bit of gloss. I asked my niece to find a small handbag that my sister especially liked. I filled it with coins. In African tradition you never want your family to show up on the other side without coins.
I also gave her a small white hanky. She had taught me that a hanky is so much better for dabbing the eyes than paper tissues. I also put a few mints in her purse. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I dressed my sister in traditional African garb. I wrapped her head in asoke – traditional woven cloth – just like she had taught me to do. My sister loved Jean Nate so I put a dab behind each ear. Finally, I adorned her with traditional beads and bracelets. I placed an irukere – ceremonial horsetail – in her hands so that it lay across her chest. She was now ready for her children and family to view her remains. Holding hands, Tulani and I stepped back while my sister’s best friends added their final loving touches.
When we were all done we stood in stillness and silence gazing upon the woman who, though she stood only 5’4″ tall, had been a monumental influence in so many lives. In that moment I could not remember why we had grown apart. I just wanted to know if she would be proud of what we had done for her. We had prepared her for a traditional burial. We then blessed her to join the ancestors.
I felt regrets for having missed the last three years of her life. I felt sad that I would never hear her laugh again. I wonder why she didn’t tell me that she was not well. Then I remembered who my sister was. I knew that she probably didn’t want to be a burden. She probably thought I was too busy and she didn’t want to bother me.
Realizing that that was probably the reason, I felt hurt and angry and sad. More than anything I was angry with myself. Then I remembered the love and the spirit of love that existed between us and the anger dissipated. All things fade in Spirit. All things become love.
About Iyanla Vanzant:
Iyanla Vanzant, accomplished author, inspirational speaker, talk show host and living testament to the value in life’s valleys and the power of acting on faith, goes behind closed doors and deep inside people’s lives for emotional, riveting conversations in the new hit series- Iyanla: Fix My Life
Iyanla has had a unique life filled with many personal struggles, which she has overcome and used to become stronger. Now, she’s back, helping people fix their lives, using her past to help others’ futures. Secrets will be revealed, truths will be uncovered and emotions will come out as Iyanla teaches us how to pull back the curtain on what is broken in our lives.
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