My ancestors worked on railroads, built houses, baked, cleaned, nursed in hospitals, and ranged from homeowners to hobos.
They worked with their hands and their bodies, as well as with their minds. Coming from a working class family, many of my siblings still do the same: they fight fires, frame buildings, or walk hospital corridors in white shoes.
These days, what I do can feel so ephemeral: I work with spirit, heart, and mind. True, I scrub giant pots once a week, which satisfies and connects, but much of my time is spent in front of a laptop.
Economist Umair Haque complains that we spend too much time, attention, energy, and talent on building new apps in stead of solving real problems. He’s not the only one to point out that so many of our great minds are bending themselves toward conveniences and entertainments rather than toward real help and vital functioning of this world we live within.
I agree with him. And when I call upon the ancestors, I remember:
Our ancestors had dreams and visions, just like we do.
But in just over one hundred years so much of our world looks completely different from theirs. How do we honor their legacy? How do we connect?
We connect when we remember that human activity can have meaning.
We find what feels important. We find the things that feel simple. We interact with other humans, and with the night or dawn. We remember that there is a world outside of pixels, and a world also on the other side of the glow. We recall that radio waves and pixels were once visions of someone else who came before, and that they, too, have a purpose.
Yes, our ancestors were farmers and craftspeople, but our ancestors also worked with spirit. They prayed, and danced, and made art. Our ancestors were also Alan Turing and Hedy Lamar.
Technology is not the problem, not the seed of disconnection. Values are.
There are worlds unseen to our eyes. The ancestors whisper through our blood, and through our thoughts, and through our practices.
Each time I light a candle, they are there.
Each time I sweep the floor, they are there.
Each time I listen to a friend, they are there.
Each time I raise my voice in song, they are there.
Each time I dance, they are there.
Each time I wash a dish, they are there.
Each time I share a meal, they are there.
Each time I sit to write, they are there.
Each time vision comes, and the sight of a new world ruptures the present with the possible, the ancestors are also with us. We are riding on their shoulders.
Ancestors roam the river of time, spirit and blood. They are part of what makes us human. Every human act we do – from simple tasks, to feats of engineering, to those that they would barely understand – connects us to them.
We reach the past through spirit, memory, and blood.
The ancestors reach the future through our hearts, our minds, and our eyes.