advent journal: ghosts and ancestors


After I finished writing last night, I was still restless even though I was exhausted. So I decided to watch Springsteen on Broadway, now that it is on Netflix. Once I got started, I had a hard time turning it off.

I’ve been a fan of the Boss for a long time. His first album came out my senior year in high school. I have seen him in concert seven or eight times and never been disappointed. As much as I like to rock, I think he is at his best in some of his more acoustic work, so the Broadway show is right up my alley. It pulled me for another reason—the stories. The performance is less concert than a one-person show. He talked a lot about his family, and about his father in particular, which is part of the reason I stayed up late, I think. My dad has been on my mind. No, on my heart.

In the introduction to “Long Time Comin’,” Bruce talked about his dad showing up unannounced at his house in LA just weeks before Bruce’s first child was born. He and his father had not seen each other in a long time. Bruce talked about them sitting down to talk and his dad opening up in ways he had not. The he said,

We are ghosts or we are ancestors. We either lay our mistakes and our burdens upon them and haunt them, or we assist them in laying those old burdens down and we free them from the chains of our own flawed behavior and, as ancestors, walk alongside them and we assist them in finding their own way and some transcendence.

My father on that day was petitioning me for an ancestral role in my life after being a ghost for a long long time. It was the greatest moment in my life with my dad. And it was all that I needed.

As much as I have been thinking about Dad, the story didn’t send me back into those memories, other than to be grateful once more that my father and I worked hard to find each other. He is not a ghost to me. But as one who was not called to have children of my own, the Boss’s words made me think about the legacy of my generation, particularly as I watch the difficulty we are having in passing the baton to the generations following. We don’t know how to share. We don’t know how to let go of the power. We are not good at learning the lessons of aging. (That’s right, I’m looking at you, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.) We are setting ourselves up to be ghosts rather than ancestors.

I look at friends in Durham who are running their own businesses and feeding people and caring for one another and working hard to build an encouraging and supportive city, then I look at the authors I am working with who are committed to a life of faith and inclusivity, and then I listen to some of my peers denigrate the millennial generation for their “participation trophies” and I think we—the Baby Boomers—have let our pride and our greed get the best of us. And yes, I realize that is a generalization and there are people my age doing good things. Yet, we were the generation that took to the streets in the Sixties and Seventies, that came of age in the Civil Rights Era and the Great Society, and then became beholden to our balance sheets.

This wasn’t a scheduled rant on my part.

When I heard Bruce say his dad had driven cross-country to petition him “for an ancestral role in my life after being a ghost for a long long time,” I wondered how my generation might do that to those who will be here long after we are gone. I don’t want to haunt them with war and debt and greed. I want to be an ancestor that supports and encourages, and also repents.



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