We went to the park so we could walk on the rubber track. My right knee is giving me pain lately, and I thought the rubber track would be kind to it. We had no idea we would happen upon a memorial service, where we would dance to help celebrate a great Black leader who had died.
I heard some beautiful drumming and felt excitement in my body. “God, that sounds good,” I said to Ming.
We walked partway around the track, and Ming asked me, “Is that music live?”
“Yeah!” I said. “I wanna go over there and dance! Will you dance with me?”
“Sure,” he said.
He took my picture on the track.
Then we headed toward the drumming.
The drumming was so good. We danced, and I clapped. It was at an outdoor pavilion. It was wrapping up just a few minutes after we arrived.
A Black woman dressed in all white thanked everyone for coming. Another woman motioned for me and Ming to come closer. There were only about 20 people there, and everyone was Black except for me, Ming, and one other person.
Someone was waving to Ming, and I noticed my midwife was there. She looked happy to see Ming and me. Doesn’t this sound like a dream?
It was a memorial service. There was a table up front, and an altar was on the table, with a big photo in the middle, white flowers in vases, white lace tablecloth, abalone shell with smoldering sage and a cigar.
A jar of honey, a bottle of dark alcohol, and a bottle of Latin American toilet water were there too. A generous shot of the alcohol was poured into a shot glass.
And there were many white candles and glasses of water. It looked like a simplified version of the altar when I got my limpia in November.
The lady who had passed away had been a leader in the community–her name was Colette IyaLe Olamide. She moved to Bermuda almost three years ago. Before that in Las Vegas she’d been involved in a local monthly Goddess meeting, and she was connected to poetry and rites of passage for Black girls. It sounded empowering and spiritual, but also very gendered.
Some people read poems, and several women spoke about how important Colette had been in their lives. Every poem and testimony was moving, interesting, and important. Colette had welcomed them, fed them, hugged them, gave them advice, reassured them. She had held baby naming ceremonies and led retreats.
I noticed Ming was quietly sniffling. He was crying–we had not known Colette, but Ming told me afterward that he felt like he did know her, and I did too.
The whole memorial service was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been to. Everyone who spoke seemed to speak from the heart, motivated by love and wanting to honor the leader who was now an ancestor.
Ancestors were mentioned often, and there was a time in the ceremony where we were supposed to speak the names of our ancestors we wanted to invoke. I whispered the name of my mom and her mom and her mom.
There was a part where someone was listing who we wanted to honor. “Ancestors over the water who we don’t know. Ancestors over the water who we do know. Ancestors here who we know. Ancestors here who we don’t know.” I liked that part a lot.
The whole ceremony was nourishing. At the end, a lady came to me and asked me to write my name on a little pink piece of paper. The pen didn’t work well. I thought it was for a prayer, or someone would burn the names for a special purpose. But it was for a raffle. My midwife had donated prizes.
Ming and I were not sure when to go. I wanted more drumming to dance to. The lady dressed all in white dumped on an agave the special water from the altar. I danced, and my midwife left. I’d wanted to say hello, but she left early. Other people left with her, like they wanted to speak a moment with her away from the group.
Walking away, Ming and I said, “Wow! What did you think of that!” to one another. We talked about our favorite parts. I said, “I had no idea I would be doing that today.”
Before we walked away, I said thank you to the drummers. One acknowledged me and said thank you back to me.
It was more meaningful than a church service and reminded me how we’re all connected. One of the speakers mentioned we’re being handed a baton of responsibility from the elders as they pass.
It reminded me of how my ancestors worked hard to survive and hand their gifts to me, so I have a responsibility to use them. I imagine the gifts as skills: the capacity to feel, brilliance, groundedness, connection to the divine. Honesty, deep understanding of truth, ability to see through bullshit, aliveness, intense life-energy. These gifts would look like magical fireflies or glowing, golden bees.
Then we went to the east side of town for pupusas to go. I wrote down “dos pupusas de loroco, masa de arroz” for Ming so he could order mine.
It was an unexpected afternoon into evening. I felt lucky spirit had guided us to that service by the sound of the drums. I want to take drumming lessons.