Living in Non-White Whiteness or White Non-Whiteness or ...

Kathleen's 6th Birthday

"What do you like about being white?"

The anti-racism training facilitator chose me to go first. My view of myself as multicultural Latinx, with indigenous heritage and light skinned privilege, was discounted a room full of other participants. Every struggle of not being white enough, or Latina enough flew up to my throat into a knot. I could not get past the word "multicultural," because the facilitator, an African American man, kept interrupting, insisting I was white. I thought my story about my grandparents and great grandparents had explained who I was the day before. The Latina facilitator said in a stage whisper, "She's Latina." The white facilitator said in a stage whisper to the Latina, She's white!" Whispering ensued between them. The facilitator who asked the question more than once said, "Fine, let's move on. We'll get back to you." I sat in shock. The next white individual, somewhat understandably, did not want to claim he was white either.

When I had gone to a people of color retreat last summer, the speaker, Zenju Earthlin Manuel had brought up an example that made sense. In 2013, Black Girl Dangerous blogger, Janani, published, "What's wrong with the term 'person of color?'" In it, they wrote about an exercise about race in an anti-oppression youth camp in the South, in which they, along with two other Asian attendees, were put in the white group rather than the black group. Janani wrote,

I want to return to that moment of racial ambivalence, and why it happened. That moment was unsettling precisely because even if Black and Asian kids had a common experience of being racialized, we didn’t have a common racialized experience.

It seems as if it should be obvious, but upon hearing it the first time, my heart opened with more compassion for we of whom are not of the dominant culture. In our workshop, every single person had been racialized as a consequence of living in the United States. Each one is racialized based on their geography in the country, in addition to the relationships to friends, relatives, loved ones, institutions and society. Not one person's early soul tenderness was battered by racism the same way. I have no claim to the experience of being black, but navigating La Frontera, the borderlands as explained by Gloria E. Anzaldúa, is its own experience. I grew up occupying that liminal space of in between, not pale enough to be white, but without the Spanish language, unable to navigate in the Latinx sphere either. How you were treated could turn on a dime. Especially, if your name changed from European to Hispanic or back. I was punished a whole school year for a surname change and return. My mother experienced it, and my sister, who has fairer skin than mine with dark hair and eyes, experienced it.

As the daughter of a Mexican American mother with the black hair and beautiful brown skin of her father, I was the first of sixteen grandchildren with the black hair and dark brown eyes that favored him. Unfortunately, he died before the year before. As the daughter of my Irish, Scandinavian, Northern European father, I'd never quite fit in. The McGregor family loved me anyway, often pointing out how smart I was, or tall I was, even though my build was more solid, and I tended to be chubby and darker. My heart and self-esteem suffered each time others were disparaged for gaining weight by the weight and look obsessed white women in the family, or how "Mexicans" or worse, "wetbacks" were disparaged by my new German stepfamily, most often by my stepmother.

If I had been asked a different question, the rest of the workshop might have gone differently. Instead, I became the female example of white denial. The trainer said to the group, "We people of color see you as white. You are not fooling us." My shutting down served as another sign of whiteness. In truth, I was in shock. Every misgiving about not being a person of color enough, was laid bare. I did not speak out about myself, nor with anyone else, the rest of the workshop. So, was he right? In a way, yes. And in a way, no.

I have much baggage: growing up in colonialized geography, feeling less than, being a widow of a small, dark, non-gender conforming, Filipina, a raw recent falling out with a relative, being enraged by my late beloved's treatment in the world, the traumatic death and aftermath, being an outcast accused of being unfeeling because I was white, and as such, had no culture, a coopted memorial. To say anything would have sounded like an excuse, or worse, as if I was trying to divert the discomfort, to make the conversation about my feelings, or separate myself from other whites by claiming I had suffered more, or that I had my own oppression, and therefore understood people of color's experience. Diversionary tactics are not new, and I've witnessed each one more than once.

For the evening and the next day, memories of scenes in the hospital, the funeral, and the aftermath haunted me. PTSD is real. When the other facilitator discussed what ends up lost to whites for opting to participate in whiteness the next day, I still could not trust myself to speak. When she blamed herself, her white privilege and ignorance, for the early loss of her own spouse, I just felt ill. I'd just managed to work past the survivor's guilt, stopped finding reasons to blame myself for my beloved's early death.

