Thank You, Ancestors, for Teaching Me That Nothing Can Break Us

Photo: Courtesy of Chelsey Luger; Pictured are five generations of the author's family, clockwise from bottom left: Dorothy (Laducer) Herman; Freda Laducer Dilley; Clemence Laducer; Emily Lenoir; the author's mother, Donna (Herman) Brown
Who has inspired you? Challenged you? Shaped you? In honor of Women's History Month, we're recognizing the women who made us who we are today. To all who came before, the mothers, grandmothers, mentors, teachers, and trailblazers... thank you.

Dear Grandmas, Ancestors, Women who came before me,

When I find myself exhausted from parenting two little girls, I think of you. How did you make it through so many pregnancies and manage to carry, deliver, and raise five… eight… sometimes 10 or more children of your own?

I have learned that our traditional societies were much better suited to support women. We had the most sophisticated childrearing and educational systems in the world. I understand that you always had your mother, your sisters, and many friends by your side, and you all helped each other with the babies and with achieving a very impressive work-life balance. But still, this does not diminish the feat of motherhood that you accomplished.

When I remember what you have done, I am reassured of my own capabilities. Because of your undying commitment to motherhood, I know that not only can I manage my responsibilities, I can also be a great mom. When I remember this, I am able to be present and sure in my parenting.

When I feel mentally drained, I think of you. For generations, you learned and shared our histories and stories through memory, recitation, intricate artwork, and oratory. You knew that within the stories of our people lived a collective force of morality, self-actualization, and all of the knowledge needed to survive and thrive.

Because of your intellectual rigor, we still have these teachings today. They tried to steal our culture but you did not allow it. Even after you were sent to abusive boarding schools and forced to learn in a completely foreign cultural context; even after you were beaten for speaking our original languages; even when your political power was diminished by the invasion of a patriarchal society; you kept on.

Not only did you survive in their systems, you learned to beat them at their own game. You wielded western knowledge as a tool for liberation. Because of your genius, your survivance, and your brilliance, I too am equipped with a powerful mind that can make a difference. When I remember this, I am able to work harder.

They tried to steal our culture but you did not allow it.

When I feel bombarded by my own insecurities from being caught up in the daily onslaught of social media; as I am choked by the accolades, accomplishments, and astonishing beauty possessed by other people whom I unforgivingly compare myself to, I think of you. 

You lived at a time when traits of the heart, like generosity and compassion, denoted true beauty. I imagine those infrequent moments when you would see your reflection in a particularly clear pool of water. You were smart enough to know that you’d drown if you got caught up in it. When I remember this, I flip my camera phone away from a critical examination of my face and I turn my mind toward those things that you considered beautiful—loyalty, hard work, bravery, artistic talent, being a good mother, and so on. It brings me great comfort to know that I have the power to see, feel, and express beauty in those true, ancestral ways that you carried. When I remember this, I feel good about myself.

When I feel depressed or anxious, I think of you. I imagine the age of genocide, the age of small pox; the age of land grabs; the age of families being torn apart; the age of children being stolen, the age of war. Part of me carries the sadness of these traumatic memories, but I also carry ancestral strength. Just when I begin to feel overwhelmed or down, the fortitude you passed down takes over.

I know that you would want me to be happy today in a way that wasn’t possible for you while you were in the throes of the devastating parts of our history. I also know that the deep happiness and satisfaction that you experienced from living in the beautiful ways of our people are even more deeply ingrained in our blood memory than the tragedies. When I remember this, I become determined to be happy, healthy, and whole, so that I can shine brightly for the world in your image and in your honor.

Grandma, Ancestors, Women who came before me. When I think of you, I think (above all else) of love. You paved the way. You always kept going. You made everything possible for me, and you continue to guide me and guard me as I learn the hard lessons of life. I promise, now, that I will pour every ounce of your compassion, your love, and your strength into my future… my two little girls. When I look in their bright little eyes, I see you looking back at me, and I remember that nothing will ever break us.

Looking for more Strong As Her? Check out these letters from chronic illness advocate Nitika Chopra and Emmy-Award-winning broadcast journalist Mara Schiavocampo

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