Excerpt: “Lose Your Mother”.

The following is an excerpt from the painful yet quite compelling and necessary read, Lose Your Mother [link] by Saidiya Hartman.

Standing in the dark recesses of the holding cell for female slaves, I felt both the pull and the impossibility of regaining the country lost. It has never been more clear than it was then: return is what you hold on to after you have been taken from your country, or when you realize that there is no future in the New World, or that death is the only future. Return is the hunger for all the things you once enjoyed or the yearning for all the things you never enjoyed. It bears the impress of everything that has been taken from you. It is the last resort of the defeated. It is the diversion of suicides and dreamers. It is the elsewhere of insurrectionists. It is the yearning of those who can “summon filial love for persons and places they have never known.” Like the myth of the mother, the promise of return is all that remains in the wake of slavery. If you close your eyes, you can imagine yourself once again safe in her arms. With a rifle pointed at your chest, you can travel home.

Every generation confronts the task of choosing its past. Inheritances are chosen as much as they are passed on. The past depends less on “what happened then” than on the desires and discontents of the present. Strivings and failures shape the stories we tell. What we recall has as much to do with the terrible things we hope to avoid as with the good life for which we yearn. But when does one decide to stop looking to the past and instead conceive of a new order? When is it time to dream of another country or to embrace other strangers as allies or to make an opening, an overture, where there is none? When is it clear that the old life is over, a new one has begun, and there is no looking back? From the holding cell, was it possible to see beyond the end of the world and to imagine living and breathing again?

The rebels, the come, go back, child, and I are all returnees, circling back to times past, revisiting the routes that might have led to alternative presents, salvaging the dreams unrealized and defeated, crossing over to parallel lives. The hope is that return could resolve the old dilemmas, make a victory out of defeat, and engender a new order. And the disappointment is that there is no going back to a former condition. Loss remakes you. Return is as much about the world to which you no longer belong as it is about the one in which you have yet to make a home.

I shall return to my native land. Those disbelieving in the promise and refusing to make the pledge have no choice but to avow the loss that inaugurates one’s existence. It is to be bound to other promises. It is to lose your mother, always.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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