Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EST November 2nd 2020

Twenty-nine people from Canada, India, CT, GA, MA, ME, NC, NJ, NY, and PA participated in this evening’s slow-looking at La Ofrenda (1914) a painting by Mexican modernist Saturnino Herrán. The abundance of gold-orange flowers first called our attention: “The artist’s palette challenges nature.” Were the flowers a family’s harvest, which they were transporting to market on a small flat-bottomed boat? What is in the background? There appears to be a parade of boats (trajineras) filled with people. Where are all these people going? Paying close attention to the structure of the boat provided clues to handwork in a bygone era: “These are the people who do the work…they are ordinary people earning their living.” As always, there are as many perspectives in our room as there are people. We all bring our own lenses to this painting: are we in Thailand?

As we moved to look at the characters, we wondered about the relationship between these figures. To many, they do not appear to look at each other or be in conversation: “They are in their own minds.” and “There are two levels at the same time – collective narrative and individual narrative.”

We began to look closely at the faces of the six people on the boat in the foreground. The young girl in the lower right-hand corner looks directly at the viewer. The others are in profile and, indeed, do not seem to look at each other. There are people of each gender and every age. Everyone carries something (a baby, flowers, a paddle) except the oldest man, dressed in black, who leans against a wooden structure in the center of the boat. Are those wings on his right shoulder? Is he confessing, grieving, praying?

Our attention turned to the white-robed man in the center. Is he the father of the young girl?

He has a soft, compassionate look. A religious figure? Is he the Good Shepherd? He has a staff in his right hand and is holding a bunch of flowers (the cempasúchitl/marigolds) on his left shoulder where, in icons, there is usually a lost lamb. Or is he Charon ferrying souls across the River Styx? Is this a group portrait of the living or the dead? In which direction are they traveling?

We then noticed that the paddle lies across one of the men’s shoulder. No one is rowing. These are  human beings, of different genders and stages of development, who are drifting on the river of life to their final destination. They honor and remember; they are honored and remembered.

Intertextually, the 2017 animated film “Coco” came to mind, with its music and story depicting the belief that, as long as someone remembers them, the dead are able to cross from the other side and visit the living on All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

Before we moved to reflective writing, we looked at a self-portrait of the artist as well as a photograph of a 2020 Day of the Dead altar in Mexico, which is decorated with these brilliant, gold-orange flowers, photographs of relatives who have died, their favorite food and drink.

Writing to the prompt: “Write about honoring the ancestors” brought writing which continued our conversation about connections between the living and the dead.

The first piece, which was read aloud, suggested that we honor the dead with our lives. There was mention of rituals such as lighting candles, before three questions were addressed to the dead: “Do you see me? Are you proud? What would you do?”

We often remind each other how each viewer brings to an image “the beholder’s share”—the times and places in which we find ourselves, our lived experiences, exposure to art, literature, music, our desires, beliefs, rituals and traditions. Here on the eve of the national election in the United States, the passion that many people have for the right to vote–as a way for our voices to be heard–made its way into the final reading. With a strong rhythm building, in the third piece, a stirring march messaged: honoring the ancestors is a way to honor the future. The repetition of “I vote because I can” elicited deeply felt responses from other participants. One commented on the sound, “the rhythm like the lub dub of a strong heart.” Some remembered the stories their parents told of why their families immigrated to the United States. Still others, in this international group that has been gathering on Zoom these past seven months: “We are watching,” providing the important function of witnessing that which many of us are experiencing with great anxiety and uncertainty.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Wednesday, November 4th at 12pm EST, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


Saturnino Herrán –
La ofrenda (1913)

4 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EST November 2nd 2020

  1. Ruth

    Write about honoring the ancestors: one word VOTE
    I will vote to preserve the freedoms they came here for
    I will vote because they can’t
    I will vote for the rights they did not always have
    I will vote because that is what they would have done
    I will vote because not voting is not an option
    I will vote because I am here to speak for them since they are not longer able to
    I will vote because it is the right thing to do
    I will vote so others don’t have to take on the battles that they already fought
    I will vote so those who come after me can carry on this tradition by honoring me and my generation
    I vote because I can and because I have to

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Honoring the ancestors~~~

    I stand here in the dark of night remembering those who have walked the face of the earth
    but have left me here.
    Some lived difficult lives
    but lived them with honor and piety.
    If only I could talk with them,
    to ask of their travels to the world beyond,
    to ask them to watch over me
    as I travel this path on earth.

    They have taught me so much,
    to have love of neighbor,
    to have respect for all life.
    To them, I owe my entire being,
    the very core of me.

    And so I say, thank you
    which seems so little.
    I will try to live the best life possible
    in honor of those who have come before me.

    May you find peace in your eternal home.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. al3793

    I can only imagine ancestors that preceded Grandma and Grandpa.
    They came from a peasant town, nestled on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean.
    They were married 73 years and Grandma lived in three centuries. What she must have seen!
    And she and Grandpa were able to conjure some pretty good fights up to the end.

    But they were noble people.
    Kind and generous. Proud, rooted
    in family, in love.
    Grandpa used to say, “Andrea, I no hava mucha money,
    but I’ma richina love.”

    They taught me to embrace what was important…
    time together, unambiguous hugs, table ministry, hard work, Eucharist,
    bowling the bocce ball hard on Sunday afternoon,
    arms raising a glass, as beer spewed in celebration of the pallino’s kiss.

    Remembering, celebrating, honoring
    those who came before.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia D.

    A House Called Tomorrow
    Alberto Ríos – 1952-

    You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
    You are a hundred wild centuries

    And fifteen, bringing with you
    In every breath and in every step

    Everyone who has come before you,
    All the yous that you have been,

    The mothers of your mother,
    The fathers of your father.

    If someone in your family tree was trouble,
    A hundred were not:

    The bad do not win—not finally,
    No matter how loud they are.

    We simply would not be here
    If that were so.

    You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
    With this knowledge, you never march alone.

    You are the breaking news of the century.
    You are the good who has come forward

    Through it all, even if so many days
    Feel otherwise. But think:

    When you as a child learned to speak,
    It’s not that you didn’t know words—

    It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
    And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.

    From those centuries we human beings bring with us
    The simple solutions and songs,

    The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
    All in service to a simple idea:

    That we can make a house called tomorrow.
    What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,

    Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
    To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.

    Look back only for as long as you must,
    Then go forward into the history you will make.

    Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
    Make us proud. Make yourself proud.

    And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
    Hear it as their applause.

    Liked by 1 person

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