March 2018
Ancestral Ghosts
Marcus Engel
A few weeks ago, thanks to a Christmas/Valentine's gift from The Hotness, I got to mark an item off the ol' bucket list: seeing Bruce Springsteen on Broadway.
My love of The Boss is well documented. He's not just a rock star, but his lyrics are some of the foundation upon which my life is based.
Songs and readings from Springsteen's memoir were the order of the evening.  
Stories and songs, poetry and prose, all with Bruce's ability to cram 10 different emotions in a single verse. He played everything on acoustic guitar and piano, not another soul on stage. When I'm 68, I'll settle for standing, singing, reading or playing... but not all of them for 2.5 hours!  
Abruptly changing gears...
I am super, super lucky. I grew up in a normal household with no physical, emotional, mental nor substance abuse. The home my parents created was one of love and support and connection. Sure, no family is "perfect" but, man... I have zero complaints.

It wasn't until I got to college that I began to truly understand the many ways my family isn't the norm. In fact, I realized how abnormal we were in our normality. The more friends I made, the more stories I'd hear of friends growing up, the more I counted my lucky stars.
In aching detail, Bruce shared stories of the dysfunction he grew up with, primarily from his father who suffered from depression and alcoholism. Near his father's last days, and probably with the help of a lot of reflection and therapy, Bruce came to understand something he shared in his memoir: the idea of ancestral ghosts.
Okay, forget all the Halloween spooky ghost stuff. That's not this. Bruce talked about how family members who come before us are either ancestors or they're ghosts. Ancestors are those who have poured into our lives, who were honorable and upright and helped the next generation. Ghost, on the other hand, are those who, due to their own issues, disrupted an inner sense of calm and safety and who's actions still haunt us, even if the "ghost" has been deceased for years.
Near the end of his father's life, Bruce's dad came to him, admitted his issues had harmed the family while Bruce was growing up and asked Bruce for forgiveness. As Bruce said (paraphrasing here), "He was a ghost petitioning to become an ancestor."
Not everyone gets these opportunities. Not everyone will have a family member ask forgiveness and/or absolution. In fact, many times, the ghost doesn't even realize the things that were done that haunt their lineage. I don't want to have to go to my kids later in life and ask forgiveness. I intentionally work to keep this from happening. Sure, I fail, but I'm always trying.
Faithful Reader, I don't know exactly what you'll take from this story. Maybe you relate to Bruce, maybe to his father, maybe to neither and you're a lucky soul like me who didn't inherit issues from previous generations. Still, I think we can all recognize that we, too, are human and we all have failings. Knowing this and attempting to make amends before one is on their death bed is a good start. 

Working hard to be present so fewer amends have to be made is also a good beginning. Wherever you find yourself in a similar scenario, I hope you'll stay present to your own humanity and, as always, respond with compassion. 

If you're still breathing - there's still time.

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