A Dialogue Between An Ancestor and Me

illustrated drop cap for the letter BBackground: I grew up in the evangelical church, extremely leery of anything that smacked of new age religion or paganism. I’m half-Chinese and half-white, but I have never communed directly with my ancestors. I was inspired by Tada Hozumi’s idea of your ancestors showing up to fuck up your life—this idea that they are still working out their own story through you—so I decided to summon one of them for a dialogue. This is what happened. 

Note: Tada Hozumi was recently called out in the cultural somatics community for harmful behavior in the context of their practice (you can read their response here). However, since their idea directly inspired this dialogue, I want to give credit where credit is due.

According to Hozumi, most of us have our most powerful spiritual and social experiences in cult-like dynamics, whether with individuals or groups. Hozumi’s own ideas can be used to critique Hozumi, a leader accused of crossing spiritual and emotional boundaries. This caused a complicated internal reckoning for me. How do I reconcile their ideas with these accusations? I know what it’s like to be wounded and healed by the same person. I know what it’s like to go to that person and say, “You hurt me,” and be turned away. I think Hozumi speaks to a deeper reality wherein your ancestors (or God or Spirit) reach you through the conduit of a human being, but that doesn’t mean that person is not abusive. Take care. Your boundaries are valid and it doesn’t matter if it’s a prophet, priest, shaman, or your long lost great aunt Matilda—you can absolutely tell them to fuck off.

[I decided to call my ancestor “Yun” after my best friend in middle school.]

Maylin: Hi.

Yun: Hi. 

M: How’s it going?

Y: Good. How are you?

M: Am I supposed to do a summoning ritual or something?

Y: You can if you want to.

M: What do you require to be summoned?

Y: I don’t know. I like food, obviously. You could give me a food offering. Or incense if you have it. 

M: I don’t have any incense, sorry. And I really need to go to the store. But would you like some fruit snacks? 

Y: Okay. Do you have cherry? They’re my favorite kind.

M: Me too! Dang. Um, I just have mixed berry. Would that work?

Y: Yeah, sure, whatever. Just leave them out for me so that I can eat and be full.

M: Okay. Hang on a sec… Alright, I left them out for you. I lit a candle too, just in case.

Y: Thank you, Descendant. Can I call you Descendant? 

M: I mean, sure.

Y: What brings you here?

M: Well, it’s hard to explain.

Y: Try me.

M: I feel like I keep ending up in the same kind of situation over and over again. 

Y: Yes, go on.

M: It’s like—you know when you get out of a bad job or a shitty relationship and you think, “Great! Never doing that again.” But then you end up doing it again?

Y: Uh-huh.

M: That’s me. That’s my life. And I blame you.

Y: Seems like a leap, but okay. What do you want me to do about it?

M: I don’t know. Give me a sign. Tell me what to do. I’m sick of it.

Y: What makes you think that I know what to do?

M: I’m here because of you.

Y: And you blame me because you keep renting the same movie at Blockbuster.

M: Yes. You’re ruining my life.

Y: Are you sure?

M: Well, maybe not my whole life. But—

Y: Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a girl who was really good at farming. Really good with animals too. She always had crops to spare and her chickens laid the most beautiful eggs you have ever seen. But one day a fox found the hen house and raided it, killing her best chicken and stealing all of her eggs. And what do you think the girl did next?

M: I don’t know. This is your story.

Y: You are that girl. What would you do?

M: I would clean up the hen house and comfort the surviving chickens. And then I would make sure the fox never got in again.

Y: Descendant, I need you to understand something.

M: Yes?

Y: I need you to understand how much you care.

M: But—

Y: You say that I’m fucking up your life. That I’m the reason that your eggs keep getting stolen, and that I’m the reason you’ve lost everything. But look around you. 

M: I don’t get it.

Y: You are here. And you are guarding the hen house and maybe you didn’t ask for this, but there are things that we are meant for that we simply do not get to choose.

M: You don’t understand. I just want to farm in peace. Why can’t I have peace? Just do my work and take care of my own shit.

Y: If you did that, if you just minded your own business and kept your head down, you would be looking down at the ground. You wouldn’t be who you are. And that would be a tragedy. I’m not fucking up your life, Descendant. You’re simply not walking around with your eyes cast down. There’s nothing fucked up about that.

M: Yeah, well, it doesn’t feel like a choice.

Y: Maybe not. Look, I know we both got screwed. I’ve been there. Believe me. I’ve been where you are. I know people hate it when you don’t look down, when you refuse to look away. We were not meant to see what they do not want us to see.

M: Okay.

Y: You can’t change what you are.

M: What happened to you?

Y: It’s not important.

M: But I wanna know. How can you be at peace? How can I bring you peace?

Y: That’s not your job, Descendant. You were literally born to fuck shit up.

M: Whatever that means. 

Y: You find peace within yourself. That’s why you can survive anything. You’re the little tiny sailboat in the middle of the storm. You have your own center.

M: You know, I really wondered whether you were going to talk like Yoda, and honestly, that would be preferable.

Y: Ha! Good luck with that.

M: What advice do you have for me?

Y: That’s it. I, your revered and holy ancestor don’t have anything else for you. Someone must have asked the gods for sight and you were the answer.

M: Great.

Y: It’s a heavy burden, I know.

M: Should I care less?

Y: Are they your chickens or not? 

M: They are.

Y: And there’s the answer right there. Anything else? 

M: Um, thanks for coming?

Y: You’re welcome. Keep fucking shit up. It’s what the ancestors would want.

M: Are you just saying that?

Y: Yes… No. I know I’M being entertained, and that’s all that really matters.

M: Glad to be of service.

Y: As you should be. It’s pretty boring out here. I get my kicks where I can.

M: Fair enough. Have a good rest or whatever.

Y: Keep your head up.

M: I will.

Y: Say hi to your mom for me.

M: Will do. Bye.

Maylin Tu grew up in Portland, Maine, and Beijing, China. After attending Bible college in Fresno, California, and getting her BA in English from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, she settled in Los Angeles, where she writes about religion, identity, and pop culture.