I’m letting her dream the way my generation was not capable of. I’m letting her reach for something neither one of us can articulate.”
– The Mother in Diriye Osman’s “Watering The Imagination”
Based on this piece: http://www.okayafrica.com/news/diriye-osman-interview-somali-author/
My father spent four decades in the travel industry and in his later years became an advocate for citizen diplomacy. I asked him why and he replied, “The one thing that we all, no matter what our culture, have in common is that we all want a better world for our children than the one we got ourselves.”
This relative but universal human truth rings loud and clear when listening to the work of Diriye Osman, Somali master storyteller. The audio excerpt below from his collection, Fairytales for Lost Children, recounts the story of a girl whose mother knows she’s gay and chooses to protect her daughter’s privacy – and reject her daughter’s suitors, at the cost of status in community – so that she can sort her love out on her own.
He brings the stories of his own biography – specifically his struggle to come out as gay to his Somali parents – into life through the projection of a fictional-but-real some-other-family. Taking a perspective on his triumph and his pain, he writes a song that all of us can recognize as truer than the mere assemblage of facts. You can feel the history of generations – struggle, love, and revelation – in his speech. They don’t just live through him, but live him, animating him. And what are we, if not the stories moving us? Who notices the spirit of the past as it propels the mind and body?
The power in a story such as this one is in how it renders and conveys the truth of our condition. When Osman waters our imagination, possibilities erupt and blossom. Questions sprout: How can we leave the past behind? How can we clear the present of the residue of suffering? How do we give our children something better than what we were given?
The lesson’s in the story and the telling, both: just as we allow ourselves to heal by taking a perspective on our painful personal experiences, so too can we transcend the cyclical and heritable traumas of our lineages if we distinguish expectations based on cultural conditioning from life as it arises in its endless creativity. Each moment offers us another chance to notice how identifying with our categories – ”Muslim,” ”immigrant,” and “queer,” or “Christian,” “straight,” and “native” – is a habit we can break. The space we give our stories, and our children’s stories, lets them breathe and change; it lets the light and life inhabit us in ways that clinging to the bones of narrative cannot. The new and unexpected enters through the silence that we cultivate, the silence from which every voice and story we’ve inherited arises, and to which they all return.
In life, just as in Osman’s story, there are victories, but there aren’t final victories. Acknowledging this, what we might once have treated as conclusions, as the facts of life, can offer up themselves as yet more questions – poignant, open moments that adorn the path we walk beside the river. The stories that we tell, provisional, aware they’re ever-changing, are the water that we carry, nurturing the flowing generations, moving ceaselessly, not resting in a final answer, celebrating in and through and as the living current of experience, as we wind effortlessly toward the sea.