Dangerous Compassions

my ancestors

This morning when I was waking up, I had a thought that felt really true and important to me: I have my ancestors, so I am never alone.

It felt good, related to a lifelong struggle with loneliness, community, life meaning, what I’m on earth to do.  So many years suffering from agoraphobic, isolated loneliness, or suffering from painful compromise, when my needs didn’t match the needs of the people I was living with, but their needs always won.

Nowadays I live in community and mostly get what I need.  Sometimes there’s not enough privacy, and I do more unacknowledged emotional labor than I would prefer.  But overall, I am happy now.  I can open the window and let the ideas of other people in.  Years ago, I was in serious need of fresh air, socially.

love comes with community

I think of Dorothy Day and her idea of the long loneliness.  She said, “We have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.”

I remember when I lived in Sacramento, before moving here to Las Vegas with Ming, where we became non-Catholic Catholic Workers.  I wrote that quote on my therapist’s dry erase board.  She knew the quote and helped run Wellspring Women’s Center, which was headed at the time by Sister Judy, who had come here to Las Vegas to protest nuclearism and was arrested at the test site, decades ago.

I think of Dorothy Day, an idea-ancestor of the Catholic Worker movement that has provided me with a home for almost seven years.  Often looking severe, Dorothy Day had her thin whiteness, pretty braided hair, drastic ideas, and thin lips.  Did her ancestors live inside of her?  Did they comfort her?

What’s with white people and ancestors?  A lot of cultures, we acknowledge our ancestors, but seems white people do that a lot less.


I remember going to New Mexico, doing that ritual at the cemetery where I have a lot of ancestors buried.  My prayers, the water I poured, the list of names I read, thanking all those women who survived long enough to pass their gifts to the next generation, who in turn passed their gifts to the next generation, and then to me.

Since my mom died, I feel super connected to my ancestors.  I imagine the mitochondria in my cells.  My ancestors are gone, their bodies buried back in the earth they came from.  But their spirits are always with me, rooting for me, loving me, being proud of me, caring for me in a super quiet way.  Always forming me, from my genes to my ideas, my very bones, the curl of my hair, the emotions I feel.

They were brilliant women who did what they needed to do.  And now I do what I need to do also, to love, care for, cook delicious foods, comfort, feel pleasure, and survive.

white people

White people I associate with religions where it’s not common to pray to ancestors.  But even when I was a Christian kid, I would lie in bed at night, praying to my mom’s mom, and asking her for help.  She was a very real part of my life, as a deceased person.  I talked to her as much as I talked to living people.

Praying to Jesus, I was not really sure who I was talking to.  A man had never loved me right.  I only knew how to be loved by women and women’s bodies.  So it made a lot more sense to pray to my Nana, than to someone who died on a cross far away, for reasons I could not understand.  But at church we didn’t pray like that.

I guess I had my official religion, and then the folk religion as actually practiced, that I invented out of necessity.  Yeah, life is full of that. What I was supposed to feel, vs what I really felt.  What I was supposed to do, vs what I really did.


Maybe I need community less, now that I understand the people who love me the most are my ancestors.  I still need living people, but the dead are always going to be there for me.  No one can take them away from me, as they are already away.

I don’t want to prioritize dead people.  I know they can be easier, in that they don’t have real needs to attend to.  So much of life is for the living.  But I do a lot with inner life too.  That can be like the spirit world.  Something just as real but invisible, the inner workings that produce the outer workings.

my ancestors

By Laura-Marie

Good at listening to the noise until it makes sense.

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