Going in to anti-racism work the decade before, I needed to be clear in my identity. I considered myself one of the mestizaje, on the border. After much discussion with my minister of color, I took on "person of color" identity as a political statement. That meant the battles are mine. Every single day, I choose not to walk away. My liberation is inextricably woven into the fabric of all people of color. Although there are days I hate the injustice too much to be healthy, I am committed. I'm committed to being open, learning, and to defer to the leadership of those people of color most affected by the intersecting issue at hand. I'm committed for all the multiracial children who do not quite fit into either family, and do not understand why race is such a big deal. I'm committed for gender nonconforming people of color, who are the most vulnerable, the most in danger, in our society. I'm committed for queer people of color, who are nearly as vulnerable. I am especially committed now for queer and gender nonconforming immigrants .

I'm grateful to have recently married, to a partner who works with me and learns with me. Still, I have married back into white privilege. So, what do I like about being white? I like that in passing, I can use the privilege I do have to speak out, protest, agitate, and put my body on the line for those who cannot. I like that in passing, I see and hear white people for who they are with each other. I like that in passing, my privilege can be used for the common good, rather than to get ahead in the capitalist white cultural narrative.

Goodbye To My Abuelita

My abuelita died this morning.

Or rather, has rested, a much deserved rest after a difficult life. This is my goodbye; the piece I wanted to write months ago.

She raised me as a little girl, until about the age of seven when we moved. I was born in Boston and I remember my funny, little grandma always being there. She would talk in Spanish and taught me some songs, and it used to make her laugh to have me sing them...badly. She was feisty. Once, she jumped off of a piano bench to prove that she still could; I had been trying to describe to her the difference between flying and gliding.

“Oh, you think I can’t jump??” She’d said. It was the story for years to come, among others...stories we told about how funny she was. She was funny, I think, because she had to be; I don’t think she always tried to be, but she was good-natured; life is rough and for her it had been particularly so, ever since she’d come to New York from Puerto Rico, and even back then, in her childhood, on my ancestors’ island. A place I have never been.

We left, as I said, when I was seven.

From that time on, I think I never knew where my home was. I have been trying to get back to it ever since, and that is why I never want to be far from family.

Here’s how I came to realize this:

A few years ago, I was doing a chakra meditation, a practice I did frequently at the time. I always had this funny sense, as I pulled my awareness up from the root to the crown, that there were some chakras I felt more strongly than others. My weakest one by far was my heart. At the time, I think I shrugged that off and maybe was even a little proud of it, as if it somehow confirmed I was not a sentimental, “heart” person. Silly, to think about it.

But one day I decided I wanted to know if there was a reason. I got the idea from a funny place; the cartoon show, Avatar: The Last Air-bender. My husband and I watched it religiously. It influenced me a lot but also expressed and resonated with me.

One of the episodes I returned to in my thoughts was the chakra episode. As the avatar is guided through them by his guru - he’s just a kid - he stirred his walking stick in a stream where the water had pooled and gotten stuck in a few places. Like the stream, there were certain things that blocked the energy flowing through the chakras, and so the avatar was introduced to them, and released them.

I had been delighted that the show was talking about so many things I knew something about, but I did not know a lot; I was solitary, and had no teacher, so I found inspiration wherever I could, and my practice and spiritual journey is made up of many such memorable moments of clarity.

I wondered, could something be stuck in my heart, and that’s why I have difficulty “feeling” it?

So I went through my meditation, feeling my way up through each center, becoming aware of the distinct sensation of each. When I got to my heart I stopped, and sort of “felt” around. I would say, I wondered around it, almost as if I’d asked myself, if there were something blocking my heart chakra, what would it be? And there it was.

My grandmother’s eyes...were full of tears. They did not spill over...but she looked sad in a way I was not used to seeing adults look; she did not try to hide her sadness. It was as if we shared the exact same sadness, the same heart, the same despair.

