Year 5, Piece Thirty: 10. Orange Yellow

Ancestors and the things you can do only in human form.

“I think I look older in this outfit,” D said to me while looking in the mirror. She had put on a unicorn tank top, a unicorn sweater, and pink plastic flower-shaped sunglasses with pink lenses. “Do you think I look older?”

D is five years old. She is tall for her age, so she always looks older than five. “Sure, you look a little older,” I told her.

“How old do you think I look?” she asked.

“Well, how old do you want to look?” I asked. She thought about it for a second and said:

“Ten, I want to look ten. Do you think I look ten?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. 

“D, that is double your age! That’d be like me saying, ‘Does this shirt make me look older? I want to look 70!’” 

She laughed with me a little bit and conceded that, well, maybe she looked eight, or seven, or six.

I turned 35 this week. Old enough to run for president. Old enough that when I look in the mirror I am no longer trying to look any older. And maybe just now old enough to not take for granted that I’ll make it to 70 or 80 or 90 or beyond. My own mom relishes every year she gets older, each birthday past cancer standing for another year she gets to be on the planet: a reminder that aging is a good thing.

I look in the mirror at my own slowly changing body with curiosity. In my stronger moments, I look with love. Not wishing to reverse any initial signs of aging, but with gratitude to be here, to be embodied, to be created. 

Orange is Creativity, Creation. Sourced in your loins, Orange can also quite literally be reproduction, or the reproduction that created you. Yellow is Power, so Orange Yellow is Creative Power. Created Power. The power I have because I am alive. 

This birthday had me thinking about my ancestors, the people born before me. To be honest, I have a hard time trying to connect with the idea of my ancestors, people I didn’t know and who certainly didn’t know me. What really connects us? Is it DNA? Stories? Cultural practices? Land? What if you don’t know who or where you came from? 

I do know pretty well where I came from: two lines of Ashkenazi Jews that settled in Detroit, emigrating from Eastern Europe (what is now Russia, Poland, and Lithuania) around the last turn of the century, looking for a life where they could be Jewish without discrimination. In fact, I am 95% Ashkenazi Jewish according to 23andMe. Does that somehow make my ties to those and other Jewish ancestors stronger? And what of my children who I suppose are only 47.5%? Is theirs somehow weaker? And what about our ancestors in spirit? Am I in a line with all the witchy queer artists who came before me? 

I suppose it’s never actually one line anyway. I tried to draw a family tree this week, just the idea of a family tree without any names on it, but I couldn’t figure it out. I think the way a family tree is supposed to work is by starting with one person and tracing the line down only to the people related to that one person. Because if you start at the bottom and think about all the people involved in the people who made that one person it just branches infinitely. It’s impossible to source it back to one tree. It is a forest, a web, maybe even a super highway of genetic onramps and offramps and where could it have begun and how will it end?

I couldn’t really narrow down this idea of who my ancestors are, so I decided to be expansive and talk to all of them anyway. I’ve tried this before and it feels, well, awkward. I know that in my family there are traditions of casually talking with the dead, but none that were taught to me directly, and none about talking to a group of ancestors en masse. So I went casual about it. On my birthday, while I was sitting outside writing, I just sort of looked out and asked an abstract self-identifying mass of My Ancestors what they wanted from me on this day commemorating the fact of me being born as a result of all of them being born. 

I asked and I got an answer. It wasn’t trumpeted from the sky or whispered to me by a bird; it was a more unceremonious and matter-of-fact kind of knowing. The answer I got from my ancestors was simple: that my task is to be alive. That is the difference between us, afterall, that I am living and they are not. I wrote it down, then also wrote: “to accomplish what I can only in human form?” Then I balked at the work “accomplish,” which felt too results-driven. I thought about crossing it out but instead circled it, writing “do” and “be” above it.

My task is to be alive: to accomplish, do, and be what I can only in human form. 

Some of that is beautifully simple: singing out loud, squeezing toddler flesh, making art, making out, eating a lot of food. Being alive in itself can be healing. But there is also a need for active healing work, the kind done in community, countering oppression that I and those before me have been party to and also perpetuated, perpetrated. 

I think my ancestors want me to spend time with this Map of Internalized Anti-Semitism for White Ashkenazi Jews in the United States, from educator, healer, and priestess Jo Kent Katz. There is more to this map than I can unpack here this week, but I will share her reminder that “...there is not something innate, different, or unique about white Ashkenazi Jews that creates these patterns. These patterns are manifestations of collective trauma.” She quotes her sister, Dove Kent, in saying: “Our grief connects us to others’ grief. Our terror connects us to others’ terror. The trauma Jews have experienced does not make us separate from other Peoples; it connects us to other Peoples.”

Orange Yellow. Orange is also Gratitude, and Yellow is also the Sun, is Life Force. As I celebrate another year spinning around the Sun, I am grateful for the electric life force currently coursing through this body. I am grateful for all the people who were born and lived before me, those in my direct web of DNA and beyond. May I use the power of having been created on this planet in this time to assure that many more generations of people may be born and live after me, after us. Human people and so many, many other species.