A Mystical Sort of Thing
My grandmother was born in Mexico and was raised in a very traditional manner, but she defied many traditions. She was brave, never silenced, and fierce.
And she could sing.
My grandmother had talent, desire, and ability. One of her earliest memories was when she was around 4 or 5 years old and was asked to sing at a family gathering. She was still shy at the time, but was eager to share her gift and so she compromised by singing behind a big wooden door while the rest of the family listened in amazement. She would peak through the cracks of the wood to assess their reactions: were they smiling? She would sing more.
I grew up in the presence of this great woman, and was blessed to have witnessed her art. All family gatherings would culminate around the moment right after dinner when everyone was chatting and satisfied; this was when the song requests would roll in. She never said no. She would stand at the table and sing. Mostly solo, sometimes accompanied by her sister, and if we were lucky, a guitar would reveal itself and she would graciously ask them to begin in "Do" or in "Fa."
It was a pleasure for her. It was a pleasure to watch and to listen. She was animated and she was wonderful.
She was invited many places to share her talent. All around the city, the country, and eventually, she was invited to sing for the Governor of the State of Mexico. He was so delighted in her voice, her style, and her energy. Before her and her parents left the city, she was approached by a producer for RCA (Victor) Records. "I have received word from the governor himself on your voice. I want to be your producer; we can start recording immediately. (And eventually, you will be offered a contract to be the lead singer in a mariachi, to tour in South America.")
My grandmother wasn't scared. She wasn't shy. She was brave and outspoken and ready. What she also had was a tender respect (or guilt?) for the feelings of her parents; and they were scared. They had fears of losing her, of never seeing her again, of her disappearing into a world of fame and music.
And so she stayed. She declined the opportunities, returned home, and continued to bless her family and her friends with her song.
Once her children grew older, they pursed their own dreams, and one of her sons searched out opportunities similar to the ones she had: he sang at events, formed a band with his wife, recorded music, encouraged his own children to do the same. Other challenges held him back, but the experience in working in the music industry allowed him the means to finally produce an album. Who was the artist? His mother, my grandmother. She was in her late 60s when she came out with her first CD, featuring all our favorite songs she would sing around dinner tables and birthday parties and weddings.
Her voice was slightly aged but it was still classic, flowy, sweet, beautiful. This CD was so admired by those who knew her and those who didn't, that she recorded a second one, this time with her sister, the duet of voices harmonizing in a completely rounded sister-like way.
My grandmother sang for us until the day she died. Well, maybe she didn't feel like singing the day she passed, but my family says that in the days before when people were arriving at the house to see her, she would still sing: modest songs, songs with less of a range, but beautiful nonetheless.
In knowing her, I never once had the impression that she was bitter, upset, or regretful of the choice she made to turn down a career in music. She would talk about those times gingerly and frankly. She even put her energy towards the art and music community in her own town, and the directors of these venues were very aware of the gem they had in her.
When my grandmother passed, I was 18 and I was in my first year of college in pursuit of a nursing degree. In the last years of her life, I wasn't in a mental place to be curious about her creative dreams and aspirations. But now, I am.
What were her true feelings, fears, hopes? Was it more than just giving in to her parents' worries? What was their dynamic? Why couldn't she have shown them that this journey could have very well included them, that sacrifices in the name of art may not be so bad? Did she feel the same nerves that I feel when I think about strangers reading my writing? Did she feel the same pull towards creative living that I feel today? Did she ever feel impatient about her work not being good enough, now, now, now??
Whatever the dynamics were at the time of the decisions, she made choices directed by emotions. Maybe in a subtle, universal kind of way, the challenges she could not overcome within herself are presented to her heir. Maybe it is my duty, for the sake of her and the generations before me, to overcome the challenges that she didn't.
How much of our own dreams and aspirations are linked to those of our ancestors? What if there's an invisible and untouchable link, or energy, that gets passed on from generation to generation, that pushes us to pursue the interests or overcome the challenges that were not possible in the lives before us? Not something that is learned or cultivated. But something lighter, more mystical?
Rupi Kaur says "i am the product of all the ancestors getting together and deciding these stories need to be told."
Maybe what Rupi means is: "i am the product of all the ancestors getting together and deciding that these [dreams] need to be [realized.]