“Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original … it is a continuing act of creation.” — Rosalind Cartwright
Most of the time, I feel like I have a terrible memory. I’m baffled by the gaps in my childhood memories. Over the years, I’ve come to realize my challenges in retaining details given verbally and to embrace my need to see or touch or feel things. My memories surface best through odd connections, random jolts, messy fragments that swirl around like paint on canvas before a picture emerges. Perhaps that’s true for you too.
For the past month, I’ve been particularly focused on ancestors — those real people in our personal history who have influenced who we are, our place in the world, our choices, those within our literal and figurative DNA. These are our given and chosen relations and also our mentors and figures who have helped us plot our way in life. As someone who is adopted and who experiences big holes in my memories, I really wrestle with the concept of ancestry. I know the truths they share and the importance and power they often hold. Yet I feel a need to approach ancestors, memories, that which I come out of, from an angle, a little sideways.
And so, I was delighted by a writing prompt in this month’s Soul Matters* materials, which offers a creative way to remember where one comes from and to help connect us to gratitude and humility. It’s based on the poem, “Where I’m From,” by George Ella Lyon. Thousands of people have used this poem as the foundation for creating their own version. There’s even a “mad-libs” type worksheet to help with the writing. Since poetry and writing and creative play are regular parts of my spiritual practice, I decided to use this prompt to jolt my recent reflections about ancestry. Below is what came out. It’s personal and might not make sense to anyone but myself, but I share the draft anyway because there’s something magical that comes through creative interchange. I invite you to share your “Where I’m From” poem in the comments. If that’s too public, choose one other person and share it with them.
We are a people of memory. To remember is to bring to awareness. What memories are waiting for you to create from?
*Soul Matters is one of several subscription services available for Unitarian Universalist congregations that focus on monthly spiritual themes for use in worship, religious education, etc. Memory is November’s theme.
“Where I’m From” by Terri Burnor
I am from vinegar,
from Folgers and Velveeta.
I am from the pines, the peonies.
I am from Lutherans and pie bakers,
from my momma Wanda and my mother of birth.
From prayers shared when now I lay me down to sleep
and sing-song warbles that Jesus loves me.
I’m from Duluth,
hot dishes (not casseroles) and bars.
From my dad’s adventures flying single-engine Cessnas in the ‘70s,
and his framed pilot’s license that hung in the breezeway.
I always wanted to keep a diary but couldn’t stick with
documenting the daily tedium.
Maybe there’s another way.
Snippets flood back when I sink my fingers into the thick fur
of an Old English Sheepdog at the AKC show and remember
Dudley Down Boy who protected toddler me from the vacuum cleaner
even as he shook with fear.
I am from ancestors whom I don’t know or don’t remember,
but I know I am from somewhere, someones.