When we moved, I didn’t know anything about what a new life would be like. I had never really been anywhere else, and of course it had not occurred to me that I ever would be. So it was truly traumatic when we left Boston for North Carolina; exciting, but also traumatic. Moreso than I realized, than I ever let myself remember, because I had to be strong to survive, and I did not think there was anything I could do with those feelings. So I talked about them very little and pushed them down. But I think I was grieving for a long time.

I remember hugging my grandmother when we said goodbye, the car running, my mom, dad and little brother already in it, as I remained, sobbing openly as only children can do. We let go of each other, and the last thing I saw of her was her sad, sad eyes, saying goodbye, as we were taken away from each other.

We had no choice; no one did. My father had to go where the work was, and finding work became increasingly difficult in the years that followed. Everyone was traumatized. I have no idea how, though. We didn’t talk about it much. I wonder now if we should have. But I didn’t know any better, and maybe no one else did, either...we were all just trying to survive in a new life.

As I paused in my heart, feeling around, her eyes swam up into my inner vision, her eyes full of sadness and loss, a kind of hopelessness.

And then the tears came, my tears. They spilled over. Oh, did they ever spill over. And I cried...hard. I cried so hard I could not ever remember having cried that way before. And it felt like I would never stop; my insides were emptying, like vomit, being pulled through and from me, being pulled inside out. I don’t know how long I sat there crying that hard, but at least an hour. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It was grief. Grief that I had never expressed, and loss I had never acknowledged.

It’s not that we never saw her again; we did, many times, after that. She even lived with us for a while. But when I was little she had been a fixture in my house, had helped raise me, had helped me, and my mother, be connected to our Puerto Rican heritage, something no one ever saw or acknowledged or allowed us to celebrate once we moved to parts of the country where people don’t understand anything but “black” and “white.”

So I was growing up apart from her, and while I saw her, it wasn’t the same. We had lost something, and we could never get it back; there had been a break instead of a seamlessness in our relationship and shared experiences. She was now a “relative” we went to visit and who visited us sometimes. Not my closest family, living in the same house, as families used to live.

Over the years, she began to show signs of dementia. I have not counted; my mother probably has. By the time I was in college, she was starting to have moments of forgetting who I was. Once she did not believe I was my mother’s daughter, or that my dad was her husband!

I had wanted, growing up, for her to live long enough to see me married. She did get to meet my husband eventually and briefly, but I doubt she remembered him. But that’s okay; she lived to meet him and to see me grow up and be on my own.

Then the years continued, and her mind and body began to fade together. I remembered her plump and cozy; she became thin and gaunt. She sat mostly in a wheelchair, but she was still feisty...she would often try to get out of it, or move it forward with her tiny feet if we weren’t going fast enough for her. She was still so, so funny, in the way that only she could be in the saddest of times. Right to the very end.

I did not see her much in the last 10-15 years. By now, lucidity was pretty much the exception, but it happened. Then, sometime this year - was it the fourth of July? - I can’t remember, or maybe my mother’s birthday. But anyway, I was home with my parents, and a bunch of family came unexpectedly. I found out my grandmother was coming and I was so looking forward to seeing her...I knew now things I needed to say to her, like “I love you,” “thank you,” and goodbye.

I heard her before she was rolled into the house; she was babbling loudly outside. She did that a lot. It was really funny but of course I wondered if she was upset. I hoped not. I hoped she was not always unhappy and confused, but I have no way of knowing.

When she came in, my tiny grandmother, her silvery-gray, beautiful hair, had been been pulled back tightly into a tiny cute bun at the top of her head. Not a single hair was out of place. That was the way she’d always done her hair, too...never a single hair out of place. Impossibly, immaculately neat.

She was watching everyone talking on the couch and coming in and out of the room, and I was watching her. I called her a few times, saying “Grandma.” Then, I said, “Gloria” as firmly as I could so she could hear me. Her head whipped around and looked at me, her eyes piercing, trying to figure out who this new person was who was calling her by her first name as if I were someone she should remember.

I told her who I was, using Spanish as much as I could. I still know a little of it. I don’t speak Spanish; but it is there in my tongue, coming up quickly, almost easily, the minute I try to think of a word in Spanish. It is there. It is my language, just as English is, though no one ever saw me as Latina once I’d left the New England area, until I learned to forget that I was Latina, or hide it, because somehow to claim it seemed wrong, as if i did not deserve it. I was not a real Latina. I never was.

