This is the third in a series of guest posts on the Navajo Beauty Way here on Smoky Talks …. I asked half a dozen friends of mine, each an artist in their own way, to read the Navajo poem, The Beauty Way, and talk about how it applies to their work and their lives. (The series begins, and you can read the poem, here.) My guest today is Kehinde Adeola Ayeni, MD, a public health physician, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who was born in Nigeria, and now lives in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Here, she writes about how the Beauty Way is illustrated in the birth of a child.
Streaming from the Divine
Each time a child is born, the world is created for the first time is a thought that struck me a while ago, while looking at my newborn niece. My brother had called at about 2:00 a.m. as he and his wife set off for the hospital; I had bundled my sleeping children into the car and gone to meet them there, arriving from opposite ends of town. We were allowed to see the baby barely minutes after she was delivered, still covered with vernix caseosa and the umbilical cord clamped. My sister-in-law had been shown the baby, of course, but she hadn’t had the chance to examine every part of her yet, counting her fingers and toes to make sure they were all there. The doctor and nurses were still with her, but she anxiously shouted across to me, “Sister Kehinde, does she have lots of hair?”
Does she have lots of hair? Why would that be the most important thing you want to know about your newborn baby? I wondered, but she had just pushed a big baby out of her, and she was entitled to her anxiety and what she did with it. I reassured her that the baby had lots of hair on her head, and she lay back down.
My children suggested that she looked like one parent or the other as we stared at this new arrival from heaven.
Each time a child is born, the world is created for the first time, and it is not only because the child will come to see the world in her own unique way, which would be hers and hers only though there are zillions of people in the world, and so she would be one in a zillion, and this unique way of hers will be based on the combination of her temperament and how it will react with her environment of her home and parents first and then of her larger world, depending on where that is. But also because she has brought to this world great treasures which have never before been seen on earth and which will never be seen again, and it is hers and hers alone, and I think that this is the question we are all called to answer.
Zenani is a name which, in Xhosa, means, What have your brought to the world? It is Nelson Mandela’s daughter’s name, and in his book, Long Walk to Freedom, he writes, “What have you brought to the world?—a poetic name that embodies a challenge, suggesting that one must contribute something to society.” It is a name one does not simply possess, but has to live up to.
The Xhosa do realize that a newborn child coming into the world did not come empty handed. That child has brought wonderful gifts from the divine to the inhabitants of the world. The Yorubas (my ethnic group) have the same belief, and believe the way to bring these treasures out of the child and assist him in making his contribution to the world lies solely in the names you give the child. Naming a child is a very big deal that involves the oldest member of the extended family meditating for seven days, to confer with the ancestors in the spirit world about the names for the child and at the end of the seven days, the child is given as many as eight to ten names, and each is a metaphor to actualize the potentials in the child.
A patient, who is an artist, described to me how she felt when her husband, who had been away at a medical conference for a week, returned, and she said, “I looked at him and at that moment I truly felt what Rumi meant when he said, ‘Hundreds of thousands of impressions from the invisible are waiting to come through you.’ I looked at my husband, and it was as if a portion of eternity was expressed through this man, and tears came to my eyes. He was so beautiful, and it was like I was seeing him for the first time and I said to myself, this is why I love him.”
I love people and I strive to practice Alex Haley’s injunction, “Find good and praise it.” I am always looking for that which is streaming from the divine in each person, and I have found a lot of gold in most people. Of course, some people work hard at hiding the beauty that is in them, but I had enjoyed the glint in my father’s eyes on seeing me, and his affect of dismissing what appeared to be impossible so that he could focus on what brings him joy. It has been described as simple-mindedness, but to me it was gold. I love the hugeness of my daughter’s bright eyes and how at her birth she had stared hopefully at me with them. I love my son’s carefree smile that transforms his face into that of what I imagine and angel to look like. I look at my friends, most of them middle aged as I am, and I feel warm all over when I see how maturity has enriched their beauty. Originally from the tropics, I am now living in a landscape with four seasons, and each is as gorgeous as the next one. I haven’t been able to get over the lushness and how green the foliage has been this spring, and it’s as if I am seeing spring for the first time. I can go on and on about all that is beautiful around me, and they number into the infinity.
But there has to be balance. I have had my own challenges of deserts against the lushness of the foliage in my psyche, but the divine is so generous, and it gives you beauty even in that too. A few months ago, I had a dream that I was visiting my mother’s village of origin, and though the dream informed me that was the landscape, it was different. It was a beautiful island surrounded by calm and sweet water, and I felt at peace. On awaking, I told myself that I had visited Avalon (as in Mists of the Avalon). I meditated on this dream for days and concluded that it was an attempt to transform the mother that I have into a mother who appreciated me and welcomed what I had streamed from the divine, but it was alien to her and her people.
I didn’t transform her, because I cannot; she has the right to her ways of experiencing the world. But I transformed her origins—that which existed before her—and in that way, I went past and beyond her and got the beauty that should have been mine.
Kehinde Ayeni, MD, is the mother of two children. She is the author of two novels: Our Mothers’ Sore Expectations and Feasts of Phantoms.
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In my novel, The Storyteller’s Bracelet, Sun Song recites The Beauty Way prayer when she is feeling lost, abused, and hopeless. It gives her the strength she needs to fight for her individuality, her cultural heritage, for life itself. It empowers her in a way that took even me, the author of her story, by surprise. I invite you to read the first four chapters of The Storyteller’s Bracelet free by clicking here. If you enjoy the read, I invite you to buy the book and learn what happens to Sun Song and Otter. Buy links can be found here. Thank you in advance.