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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

Communing with Ancestors

So, I find myself out in the middle of "Nowhere”, South Dakota a few weeks ago. I was there, having convinced my family what a great idea an advertised 45 minute (actually it turned into a 90 minute, that should have been my first warning) hayride, in genuine (reproduction) old fashioned canvas covered chuck wagons (pulled by pickup trucks), replete with genuine cowboy hats (made in Mexico), to be followed by an "Old-Wild West-Campfire-Sing Along- Like the Cowboys used to do-with an intimate group of 25 other people (turns out there were more than 250 others who had already arrived).

Soon after arriving, and though they told us late arrivals to just sit down and enjoy the cowboy music, I, calculating that there were hundreds of people there, told my entourage to sit tight and I would go get in line and save them a space. I, so I thought, slickly meandered towards where I guessed the buffet style food lines would start and managed to rather cleverly position myself so that when they said "Ok, line-up", I would be about 5th in line in one of the three lines that were forming. Quite proud of my achievement, I waved to my entourage, managing to catch their eye and smiled. I received their approving smiles in return letting me know, I made up, and that they appreciated how well I had taken care of the business of taking care of my brood.

My wave was also intended to let them know we'd be eating soon (and based on what happened subsequently, remind them, at a subconscious level, of just how lucky they were to have ME as their provider and protector, much as one of my ancestors might have done thousands of years ago, proudly holding up a big slab of meat upon their return after a successful hunt).

So there I am, holding this space for my wife, daughter and grandchildren, ages 9 and 5, who had notified everyone within wailing distance, just how close they were to starving to death, and I am talking about my wife and daughter, not my granddaughters. (Just kidding). Actually, the young ones were just saying out loud what we were all wanting. FOOD. What could possibly go wrong?

As the servers took their stations behind the long serving tables, I waved my clan up to join me. Suddenly some one behind the serving table announced that the three lines that had spontaneously formed should have been just two lines, and pointing at the line I was standing in, told us to divide in half and go to the END of one of the other lines.

Some of those who had been in my line butted their way into the front of one of the two other lines. What should I do? Do as I was told, or do as the other more aggressive folks were doing? By the time I decided, I found myself at the end of one of the lines, with about 120 people ahead of me. So, instead of being 5th from the front, I was 5th from the end. In the meantime my clan had found me now at the end of the line, not looking all that pleased. I noticed that their looks of adoration and pride had turned to something else, though they were gracious and said "We'll go back and sit down."

I said to myself, “What’s another 10 or 15 minutes, no one is going to starve to death. The worst had already happened, what could possibly go wrong? A little voice from inside of me answered and said “They might run out of food”. Over the next 20 minutes (not the optimistic 10 or 15 I had imagined) the line moved along nicely. It was clear that there was going to be plenty of food. I'm about four people away from the food and, I once again, wave my flock up. When I turned around I noticed the line had stopped. My heart dropped.

I start looking around trying to figure out what was happening as a sense of anxiety bordering on panic, (really) began washing over me and I felt, as much as heard, a very ancient judgmental voice say "you've failed to provide for and protect your family, and now they die". I could actually feel my body begin to rev up........ I felt that very literal, very strong, very ancient message scroll through indicating that I, as THE responsible male, had failed to protect (by initially not choosing the right line and then again by not aggressively butting into the "right" line), and provide for them and because of my failure they were all going to die.

My rational mind said, "No one is going to starve to death here, no matter what". But, the ancient voice wouldn't be quieted that easily. As I continued to survey the situation it became clear that they hadn't run out of food, they had run out of PLATES of all things, though, still, no one in authority said anything at all. We all just stood there, staff and consumers, saying nothing. All the while my ancestral, “You’ve failed to provide”, voice was arguing with my modern day “It’s not that big a deal, and some day we will laugh about this” voice.

Honestly, I was sort of enjoying listening to this dialog between this ancient "edge of terror” voice, and my modern, fact-filled, logical, rational one. I felt like I was channeling this ancient voice with all its anxiety and fear. It felt like a gift from my ancestors. A very different kind of gift. One of some of fear and terror they lived and sometimes died with. Ancestors who not all that long ago (as recently as the Great Depression), I make up, must have walked frequently with that voice without there being the balancing counterpoint "that no one is going to die of starvation." Such a thing was a very real possibility.

I'm always wondering how my ancestors experienced life. This was a moment where I felt what part of their experience was.

My reverie was broken when my wife came up and asked what was going on. That's when I got the bright idea to approach one of the dozen or so servers and ask what the plan was. With a slightly dismissive tone said "get more plates". I asked if they were on their way. He said "Yes". I said "It would have been really helpful to know all this, I've got two little kids here who are starving". He just shrugged his shoulders and turned away.

Now came a wave of righteous indignation energy. One could argue that he/they could have given us information about what was going on, beginning with where we should line up. Doing so would have been the "right", or "courteous", "respectful" "responsible" thing to do.

I quickly compiled an extensive list of what they should/could have done, including the question of who’s the genius who sells 250 dinners and brings 200 plates to a chuck wagon dinner, in the middle of a remote valley 15 miles out in the wilderness? Or "how could they……?" or "why didn't they……?" (All of these "things" being murmured by those men standing around me who, like me, I'm guessing, were responding, to some degree to their own ancestral voices reminding them they had failed to provide for their families).

The plates arrived, soon thereafter. No one starved to death. It has already become a fond funny memory.

As we were riding back to where our car was at the end of the evening, I was left wondering just how often I go to my "righteous indignation/blaming others" place as a way to subconsciously try to hold others responsible for assuaging MY fear, MY sense of failure, MY terror, (and a dozen other things) which, by the way, no one else can do for me except me.

Can you relate?

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