I sat with her the rest of the evening. I helped her drink some water with a sippy cup, and later to eat some food, some Spanish rice and meat and beans. I don’t know how she was able to digest it, and her teeth were so aged I wondered how much longer they would last. I marveled that she could eat solid food. I rubbed her back and kept my hand on her always, trying to keep physical contact, to tell her that I loved her, that I was someone, whether she remembered or not, who loved her, with all my heart.

As we sat in the kitchen eating, she looked at me, her eyebrows furrowed, that sharp expression in her eyes again. She asked me, “Por que something-something-something conmigo?”

“Why am I sitting with you?” I asked, and she nodded; this had been her question.

Using my phone, and the translation app I had on it for practicing Russian, I typed and read a few phrases to her that I really needed to say, and hoped she would understand:

"Because you are my grandmother. I love you. You took care of me when I was little. You taught me this song, remember?" And I sang what little of it I had from memory. I continued to try to read my phrases and then she said, suddenly, “Recuerdo.”

I remember.

She remembered me. A few hours later, she left, going back to my aunt’s, my mother’s sister, where she had been living the last years of these late stages of dementia. I felt that place in my heart, that deep place, once hurting, that felt grief for all the years I’d lost when I might have gotten to know her better, grown up with her, been in her life all along. This didn’t necessarily make up for it, but...somehow, it brought things to a close. It was, I knew, very likely my goodbye.

I am so, so, so, so glad I went there, and spent that time with her. I am so glad I did not let her strangeness cause me to hesitate, and instead I still felt, as her grown-up granddaughter, that she was mine, now to take care of, as she had once taken care of me. Maybe it was only for a couple of the entirety of our lives, spent so far apart, but I did it. I told her I loved her, and I remembered her. And she remembered me. It was enough.

I had a feeling it was very likely I might not see her again after that, so I was prepared to consider that day my goodbye, if that should be the case. Turns out it is.

Now my grandmother is...with the Lord, as my mom puts it. I don’t doubt that. Somehow, I don’t, regardless of my beliefs. I believe that, easily, just as I believe, easily, she is now with my mother, and her other daughter and son, and with her grandchildren and great grandchildren now, and with me.

Estabas dentro de mi corazon todo el tiempo; Se que siempre estaras conmigo.

You were within my heart, all along. I know you will always be with me.

Contradictions and Juxtapositions at Standing Rock

Drawing of the Camp

In early November, I flew to Minnesota to join a delegation of clergy vanpooling from Minneapolist to the Standing Rock Reservation, in North Dakota. The Minnesota Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Action Alliance, or MUUSJA, or Moose Jaw, for those of you who are familiar with the UU's tendency to reduce everything to initials. MUUSJA is the equivalent of the Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of California, organized and funded a good part of the trip. The local Episcopal priest, Father John Floberg called for clergy to help the Sioux tribe, with members from more than 300 tribes across the Western Hemisphere in solidarity, protest the building of an oil pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation. What is at stake is their only source of water at risk of being poisoned by the Black Snake, the Missouri River, which is a tributary of the Mississippi River. *And* this company building the pipeline is notorious for leaks. Drinking water for millions of people are at risk.

My decision to go was a spiritual one. How could I with my presence be helpful to the Native women who are up there, prayerfully fighting for their land, and by extension Mother Earth and all of us. It helps to be aware of one's social location, especially when going into another culture, which in going to the reservation we were told again and again that the culture was different. My own social location as a Mestiza, or mixed European American and Mexican American, including indigenous heritage, queer woman. Part of my lived experience is having lived on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Northern Arizona when I was young, where I went to Head Start rather than kindergarten, and the first grade. I'm a Unitarian Universalist candidate for ministry who practices Zen Buddhism on my spiritual path. I have had a profound love for nature as far back as I can remember. In holding these identities in tension, social location certainly informed my experience while I was there.

