Monday, November 16, 2009

The importance of knowing each other's stories

Rushia led an exciting and dynamic life, but it's a deeper loss that I don't know more of it. She was my great-aunt, sister to my father's mother. But my Dad had a bad habit of not sharing a lot of such details. So as a kid I simply called her "Aunt Rushia" having no clue exactly how this nice lady was my aunt.

Growing up, our extended family would gather at Rushia and her husband Levy's house for parties and BBQs. When you're a kid running around with your cousins, you don't pay too much attention to what the grownups are saying. You don't know how important it will be later to know the places they have walked, the times they have seen. But I do remember Rushia's sassy sense of humor, her sense of style and sharp words when crossed.

I've got some bits and pieces, things gleaned from the recording of father. I will ask my mother to share more. But it is deeply troubling to me that I did not start asking questions of the past until after Rushia was not able to share her own story.

In her time, she looked after my father and his siblings after their own mother passed. She made lifelong friends who she continued to pal around with until time itself made it too difficult for her.

Rushia's a major fixture of the family that grew up on Tyler Street in Newark. She saw their hard times and joys. The fact that she outlived three of those Tyler Street "kids" gives a hint of her own history.

I never captured Rushia's story, rather mad I took too long to think of it. These past years she wasn't able to engage in much conversation. You have to act when you have the opportunity, don't wait till later. Trouble is, the younger you are, the less likely you are to ask questions and listen.

Speaking to the elder generation can make people uncomfortable. We want to embrace our own youth so badly and talking with our forerunners can shakeup our sense of personal immortality.

So here is my request, my challenge to you all, especially those who have started families of your own: Keep all of your stories alive. Every skinned knee and every birthday candle. Keep a journal. Write a blog. Pour every recollection of these times you are living into the minds of those who shall follow you.

Turn even the small things you love, such as the perfection of peanut butter slathered on a slice of a Granny Smith apple paired with a glass of Riesling, into memories for the "youngins" running around now. Share some knee-slapping stories other people can tell about you.

We have the tools to communicate, share and understand each other better these days. But we still have to take time to tell our tales... and to listen.

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Flame and Bone

When I was made from fire
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away