Among Native Americans, honoring your ancestors is a long-standing practice. Every powwow, every sacred ceremony and every tribute to the creator — they all begin and end with remembering those who have come before. There's a sharing of the knowledge and comfort that they're up there in the great beyond, pulling for you and finding ways to guide you when you need help.
Native or not, at the very least, we all owe our ancestors a certain amount of respect. After all, it was their love and great determination to thrive that got us where we are today. I, for one, will go out of my way to make sure I remain grateful in remembering these sacrifices — all of them — from 14 different nationalities. Understanding their hardships helps me realize who I am today and what my blood has recorded within my veins.
We all must answer the question of who we are meant to be. And like in a tapestry that gets woven over the years of our lives, each and every thread is a contribution that helps us find our way.
I think of my native ancestor Jesse Brock, who fought for this country in the Revolutionary War. He was a documented Cherokee Indian. I can't help but wonder if he knew the fate his own people would face when more than 400 treaties were broken and the land he fought for was eventually taken away. I wasn't there, but it's in my blood; I can feel it.
I also think of my Japanese ancestor who fought with the forces of Oda Nobunaga during the shogun wars of the Sengoku period. Is there a reason that I have seven black belts today and still can't stop after 30 years?
One of my ancestors was the offspring of King Edward I of England. His notorious battles to preserve his religious beliefs with a "long shank" are well-documented. His blood trickled down into my grandmother's lineage — something even she did not know.
I also have an ancestor who married a slave woman. Her ancestors arrived in the New World chained to the bottom of a boat. It affects me and the way I think because it's in my blood.
As a martial arts instructor, I keep all this in mind with every new student who walks through the door. They all have their own history, and they all are here for a reason. That reason more than likely will entail me contributing my wisdom and knowledge to help them complete their own tapestry of life, just as my own instructor helped me with mine.
Therefore, with every class, regardless of how many students show up, you will find me teaching to the best of my ability. I don't get discouraged and I won't hold back because I, too, am being recorded in their DNA experience. Will what I do in some way be passed down in their generations to come, as well? I firmly believe that the people who impact us always will be a part of us.
That's why I dance hard at powwows and write about my founding fathers who have risked their lives to preserve their way of life and the lives of their offspring. They considered me worth the risk and sacrifice. And I am forever indebted to remembering them.
My stories documented by my own DNA are endless. Many of them I will never know about, but whatever my ancestors did, it must have worked — because here I am. I think of that often when I am faced with a challenge in life. Like those before me, sometimes I can only do the best I can and wait to see what happens next. But being the best version of myself was the way of my ancestors, and it has to be my way, too, for the good of my own generations to come. Perseverance: May we live it and teach it every day.
To contact Karen Eden, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Facebook group "The Eden Assignment."