Standing Rock is at the center of numerous intersecting issues. Going forward,Unitarian Universalists need to start thinking about issues, beyond single issues, such as environmentalism, rather through the lens of "intersectionality", a word coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw that recognizes and names the fact that there is no single issue. Environmentalism is a popular issue with UUs. What gets overlooked more often by those who have environmentalism as their issue is that communities of color most often deal with toxic dumping, factories, or chemical or petrochemical storage or pipelines with unhealthful tendencies that are put in that area because white communities do not want them and have the power to demand that they are placed elsewhere. Not in my back yard(NIMBY). Plus, you have women who are affected by the chemicals and possibly that affects reproduction. The water is affected so there is external health effects, as well as internal. In this example, environmentalism intersects with racism, feminism, and it is systemic in that those in power in the government are deliberately making laws to limit companies to be near communities of color rather than white predominantly white communities.

This Dakota Pipeline protest is about the Black Snake going through their land and ground water, but it is also about the way that Native Americans continue to be treated by the US government informed by racism, and corporations having explicit, there for systemic backing by the state and US government. It is about the threat to water, our most precious communal resource. It is about power. The pipeline was originally supposed to go near Bismark, but the citizens, white citizens, would not have it. It is about Christianity. The Pope of the Catholic Church issued a bull in 1493, called the Doctrine of Discovery, shortly after the "New" World was discovered. This document declared that all land was to be claimed, and any people on the lands were to be converted to Christianity and enslaved or killed. This bull is the basis for court decisions to this day, regardless of what is written in the numerous treaties. Treaties that have been broken time and again, not by the Native Americans, but the white European Americans that greedily stole land. The protest is a Human Rights issue, the right to water and indigenous sovereignty.

Unitarian Universalists passed a resolution to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery at General Assembly in 2012. The Episcopalians preceded us in 2009. Our Unitarian Universalist Service committee has based one of their programs on the Human Right to Water. The UU Justice Ministry of California has centered work around water. We, as Californians, know or should know how critical water is too life, but are especially aware in a desert that has been stricken by drought. We're not out of the woods yet. Thich Nhat Hanh Plum Village Line Zen Buddhists' with concern for the Mother Earth have formed an Earth Holder Sangha, of which I am apart. The One Earth Sangha, a multi-Buddhist environmental group is concerned about Standing Rock.The Christian intentional community of which I am a friend, Urban Village, was concerned enough about Standing Rock that they and friends funded my trip. I went to Standing Rock, as one person, knowing that I represented the solidarity and well wishes of members of all of these communities, as well as the UU communities I am involved with. Those are JUUstice L.A. with whom I had a travel mate, Neighborhood Church, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger Fellowship. Around sixty UU clergy traveled to Standing Rock for this particular call.

The group of over 500 church leaders met in the gymnasium the night before the event. I had weird a sense of deja vu having gone to non-sporting events in the gymnasium on the reservation. I began to feel like I was having an out of body experience observing. We learned about the history of the region from one man, and heard one of the women speak of the struggle. Native women are doing the lion's share of organizing and support in this struggle, much like women are doing the organizing for Black Lives Matter. One woman who spoke the night before, told the assembled clergy that the camp looks just like a camp to non-native Americans. She said those of Native American heritage would feel like they were coming home. When we drove over the rise the next morning and saw the camp bathed in the light of a truly spectacular sunrise I was overwhelmed with love and longing. Love for the land and people, and longing for their ill-treatment to be over. Metta prayers.

For the ceremony the next day, the priest offered a copy of the Doctrine of Discovery, in it's original Latin, to burn in the sacred fire that continuously burns in the camp. Those representing the tribe chose to burn it in an abalone shell outside the sacred fire. The water warriors did not want to contaminate their sacred fire with the ugliness of the source giving permission for European colonization. I liken it to the profoundly offensive practice when white people dump their loved one's ashes at the source of springs and rivers. These headwaters represent life and people come to that sacred space and pollute it with death. There is a long way to go for a cultural understanding of just how sacred the earth and it's elements are, and/or a respect for nature.

I saw the burned out vehicles, the planes and the helicopters circling overhead. Too, I saw the most beautiful sunrise in my life on the day of the protest ceremony. Yet, I also saw a ceremony that was ostensibly interfaith be performed with a profoundly Christian view. As that person who straddles borderlines, I had a hard time reconciling that the religion of the oppressing group, was also the focus as we walked behind a cross to the river. That people with other symbols were "welcome" to process in front as well, felt strange since it other faith's are not about elevating their symbol above all. This is a case where members of the colonializing dominant culture, while apologizing for the past sins of their faith, reasserted that faith in that Native American space.

Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery is a step in the right direction. A young Buddhist asked if he should repudiate it since this was not his religion that issued the bull. I did not hear what the answer was, but my answer is yes. As a U.S. citizen, he is benefitting from the legacy of that papal bull. I, as a US citizen, am benefitting from that legacy. The Standing Rock Dakota Pipeline protest is emblematic of indigenous struggles against state supported corporations, U.S. supported corporations, up and down the American continent. I met a young Tinglet woman from Alaska. She was unlikely to be born when the Exxon Valdez ran aground; yet, she has grown up with the consequences. She came down from Alaska to protest in solidarity so that what happened in Alaska would not happen in North Dakota.

The struggle is just beginning if we, as UUs, are to do something more than symbolically repudiating. Clergy were asked to return and educate. I pledged to return and educate. We do not necessarily need more UUs going up to Standing Rock, unless it's to deliver supplies. We need people to use their skills. Fundraising? Social Media? Political Savvy? Legal? Communications? Too, the water warriors need warm clothes and sleeping beds to endure the winter to come. They are committed to saving the water, by continuing the protest and camp through the often brutal winter.

Meg Riley, the minister of the Church of the Larger Spirit writes, "Hope is born in the communion of struggle." Many struggles are and will continue to be upon`us in the coming days. Bill McKibbon reminds us: "History offers us no chance to completely erase our mistakes. Occasionally, though, we do get a chance to show we learned something."

All Souls Day / Day of the Dead

By Kat Liu

Delivered at Firstt UU Church of Second Life

On  0ctober 30, 2008


"The Open Door at Samhain"

Between the heavens and the earth
The way now opens to bring forth
The Hosts of those who went on before-
Hail! We see them now come through the Open Door.
Move beyond the fiery screen, Between the seen and the unseen;
Shed your anger and your fear, Live anew in a new year!

- Unknown Author



"All Souls Day/The Day of the Dead"

When I was six years old, my mother took my brother and me to Taiwan to visit relatives for the first time.  Having lived my only six years of life up until then in the U.S., it was quite a culture shock.  One of the most memorable shocks for me was visiting a Buddhist temple full of spooky gods with multiple arms, eyes, and sometimes heads.  Another memorable shock was seeing the ancestral altar in my great aunt's house.  There, was a picture of my deceased great uncle, along with a tablet bearing his name, on an table with burning candles and incense and fresh flowers.  But more than that, there was food and tea and wine.  It seemed to me as if his picture was watching the family. But it was the food and drinks that got to me most, as if my granduncle were still with us, with a hearty appetite.  As a six year old, it evoked fears of ghosts. This weird culture that my mom had thrown us into was scary.

When I was nine years old, my parents sent me to a conservative Lutheran school, and one of the many things I learned there was that my family engaged in ancestral worship, idolatry.  In so many words, I was informed that my ancestors were in hell, and that my extended family members would shortly be joining them there.

When I was in high school and then college, I came to believe that both the Christian hell and Chinese ancestral worship were just the superstitions of an unenlightened past. The future, based in science, would be free of such nonsense.

Within the span of a few years, I went from fear to disdain to finally indifference. I had no use for ancestral tablets and offerings.


Tomorrow night is Halloween, or All Hallows Eve, followed by All Saints Day on Nov 1st, and then All Souls Day on Nov 2.

As many of you know, what we have now is the result of Christian traditions being overlaid on indigenous traditions.  And so the Celtic new year of Samhain - the end of the light half of the year and the start of the dark half - became All Saints Day.  And the night before it, a time thought to be when the veil between the living and the dead was thinnest, that became Halloween.  But unlike our Halloween, Samhain's eve was not a night of fear (nor crass commercialism, but I digress).

It was instead, a night of celebration.  Returning ghosts of the deceased were not terrifying; they were welcome.

