“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.”~Anton Chekhov.
In Jamaica, when you discover that you have put on your underwear inside out, it is said that you are chasing away ghosts (you a run duppy). Apparently ghosts get spooked easily, and that is one way to scare them away. There is a host of other ways to keep away those evil spirits that may hide behind outhouses (latrine), and in cane pieces, lurking in the bushes at night. For they only ‘show’ their faces at night.
We have a fascination for these otherworldly disembodied beings. People love to scare the daylights out of children by telling them ghost stories. The author Zora Neale Hurston came to Jamaica and chronicled the traditions and rituals associated with death and burial, collecting tales of the practices designed to ensure that the souls of the dead left the realm of the living and departed safely beyond our reach. From wearing certain colors, to placing sharp objects (needles, pins) inside the shoes of the dead before burial to make sure they would not be able to stand, there are an abundance of customs that probably trace way back to the heart of the African continent.
In my home growing up, talk of ghosts was dismissed as the work of foolish imaginations. The only ghost we heard of was the Holy Ghost. The deceased didn’t hang around; they were off sailing high above the clouds. That was scary enough to me, I didn’t like the thought of hundreds of eyes that could see me, could judge me, and could report on me. Could they see my thoughts? Just how intrusive were these busybodies?
There were fairies though. We knew that for a fact. Quite apart from the tooth fairy, my mother had a personal fairy called ‘Fairy Mugwump’ a name which somehow made you picture a not very attractive, probably overweight, hardworking fairy. I grew up believing she was unique to my family, but I just checked with The Google, and I am just as confused, since the name Mugwump may be derived from an Algonquin name for Chief, or it may refer to someone who is above politics! This suggests we are dearly in need of Fairy Mugwump right now!
Fairies are mischievous beings, choosing who they appear to. One of my sisters had an encounter with one of these ‘little people’ while walking in the woods in Wales many summers ago. The Welsh myths (like the Irish and many others) include tales of men being seduced to go and live with the little people, possibly gaining immortality in the process, but losing all contact with their earthly relatives. We love these stories, whether they are plausible or not. Stories of superpowers, the ability to change form, to move from one place to another with no visible means of transportations, all of these tales enchant and entertain.
As a child I had a hard time distinguishing between fairies and angels. After all, they both had wings, and neither one of them had ever appeared to me personally. I recently heard something for the first time, and I realized I was displaying my deep ignorance. Despite having been exposed to the writings of Malcolm X and thinking I was somewhat informed about the religion of Islam, I had no idea that angels played such a big role. In fact, belief in angels is one of the six pillars of their faith. And, betraying the first cousin connections between Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the names of those angels at the top of the chain of command are very familiar: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael. As we are often reminded, we are all much more similar than we are different.
Last year, after the man who had introduced me to Malcolm X died (my husband), I was asked an interesting question by a friend. This was after I had written about the Jamaican way of describing a visit in your dreams by someone who has died: ‘My father dream me last night’ (I dreamt of my father last night). I was asked if Kojo had contacted me since his death. It is said that the dead often reach out to their loved ones to let them know they are ok. And I had to confess to a dream in which I felt his presence to be real. But the strange thing was, the feeling that the dream gave me was not that he was ok, that I didn’t need to worry about him. I was left with a feeling that I was ok, that it was him checking on me.
His death, and the death of my mother coming very close together, gave me a very strong message, one that is echoed in the Bible: Therefore do not be concerned regarding them which are asleep… And yet we do worry. We want to believe they have met up with their significant others, with family members, with long lost friends. I watched an interview with the scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson recently, regarding what happens after we die. And as a scientist he reported on the facts. While alive we generate energy, we use energy, we create energy. Just as we had no consciousness before our birth, there is no consciousness after our death. But after we die, our bodies can contribute to the continuity of life by providing food for the worms. But most of us don’t believe that that is all there is. There must be more.
And if we do become angels, I hope we are the helpful, supporting type, not busybodies prying into the lives of unsuspecting children. I hope angels continue to watch over us, saving us from our own foolish choices and daredevil stunts. I hope that when you look up into the night sky and see the stars, you feel that connection with all of those who have gone before us, but continue to shine brightly in our memories.
Have a wonderful weekend Family!