My grandparents would sit me down and my grandmother would run her hands through my hair lovingly. She would begin to tell me a story that would relieve my sadness. It would be a story that she conjured up in her imagination that always had a sage life lesson I could learn from. Or a character I could relate to. Sometimes the story was a real event that happened when she was younger, and it would somehow fill up the hollowness inside me.
The stories my grandmother told me would be my place of refuge. Or at least, that is what I imagined they would be.
My grandparents were never a part of my life; they passed away either before I was born or when I too young to remember. I have always felt that the emptiness that I sometimes believe could have been filled by the love of a grandparent.
From the media I consume, to the real-life relationships I witness it seems as though the love of a grandparent is so pure and beautiful, even if it is complicated at times.
I often feel so disconnected from my identity and my culture. I come from a multi-ethnic racial group in South Africa that is so richly diverse that it was difficult for me to find where I belong within it. I have always felt like an outsider. Our mother tongue never formed fluently in my mouth. I grew up unexposed to the daily life of our cultures and people. For many years, I just let myself be an outcast. I never tried to understand or connect with my culture which is something that I still regret. I can’t help but wonder that a relationship with my grandparents would have helped me to locate myself within my culture and identity. I think that if they told me where I come from and who my people were it would’ve given me roots to ground myself in my culture and experience its beauty and richness to the fullest.
I imagine that our family was a family of storytellers or song-keepers and that my grandparents would have shared these songs and stories with me. As a writer, I am well aware of the power of a story. Ancient civilizations were built around shared stories. Within stories is the ability to bring communities together and to pass down cultural knowledge and traditions. That is why I firmly believe that my grandparents’ stories and songs would have a profound impact on me.
I like to believe the lessons in the stories would have guided me during my darkest hours. The songs would have become what I sing to myself when I need to feel brave. The narrative would have given me insight into myself. I would have been connected to my culture in a much deeper way than I am now.
I am made up of the wise advice I imagined my grandmother would give me and the warm words she might have said to encourage me. When my parents failed to ease my anxiety, I imagine my grandfather could make the world feel safe for me again.
Of course, these are all fantasies in my head. I will never know how a real relationship with a grandparent feels. I will never get to hear their songs or stories and pass them down. I will always have this hole in my life. But I have chosen to fill it with my own stories and songs.
I hope my grandparents are looking down on me, proud of my voice, and the stories I share with the world.
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