I had a visit this past weekend from a former boyfriend of mine. It was the first time I’d seen him in over four years, although we’ve kept in touch throughout. He was traveling past my city with his wife and his young daughter. I was so excited to meet both of these beautiful souls for the first time. But the experience was also a bittersweet one, in some ways. Their visit brought back many memories. There are good things to remember, and there are bad things to remember, know what I mean?
I went to bed Sunday night after their visit with a certain hollow, sad feeling in my chest. I remembered it well from the period after we’d first broken up, my boyfriend and I. That feeling of a dream, once cherished, now withheld. I used to ask myself, back in those days: “What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t he choose me?”
On Sunday night, happy for him and his life, content and at peace with the knowledge that we’d both made our choices, and could never go back – not wanting to go back, if it came to that – I asked myself: “How did I end up alone? How did this happen?” I looked at his beautiful (and reassuringly imperfect) life, and suddenly wished mine had traversed a similar path. He followed his dream. He’s a professional opera singer now, in Europe. He has a family of his own. And when I compared my own life to his, mine felt lacking. Incomplete.
I know better these days than to dwell on beliefs that make me feel crummy. So I choose to no longer believe that I need to be in a romantic relationship. I choose to no longer believe that I deserve children of my own, and a house, and a white picket fence, and the career of my dreams. And yet… and yet…
I am convinced there is something to be gained – some wealth to be mined – from spending more time with these thoughts, in this heartspace of loss and regret. I’m reminded of the Akan word “sankofa,” which I first learned when I began working for The Nathaniel Dett Chorale in 2009.
Sankofa means to “go back and get it.” It symbolizes “taking from the past what is good and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress through the benevolent use of knowledge.”1
There was a delicious, shivery synchronicity in my discovery of this word in 2009, because its symbol is a bird turning its head backwards – often to find or protect an egg resting on its back. Three years before I learned of sankofa, I had drawn a picture of a bird in one of my art journals, with its head turned backwards. The image puzzled me very much at the time. All of my images from this period were spontaneous and unplanned; I believed them to be gifts from my unconscious, from the inner Source or creative spirit that used my body as its instrument. Sometimes I would look at the drawings I made, and I would shake my head in wonder. “What does it mean? Where does it come from?” I would ask myself.
I was gifted with the sankofa drawing in January of 2006 – a couple of months before my future boyfriend would come back into my life (we had met in the winter of 2005, but I hadn’t seen him for nearly a year), and three years almost to the day when I would learn the meaning of the sankofa image.
2006 was a power-full, wonder-full year for me. I was inspired in April (around the time of my 39th birthday) to completely upend my life: close my business, move to another city, be close to the man I loved, begin training in a kind of bodywork, and follow my dreams. Within a year, however, my boyfriend had left me, I had run out of money and had to end my bodywork studies, and eventually I took a job doing administrative work for a nonprofit Afrocentric professional choir, which I held for only a year before moving back to my hometown of London.
“Go back and get it.” Go back and get what?
I’m not sure… but perhaps what I need to go back and get is the joyous, unshakeable belief in my own happiness. The belief in my dreams. The belief that caused my mother to call me, in the summer of 2006 (as I prepared to move two hours down the highway, away from the only life I’d ever known), one of the most courageous people she knew.
Go back and get it, indeed. Michelle Lynne Goodfellow, here I come.
Is there something that you need to go back and get?
Art journal spread Sankofa, January 4, 2006. Wax crayon, pencil and collage on paper.