I get it now.
I didn’t before.
I thought, with the pragmatic brain moulded by teachers and authors and popular culture, that such things were archaic. And of course to a mind intoxicated by the allure of intellect, a mind filled to bursting with its own magnificence till there was no room left for nuance, it made no sense. Very few things did.
It seemed a strange and needless thing. What did it mean to belong to a people, a way of life, a faith, a philosophy? What did it mean to do A, B, C because it was done by those who came before? It was primitive nonsense, the domain of little minds.
But I was wrong.
I was a child in grown-up shoes until I turned 32. I was 19 forever, in the same clothes, with the same outmoded notions and then something happened. I woke up on another birthday and felt that mysterious something I’d been waiting my whole life to feel. I felt….older.
I understand now that blood is more than something that courses through my body. Blood is sacred. Blood is the reason I can detach, say goodbye without bereavement, the reason I find it so difficult to believe those who say, so casually, that they love me. How can they speak of love? Love is not hugs and birthday presents and crying when we’re parted. Love is the deep-seated, ceaseless ache of being bound to someone despite all they do, of fighting and anger and frustration, of knowing you would kill or die to protect them and they might not even thank you for it. Love is doors that are always open. There is no talk of trust, or entitlement, or compromise, or who deserves what. It simply is, always, just because.
I understand now that when I set foot on the soil of my people it’s not the wind I hear, but the voices of all those who share my name, and my spirit, those I have known, those I will never meet, those I barely speak to. Their cares are my cares, their joys are my joys, and they are both a weight around my neck and vast, powerful wings.
I understand now that there is no I, the little I of ego that cries to be picked up and coddled and given all it desires. There is I, the great I that says stop here, no further, the I that has dreams and hopes and is prepared to fight for them. But there is also We, and We is a force to be reckoned with. We is beating wings in my ears in the sticky, sweltering heat, as I toss and turn and argue, begging permission to be impossible. We is the voice that says “You know what must be done”. I understand that even when it’s about me, it’s not really about me. It’s about Us, and everything I do affects countless others. I choose for them as well as for myself. I choose for peace and balance, because without Us there is discord and chaos and it all falls apart.
I understand now that when a man comes to ask for a woman’s hand, he asks to be dipped in the blood of her people, to swim in the stream of their ways, their memories, their stories. He asks to become one of them. He also asks to take their daughter to become one of his, to take on his blood, his ways, his stories. He asks a great deal and it cannot be given to him until it is clear that he knows what it is he asks, that he understands the magnitude of what he and his bride are about to do. He shows this understanding by making a gift. A gift that shows, if nothing else, respect. And after all this, they are not just two people bound by a promise and a piece of paper. They are bound by ties that stretch throughout both their clans. Long before anyone taught us to say till death do us apart, we formed unions that lasted beyond death. A bond like this cannot be undone by words or signatures or legal processes. A bond like this is eternal.
I understand now that people are not stupid, or useless, or in any way inferior simply because I lack the ability to comprehend them. To make a choice, any choice, is to begin one little universe at the expense of many others. It is necessary for others to think and act as they do to keep alive the universes I would kill. All the little galaxies keep spinning around us, with their strange and varied planets and their strange and varied people, so that we can know what else exists, the possibilities, the maybes, the could-have-beens. So our perceptions can broaden. So we can see outside the parameters of the tiny boxes we call truth.
I understand that belief is not really about belief, that there is a difference between fact and truth, that symbols and signs are infinitely more powerful than numbers and history. We hold on to the things that make us whole, the things that give us purpose. We believe in things not because they are catalogued and counted and proven beyond all doubt, but because they have the power to transform us. We believe because without our belief we would be stranded, treading cold water, and this is so no matter what we believe, how we define it or how we express it. I understand that stories are powerful not because they are factual, but because they are true. Facts are interesting, temporal, transient pieces of information, processed and stored by the intellect and passed on through books, films, radio. Truth is immortal, transformative, fundamental information stored in the bones and gut and spirit, and passed on through fleeting glances, weary sighs, feather-light caresses.
I understand now that there is a difference between the choices we make in the dark, in the glittering cities of the world where we are allowed to be whatever we choose, and the ones we make in the deep, thrumming earth where our ancestors are buried, before those who brought us into the world and those who carry the treasures of our people in their souls. The former can be thrown off like old leather jackets whenever they start to bore us. The latter are ours for life. Those are choices we carry till we die, choices that will colour every step we take for the rest of our lives, choices that will form part of the stream of events carried into each subsequent generation.
I understand that I am part of something beyond my comprehension. Something timeless. Something fierce. Something beautiful.
I understand that I could be wrong, and that it doesn’t really matter. I didn’t before. I was too young and clever. But finally I’m old enough to know how little I know.
I get it.