Monday, November 21, 2005

A Ponderful Morning

Toni Morrison has stated its important that her work have the presence of the ancestors in it.  This morning I woke with the need of running a finger over my personal cosmology to gleam something from where I am today. My own ancestors have crossed my mind. I get lost trying to envision how they walked, their gait as they moved over dirt roads, or concrete sidewalks…how they held their heads, did they talk with their hands, the sound of their voices, what did they see, touch daily. From this one particular woman emerged, my great great grandmother Lula Bell White.  I have 2 photographs of her that sit on a table in the living room.  My contact with her was very limited as a child even though she lived one block from me and my great grandmother, her once daughter-in-law whose relationship I assume was not amicable.  In fact I did not even know she was my great great grandmother until I was an adolescent and she had passed away.  So I have no memories of her in my life but find myself wondering about her this morning and what she would think of me now.  Maybe it is an odd thing to be pondering this morning in the face of the routine chores I should attend to but the need to be quiet and reflective is upon me and here she is.  Since the age of 12 I’ve been aware of that I hold some space in me where my ancestors dwell, even the ones I don’t know and have never met…my internal sense of belonging and community, if you will.  This space often informed my sense of direction and purpose and specifically my poetry.  In adulthood I concluded that this space also acted as a type of moral compass that pulled me back from much of the excesses and over-indulgences in my life.  Occasionally I come across people who I ran with, who I shared those times of my life that can be described as heading toward trouble, i.e. indulgences in sex, drugs, drink and materialism and they never pulled back and are still struggling with the consequences.  I was in my 20’s when I first concluded that it was this space where my ancestors dwell inside of me that pulled me back from much. It is the voice saying “I didn’t raise you to be know fool” when my behavior was at its most foolish.  It is a statement that I imagine has come out of the mouths of many generations of parents and care providers.

In my ponderings this morning I’m thinking about the people who have entered my life…not for a short spell, but those who gave me a sense of kinship beyond blood ties.  The people one recognizes as tribal sprits who have been lost from one another and once connected or reunited, a whirlwind of growth and change begins to happen and you know that you’ll never be the same, that you will never comfortably fit in yesterday’s coat again.  One woman is the reason I go by the name Karoda.  She wrote a piece for the stage that in itself is a rite of passage. She outlined a collective African American genealogy, both men and women, which belong to the world.  It encompasses not only the formal educational script which was poetically and magnificently written, but also dance and sound and memory that is intended to reach people who access information in a variety of methods.  The writing of this piece changed her and she took the first syllables of the first names of the women who speak to her and influence her hand and combined them to form a new surname for herself, Majozo after Mary McCloud Bethune+Josephine Baker+Zora Neale Hurston, and added it as a legal name change.  This stayed with me as a most powerful thing to do and for many years pondered it for myself.  What I came away with was the first syllables of all three of my given names to represent an integrated whole person that I strive for.  The first syllable Ka also is an ancient Egyptian word with a complex understanding of the part of the soul that I found intriguing. Ro is also the name of a created language that rejects all existing words and seeks to interpret ideas in an abstract and I’ll add intuitive form.  There is no reason for Da other than solely it is the first syllable of my last name.  I had seriously contemplated a legal name change and tried it out as I begin to spread out over the internet…so thus I have many variations of the name in attempts to hear it, write it, and see it.  What I have recently decided is not to do a legal change and use my given name to label my art quilts but my signature will be written as Karoda.  People often ask me which I prefer, Karen or Karoda, and it all depends on how you feel you know me or how well you want to get to know me.  Karen is polite, respectful and a friendly way to address me which is fine by me. Karoda you call when you want to reach something deeper in me, a way to call me out, so to speak.  It is the name I feel most comfortable with creatively.

But I’m pondering this morning.  I am pondering this morning about my own children and ask myself if I have done what I know how to do to give them a sense of that space within them that can act as a call or compass in the midst of the current affairs of their lives.  I worry that I have not given them this gift, I worry that I’ve done my best and they still will ignore it or exchange it for some outwardly world gem with temporary or false life sustaining capabilities.  I shared this fear with a friend and in return she sent me a poem by Gibran entitled “On Children”. I read it and my fears subside thinking that the poets always have held the truth of our existence but then I question what does Gibran know of raising children as an African American mother and maybe I need to write my own script.  It is difficult to see the world’s impact on my children…the part of the world that for me is not life sustaining and even destructive to the soul.  But I want to trust that we all come into the world with unique paths that will collude and collide and collect knowledge and wisdom with the time and space we live in and everything is as it should be happening for some greater good and purpose.  This is what I call trusting the process…to do what I do, to act on what I know and believe with faith, that God has not and will not abandon us and that we always have grace and forgiveness and redemption at our choosing.  And on this note, I’ll take my ponderful self and look for some music by Bob Marley to carry me through this day.

Tomorrow or Wednesday I will share a recipe and the photos from the community dedication for The Ali Center.  I did make it and enjoyed it very much.


  1. Karen/Karoda, this was a beautiful and meaningful post. It was what I needed to read today. Thank you.

  2. Hi Karoda,
    I loved reading this post. It slowed me down after my html wranglings...
    I always think of you as Karoda - it seems to sum you up - creative, individual, unique.
    I read this in a book of Celtic prayers, about kids and, I suppose, letting them go...
    "Be the great God between thy two shoulders
    To protect thee in thy going and in thy coming,
    Be the Son of Mary Virgin near thy heart,
    And be the perfect Spirit upon thee pouring"
    I happened to read this on the morning my second son started high school...

  3. Rian, thank you for letting me know because it was something I needed to write today and it makes me happy to know you connected with it.
    Liz, I appreciate you sharing this prayer. It will become one of my own.

  4. You write about this in such a beautiful way. In a way that may be different yet the same, I have felt ancestors at my elbow and a spiritual connectedness that is hard to describe. It is almost as if, for just a moment, the veil separating us is very thin. The world can be frightening and painful, yet I always pray and hope for good and trust that there is a plan I am not wise enough to understand. Jen

  5. What a deep, intense and thought provoking post. You just amaze me. I will always address you as Karoda, now!!
    OK! Dish! Did you see Brad and Angelina?

  6. Karoda, you have such a wonderful voice, whether it is the written word or visual feasts. You give me hope, laughter and the strength to remember.

  7. Love your style (written and visual), relate to the topic, feel the same way, must have coffee because it was way too deep for me to completely digest before being caffeinated.

  8. That's wonderful! I'm impressed that you call yourself by something you've thought through to that extent. What a neat sentiment. Thanks for sharing that!

  9. A beautiful post this is. I enjoy reading your 'ponderings' seeing that side of you that makes you Karoda.

  10. Our ancestors are always with us because we ARE them. I once met a Native American guy who told me "This might sound crazy to you but I woke up once and felt that I was not honoring my ancestors by being all that I could and truly living up to my potential." He quit his job and started his own business. I told him that it didn't sound crazy to me at all. We honor them by honoring ourselves.