Heritage: Streams of Consciousness… River Banks of Time
by Manuel A. Luna-Murray
I was once a River…
I am a Sea…
A few months ago I attended a family reunion that has been a staple of my family tree over the past six generations. This has been only my second time attending such an event in over 10 years. As a result, my thoughts have recently centered on the interplay between our heritage and its role in shaping the legacy that we wish to leave behind after our departure from this temporal world.
All rivers contain within them smaller streams which contribute to the river’s continued influence and longevity. As the river expands in both scope and size, it eventually becomes part of a larger narrative as it grows into a sea. The sea of our lives is a constantly evolving ecosystem of interrelated streams of consciousness derived from our multiple family histories as well as our very own multifaceted experiences swirling around the notion of an integrated self-narrative. This self-narrative interacts with other equally compelling tales of self-discovery along multiple river banks of time. As such, it is impossible to separate the individual streams and rivers that have shaped our lives and continue to influence our journey towards the attainment of our most cherished hope — becoming an Ocean.
On that fateful day, as I reconnected with long-forgotten family, surrounded by an endless sea of faces both foreign and familiar, I felt small yet significant. It is quite an amazing experience to consider that the very ground I treaded upon on that day had been walked on by strangers whom I would never meet, except perhaps through the pages of recorded history. But could that history truly encapsulate the strength, the unity, the perseverance, and all the struggles of an oppressed people seeking to find their place within the cosmos, let alone this country? You see, the reunion I mentioned at the very beginning of this piece is one that had its humble beginnings with a small gathering of individuals looking to share their lives through faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13) in fellowship and community as they sought to stand together against the injustices of the day.
In a country founded upon the basic tenets of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, the United States has often failed to live up to the promise of the true meaning of its creed. Throughout a period of 400 years, slavery existed as the law of the land enacting a system of codependence between slave and slave owner and erecting walls of discord and division amongst friends and families. All of this strife would eventually lead the Northern states to face off against their Southern brethren during the Civil War (1860-1865) in an effort to preserve the Union and achieve freedom for all persons regardless of their race.
The founding of Mount Sinai Union American Methodist Episcopal Church in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, along with its Annual Rigby Day family reunion, occurring every second Sunday in August, preceded the Civil War by several years, possibly several decades. As time passed, the Horseman of War continually trampled upon all peace negotiations between Union and Confederate States, forcing many souls to flee the South seeking the promise of freedom up North. The dividing line between slavery and freedom lied along the Mason-Dixon Line separating the Southern Slave State of Maryland from the Northern Free State of Pennsylvania. As slaves and their conductors sought freedom from their oppressors, many of them relied on a system of interconnected hideouts known as the Underground Railroad which were located along several Border States including the crucial Mason-Dixon Line separating Maryland and Pennsylvania. As one of the towns closest to the Mason-Dixon Line, Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania and its surrounding communities rallied together as forerunners for freedom long before the first shot was fired upon Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.
Walking along the tombstones erected just outside Mount Sinai Church the burden of all this history weighed heavily upon my conscience. Our modern society is one which is in constant motion always looking toward the future and rarely stopping to commemorate the events of the past and acknowledge our debt of gratitude for the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. The fact that our personal freedoms are so easily taken for granted while the liberties of those who are different from us (whether by race, culture, language, social status, lifestyle, religion, sexual orientation or any other distinction) are so easily dismissed bears little resemblance to the guiding principles our founding fathers and mothers fought to establish as they birthed this nation into existence in 1776. Have we become so callous to the plight of others that our Heritage no longer holds any meaning for us? Do the Streams of our Collective Consciousness flow from the River Banks of Time shared by our common struggles or is our present Sea of Selfish Worries far too vast and deep to bother with such daunting questions? Furthermore, if we are unable to examine these questions regarding our communal identity and individual responsibility, how can we expect to successfully grapple with our doubts, fears, anxieties, and insecurities while navigating the increasingly complex and ever-changing challenges threatening to drown out our future? Is our future one in which the Specter of Doom is ready to swallow us at every turn or does it symbolize an immense Ocean of Possibilities leaving behind a worthwhile legacy for others to follow once we have shuffled off this mortal coil?
I do not pretend to have the answers to these haunting questions, my dear reader. I do, however, offer you some of my writings which seek to explore these questions in greater depth. The transition from the Sea of Selfish Worries into the Ocean Possibilities of Worthwhile Legacy is one fraught with many challenges. This transition can only be attained by first returning to the streams and rivers of our collective pasts. Doing so provides us with much needed perspective as we embark on the journey of being human through our ancestors’ eyes. Despite the passage of time, pain and suffering have not changed much and we would do well to learn to embrace these existential quagmires and let them teach us wisdom. Only by accepting reality as it is, rather than self-medicating ourselves into a stupor of fleeting distractions to avoid pain and suffering, can we attain any lasting peace and enlightenment resulting in deriving true meaning in this life.
