I was brought up in a family where when a glass fell at a family function, someone would say, without fail, that the person to blame for that glass falling is a dead relative who was thirsty and just wanted a drink. And sometimes, to avoid having a good glass break, someone would pour out a drink on the floor before the duppy (Jamaican word for ghost) did their glass shattering thing,
I was brought up in a family where when there was a family dispute, one of the serious ones that could cause siblings to not talk for years or if they did talk, then for all the talks to be screaming matches of one sort or the other, that when these civil war scenarios played out, it was often a duppy of a loved one who would come to one of us in a dream and settle the conflict. When my grandfather died and some family members were determined to adhere to his request to have his funeral in Jamaica while others thought maybe he wouldn’t mind being buried in America, especially since they felt that him being dead and all, really meant that he probably no longer cared about where he was buried, he immediately came to me in a dream and told me to set things right, to tell his children, please, that he cared very deeply where they put his body, and more than anything else, he wanted them to bring it home.
I was brought up in a family where right before a loved one was about to die, someone, and usually more than just one someone, in the family, would dream of flowering plants or pregnant mothers if they were the symbolic dreaming types or, if they were more literal with their dreaming-powers, of the dying relative exiting through the front door of the house dressed up for their date with Heaven or of that dying person walking through a cemetery on their way to climb over a wall that would take them to the other side. And we also dream them after they die as well so they can say their goodbyes. These dreams so often happen in our family that we even come to expect them same way we expect a relative to call us if they are in town. According to what my grandmother used to say, being dead is no excuse for being rude. Or like I heard one Jamaican grand-aunty say when I was a kid, being dead is no excuse for not saying hello or goodbye.
Many years ago I lay on my couch after watching a Man U game on TV. I was sleeping when I felt a hand nudge me awake. I turned to find out that there were an assortment of colors before me, a collage of reds, yellows, greens, blues, all of them forming the shape of a body. Now in the movies that would be the part where you call the ghost hunters or that little freaky lady from poltergeist so that they could exorcise the spirit from the house, except I knew from the gut feeling I had that this was either a loved one or an angel or an ancestor and so there was nothing to fear. So instead of crying out for help or doing the Jamaican cuss-out thing we are taught to do with unfriendly dead visitors, I simply told them I was too tired and turned away and asked if they wouldn’t mind, could they stop by to say hello tomorrow when I was more awake.
I was brought up in a family where loved ones who are dying will come to you and sit down with you at a kitchen table, either in your dreams or at the actual kitchen table when you are awake. Like my aunt did once when she must have known, on some spiritual level, that she would die one year later from this visit. So she came to me and we sat down for hours and she held my hand and said it was okay for me to be angry about him being gone, because there was more than enough anger and sadness to go around. And we sat there in that dream for what seemed like forever until it ended with me shaking with tears, so many tears that the dream alone could not contain them, and so when I woke up, I woke up still crying and still feeling her holding my hand.
And you would think that growing up in a family like that would ensure that I would never forget that we are never alone, but being human and dumb as hell, at times, I do have moments when I forget. When I forget that when I was at Howard my first year and just got news about a friend shooting himself, that as I sat in a hallway waiting to talk to an adviser, I felt my grandfather’s spirit embrace me. That I could smell the tobacco from the pipe he used to smoke, the bay rum cologne he used to wear, the sickness he used to have, all of it, embrace me and hold me and love me.
Two years ago when as my dad’s cancer began to find new ways to attack his body and my relationship status was what-the-fuck despite the fact that I am married, I had a moment where I had forgotten again. I was at a conference upstate when one morning I woke up and felt entirely alone, so alone actually, that I prayed to God to look out for me, please, and if nothing else, just help me to not be alone in this life. Later that day, long enough into that day where I was no longer thinking about that conversation I had with God in the morning, I was walking past a hippy-crystal selling shop and decided for the fun of it to go inside. As soon as I entered, the woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted my cards read, tarot cards. Well, why the hell not? On these conference trips upstate I am always looking for a distraction. I entered the backroom and was greeted by this old white woman with dark hair that looked like my grandmother, my dad’s mom, and she looked so much like her that for the first five minutes with her, this was all I could think of as she spoke.
And because I was so distracted by her resemblance to my grandmother it took me a minute to register what she was saying. This small woman in this crystal shop in Saratoga Springs said that before she can even read the cards, she has been told that she must first tell me something. She said that the room we were in was so full and that everyone was talking all at once that she could hardly get a word in herself. There are beings here who are talking in an African language, wait they are mad because I am not being specific, wait, give me a minute, there are so many of your talking, oh okay, she says Zulu, there is a Zulu woman who says she is your great-great-great grandmother. And an English man in a suit who won’t stop smiling at you. Also a man here who speaks in music, when he opens his mouth I hear a piano, oh, this is your grandfather. And a woman who looks like me, my God we could be twins, she is your grandmother and she says she could read the cards better than I could if given the chance. There is a painter here who says he misses when you used to come over and ask for extra money for your dates when you were a teenager. And there is a man who knows magic, an old Jamaican man with a pipe, a grandfather. And there is another one, another grandfather, who is trying to get you to read a book, about Law, I think. There is a girl you used to date who died, oh I am so sorry, well she says you know how she died and that you should stop being angry about, that she is okay, and that besides, she is here for you and not the other way around. There is a woman with a cake in her hand, some kind of a black cake. She says she has been trying to find a way to ship it to you, but hasn’t found a way yet. She also says that don’t worry about her because she remembers everything now and that the forgetting time is done. You have two friends who took their lives. They say they have your back. There is a man who looks Chinese, in the eyes he looks Chinese. He is your great-grandfather. They call him a doctor, but he is more a doctor of men than a doctor of medicine. He says he owns as much land on the other side as he did in Linstead and he is telling me to tell you, that you must also learn how to be a doctor of men in this world. He isn’t smiling as he says this and he is telling me to let you know that he isn’t smiling. There is an uncle who says that even from the other side he is smarter than you but that you still have time to get to his level, as long as you keep on with your education. He is very insistent about this. And there is a young man, a young man who looks like he could be your brother, a brother who is not a brother and yet who still is, who says he is sorry he did not come back the next day to visit, but that he has been back many times since then. And there are others, so many other, that I cannot keep count.
And they now they are saying the same thing. They are saying that you mustn’t forget what they have all taught you, what your family has taught you, that no matter what happens in life, no matter where you are in life, that you were raised in a family where none of you are ever truly alone. And they also say, don’t forget you were brought up in a family where……
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