108: Mampanyin’s Permission (Yaa Gyasi)

                “People think they are coming to me for advice, but really they come to me for permission. If you want to do something, do it.”
                -Mampanyin, a wise woman in Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing

                The man Mampanyin’s talking to isn’t thinking about some crazy, scatterbrained scheme: he’s thinking about the hurts around him, and about how to make his little corner of the world a little better. He’s been thinking for a long time. And he has an idea. “If you want to do something,” she says, “do it.”
                I think Mampanyin may be right: most of what we need from the wisewomen of our lives is permission. Permission to try: to start working with what’s in front of us. Permission to get hurt. Permission to believe, and hope, and be disappointed, and cry, and hope again. Permission to not know everything, and to learn.
                That reminds me of another story. In the movie, Moana gets caught between the call she hears toward the open sea, and her father’s insistence that she stay on their island. When the waves frighten her, when they hurt her, she makes a sudden, harsh decision: it’s time to let go of the open sea. It’s time to silence that part of her heart. Moana expects her grandmother to stop her, to talk her out of it, but grandmother just says, “Okay.” Grandmother wades into the ocean, dancing. Somehow Moana can’t walk away. Turning back, she asks,
                “Is there something you want to tell me?”
                Grandmother smiles.
                “Is there something you want to hear?”
                Moana knew that the decision she’d just made couldn’t be right. She knew that giving up her heart, giving up the call toward the ocean, would be giving up too much. She knew all that. Sometimes it hurt to know it. Sometimes she didn’t know how to carry it–but all of it was hers, and in her heart of hearts, she was finding her way already. That’s way she asked her grandmother to stop her. That’s why she said, “Is there something you want to tell me?”
                For Moana, the something she had to hear was the story of her ancestors. It was the knowledge that she wasn’t betraying her people, but following them in a way that was also leading them. It was permission to be who she was, and give the gifts she had. Lately I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been wondering about these two wisewomen. I think we can all go to Mampanyin. I think Grandmother hears you. She smiles. She asks,
                “Is there something you want to hear?”

One thought on “108: Mampanyin’s Permission (Yaa Gyasi)

  1. “Fear’s greatest weapon is its ability to blind one to anything. In its presence, we forget there are others to consider, things to save besides ourselves.”

    ― Jonathan Carroll


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