The first poem to be explored in this section is titled Heritage. Our heritage contains the myriad streams and rivers of our self-narrative and is greatly dependent upon our use of language. Language and the stories we tell ourselves continually serve to define and redefine our identity and our identity, in turn, either limits our freedoms or expands our horizons. In Heritage, the persona explores his understanding of freedom by examining his identity in light of the history of his forebears, thus making sense of his place within the context of the larger present day world.
One of the most tragic ailments to befall our contemporary society is an inability to learn from and in some cases a willful disregard for the lessons of the past. In Puerto Rican Alzheimer’s, the writer explores the heritage and legacy left behind by his grandfather’s passing shortly after contracting Alzheimer’s. This heritage and legacy are the byproducts of the author’s personal recollections of his time spent with his father’s father along with the fragmented pieces of shared memories between family friends and family members. A loving tribute to the author’s grandfather, Puerto Rican Alzheimer’s asks the chilling question on everyone’s mind, what will become of this man’s memory once those who knew him are long gone and what is our responsibility in preserving those memories?
A grandmother’s affection for a child is one of the deepest and most enduring types of love that exist in this world. In Dear Granny, the writer reminisces on the role that his grandmother played in shaping his life. It is often said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world and nowhere is this truer than in the case of a grandmother. A grandmother provides sustenance and support to both the mother and the child by dispensing wisdom, virtue, tenderness, and compassion to everyone around her for she has carried many a child and raised them as her own. The legacy she leaves behind is far-reaching and it would be a disservice to succeeding generations to fail to teach her lessons. Virtue is this woman’s garment and adornment and her beauty only increases as she ages for it is her heart that becomes an ocean of love where many can take refuge from the storms of life.
In our increasingly multicultural society, many people communicate through various languages and express their individual histories within the context of varied cultural backgrounds. Mi Vida en Dos Idiomas: My Life in Two Languages explores the notion of cultural and linguistic duality through the use of alternating verses between English and Spanish. In this poem, the persona experiences the richness and flavor of a typical day by savoring the sounds and expressions of two dialectical modes of expression. These dialectical modes together form a single coherent consciousness stream stretching into the expansive river bank of time.
As societies evolve and expand, they begin to stretch beyond their geographical and linguist comfort zones to encompass other cultures. In El Encuentro: The Meeting, two distinct cultures find themselves at odds with each other as they meet for the first time. As is often the case, conflict can sometimes strengthen a relationship between two opposing persons. Over time, this newfound respect for the other person can lead to love and maybe even marriage. As the world shrinks, many cultures can sometimes develop such an intimate relationship that once love blossoms it becomes impossible to distinguish where one culture and/or language begins and the other one ends.
The sea’s journey toward becoming an ocean necessitates an embracing of diverse bodies of water simultaneously stemming from multiple sources in constant motion. During its voyage of self-discovery, the sea must expand its borders to encompass the heritage of its predecessors while concurrently creating its own legacy through its continued growth and development as its own separate entity. In Embracing your Heritage, the persona encourages the reader to accept every part of their being no matter how self-contradictory or uncomfortable a process this may seem. Accepting this immense milieu of cultures and traditions is the only way to successfully transition from being a sea to becoming an ocean and ultimately creating an enduring legacy for subsequent generations.
Just like a mirror, the River of our past often serves as a reflection of our inner motives and desires. In Reflections, the double meaning of this word is examined and explored as the persona both stares into the mirror of their self-image while reflecting or thinking about the effects their thoughts and actions have on others. It is important to remember, however, that the mirror’s image is always slightly distorted. As a result, our self-perception and others’ perspectives of us will always reside within a world of imperfect images leading to misunderstandings at best and prejudices at worst. If left unchecked, these inherent biases can transform into extreme forms of discrimination not unlike those prevalent during the 19th century slavery era or the age of totalitarian regimes found throughout the 20th century. By learning from the past through reflection, the poem’s persona asks us to construct a more complete mirror image of ourselves in this present moment so that future generations can reflect the better parts of our character in their everyday lives thus creating an Ocean of Possibilities their descendants can be proud of.
At this time I would like to personally thank everyone who has made it this far in reading this post. Your patience and support is greatly appreciated and truly blesses my efforts. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions please feel free to share them with me as all feedback is always encouraged. Also, if you enjoy my content make sure to like and subscribe so you do not miss any of my future posts. Until the next time we meet, have a great day.