Honoring the Ancestors
A series about reconnecting to those that came before us
Our recent move from California back to Colorado was cause for pulling a lot of stuff out of storage. Like most, Minette and I have several boxes of old photos, VHS tapes, photo CD’s, scrapbooks, papyrus scrolls, stone tablets, and old computers full of family photos. Handling the boxes gave me pause, as I’ve forever wanted to have them all digitized and online - photos fade less and get less dusty in cloud storage. The desire was deeper though: this time of transition was necessarily a time to feel more connected and anchored. Reviving some of our past was a great way to do that.
As well, putting our new home and lives in the context of both time and space meant finding out more about the area and its past. Who owned the house before us? Who built it? What was the land used for before it became a suburb? Who were the first people to inhabit the area? What are the native plants and animals? What do the seasons bring on the Colorado Front Range?
Finally, launching Strong99 is my way of writing about longevity and thriving longer in life: learning from those who came before me is a great way to do that.
So, I’m embarking on this journey I’m calling “Honoring the Ancestors”. Interspersed with other writing will be a series of essays on this topic.
What does “Honoring the Ancestors” even mean? Is it just “hang a picture of grandma in the hallway”, or “Raise a glass to those departed”? There’s quite a comprehensive description in the wikipedia’s Veneration of the dead page that talks about different cultural views and celebrations. I liked this part
…the act is a way to express filial duty, devotion and respect and look after ancestors in their afterlives as well as seek their guidance for their living descendants. 1
I’d like to expand on that. I view this honoring as addressing a larger whole:
My own family’s background
Understanding my genetic and epigenetic information (as much as currently possible)
Learning the background of the land I live on and interact with, the people and animals that lived on it
The wisdom of all elders as it relates to longevity and thriving in our lives
With more and more pervasive technology it’s easy to find ourselves increasingly disconnected from the past. We are quick to dismiss the generations before X was invented (where X might be pervasive steam power, indoor plumbing, electricity, computers, the internet, or Über) as not having relevance to life today. Historians know better, but most of us are born just looking forward. My generation will suffer the same fate with the advent of pervasive AI, the metaverse, designer medicine, and flying cars (we were promised flying cars!).
Yet our ancestors peek out at us through so many things: stories, pictures, records, genetic traits, epigenetic imprinting, changes to the food chain and the land. They guide us, much like J.K. Rowling’s magical portraits.
Q: All the paintings we have seen at Hogwarts are of dead people. They seem to be living through their portraits. How is this so? If there was a painting of Harry’s parents, would he be able to obtain advice from them?
JKR: That is a very good question. They are all of dead people; they are not as fully realised as ghosts, as you have probably noticed. The place where you see them really talk is in Dumbledore’s office, primarily; the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost… 2
At 54 I find myself looking at ancestry and the past as a kind of momentum, a ball to keep rolling. Our ancestors were tradespeople, homemakers, ship captains, teachers, warfighters, hunters, gatherers and everything in between. Many had a deep connection to Nature and the land they lived on. Many were just surviving and trying to keep their children alive. They fought to provide a better place for their children: I think it’s my duty to honor that.
I hope you’ll join me in this series and perhaps start a journey of your own.
How do you honor your ancestors? Leave me a comment below.
Wikipedia. 2022. “Veneration of the dead”. 8 June 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veneration_of_the_dead
The Rowling Magazine Issue #1 · November 2016 https://www.therowlinglibrary.com/2016/11/07/2004-j-k-rowling-at-the-edinburgh-book-festival/