When Christianity moved to Latin America, it mixed with indigenous practices there too.  And so in Mexico, there is the Day of the Dead celebrations on All Souls Day, Nov 2nd.  It used to be a whole month in August; now it's just a couple of days tied around the Christian calendar, but the idea is the same.  On Día de los Muertos, people celebrate, eat pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) and skull shaped candies, and tell joyful stories of family and friends who have passed.  In preparation, they make colorful altars upon which flowers (usually marigolds), photographs, and mementos of the deceased are placed.  And also on these altars, people served the favorite foods of the deceased.

The Chinese also have a Day of the Dead. It takes place in April and is called Ching Ming, which means "clean and just."

On Ching Ming, or Grave-Sweeping Day, people weed and clean the areas around ancestral graves, offer fresh flowers, light incense, and burn imitation paper money for afterlife spending needs.  Participants bow three times with wine cup in hand, then pour the wine onto the ground as an offering.  In addition, the favorite foods of the deceased are also laid out as an offering.

Favorite foods of the deceased...

as if they were still with us, with hearty appetites.


In high school, college and then graduate school, I tried to dismiss such "superstitions" of the past.  But try as I may, I have not been able to dismiss death.  Some people think superstitions arose about ghosts and afterlives because people are afraid of their own dying.  I think that's a rather ungracious interpretation.  I'm not afraid of my own death.  But I am aware of the palpable absence of my loved ones.  Both friends and family have died, some way too soon.  I can no longer talk with my grandparents. Soon I will no longer be able to talk with my parents.  I think people developed the concept of afterlives to remain connected to those they love and have gone.  And to feel connected to something bigger than just ourselves.

A world view that says that life is nothing but a complex set of biochemical reactions, and death but the cessation of those reactions does not provide much comfort for the loss of a friend or loved one.  If we're just individual bodies that pop into existence for 70 some odd years, give or take a couple of decades, and then pop out again, what is the point?

There is a song that was introduced in the new hymnal supplement. The words go:

Where do we come from?
What are we?
Where are we going?

Age old existential questions.  The questions of religion.

For me, the daughter of immigrants, who has never known any of my ancestors beyond my grandparents, I have felt cut-off at the roots. "Free" to be anything I want in this land of opportunity, but unanchored. Rootless.  I have learned that a lot of Americans feel this way, whether they are the children of immigrants or not.  Once in a while, I think, it would be nice to believe that my deceased ancestors are keeping me company.

And recently, I've come to realize that they are. 

My paternal grandmother died when I was thirteen.  I have not seen her face since, except in photographs, nor heard her voice, except in memory. But she is with me every day.  I am especially aware of her omnipresence during the winter holiday season, which is fast approaching.  Every year, I amaze my colleagues by cutting paper snowflakes in perfect six-fold symmetry.  It was Nai Nai (or grandma) who taught me how to do that.

When I look in the mirror, I see my mother's face, which is my grandfather's face.

And even tho I've never met my great-grandparents, I know that my Dad's morning sneezing fits, which my brother has inherited, must have come from one of them, and from a great-great grandparent before that.

And that my Dad's deep sense of duty to country, even at one's own expense, comes from teachings handed down for generations.

Through the study of Buddhism, the religion with the many armed gods that had scared me witless as a child, as well as science, as well as personal reflection, I've come to understand interdependency.  Not interdependency as an ecological concept - protect the earth, etc - but all pervasive metaphysical interdependency.  EVERYTHING arises out of other things. We do not, it turns out, just pop into existence and back out. We are because of those who came before. Connected with them in one web of interbeing.


All Souls Day is preceded by All Saints Day.  The latter is just for those who are seen as worthy enough to get into heaven.  The former is for everyone ALL Souls.  I think it's fitting that Día de los Muertos, that "pagan" holiday of ancestral "idolatry" is on All Souls Day.

Last week I asked my father to take out his old calligraphy brushes and write the names of all four of my grandparents.  You see, I'm going to take digital pictures of the writing and turn them into ancestral tablets in Second Life for my little Chinese temple.  Then I will light virtual candles and incense and place virtual food for them to partake.  And when I do it, it won't be because I believe their virtual ghosts are hungry.  It will be to honor that part of them that has made me, my brother, and cousins who we are.

Amen. Ashay. Blessed be. and Namaste.

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