I have sat through many sumbles where men and women in mourning have shared tales of their lost kin. Almost always this is something that moves everyone present in some way. If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve lost a loved one and you know the pain they are feeling. I’ve even found that formal speech, either in sumble or blót, about our lost kin helps with the grieving process. It was over a year before I spoke about my own father’s passing and until I did, I was haunted by his absence. I was able to finally start to come to terms with it after raising a horn in his honor and speaking well of him. It was difficult beyond measure, as it was when my mother passed as well, but I go through it and began to move on. I’ve also come to notice that we tend to avoid talking about our ancestors in terms of the small, everyday stories. We want those around us to know our admiration for our kin. I think we are doing them, and ourselves, a disservice by focusing only on these “big stories.”
Let me start off by saying that there is a time and place for telling the little stories. That time is when you’re with a smaller group that is more closely related to you. With family is, of course, the obvious time to tell the small stories. Large groups that you don’t really know the majority of people might not be the best time because the intimacy of kinship bonds just isn’t there. If you belong to a group, particularly one that is tightly knit, this is also another good place to speak of kin and tell them your stories as well. Being aware of the time, place, and audience helps make sure we aren’t telling intimate personal stories to people who just won’t appreciate them.
I have found that some people have a deeply negative reaction to telling the little stories during sumble. Those whom I’ve spoken with feel like it somehow lessens the importance of the rite. I couldn’t disagree more. Telling the big stories about our kin reminds us all why we honor them. Telling the little stories reminds us why we miss them, the joy we had with them around, and of our love for them and our shared lives. Telling the big stories tells us what they did. Telling the little stories tells us who they were and how they lived. The big stories give us a framework for viewing them but it is the little stories that fill in the details and bring us closer to them.
This coming Disting I will make my usual offerings to the past matrons of my kin as I always do. This year I plan to make things a little different. I plan to tell at least one little story for all the woman of the family that I can recall. This way I can share my life with those who matter most to me and build those bonds that tie us together.