BY SIN RIBBON
I remember yelling. No, I wanted to yell. I remember standing strong, not letting my feet move even one inch backward. No, I wanted to stand strong. I remember marching home, all the words I wanted to say boiling in the back of my throat until it blistered. No matter how much I had stood up, or relented, was polite and yielding, or insisted, resolution could not be found. Respect was a concept that hovered in my head, intangible though I thrived on it, like oxygen, and like the air that gave me life, I could never trap it and force it to stay with me. I had to hope it would always be present around me.
In my mind were all the shadows of women I’d promised to be, and whenever I relented to tears in those moments of confrontation, their disappointment crushed me. The feeling that plagued me was that I didn’t want to be a man or a woman, just strong. But over the years of being backed into corners, dismissed, and treated as the instigator of conflict instead of a seeker of fairness, I became reticent. I had come to say less and observe. I never backed down when I felt wronged, but I was passed over, swept under. A backbone is a path built of pride, but the destination may not be what you expect.
I found my years steeped in the loneliness of silence. I hid my burdens behind a mask, slicing my feet on eggshells as I crept around the feelings of others. Soon enough, the mask replaces your face, and you forget the sound of your own voice. It’s a mountain I continue to climb, even now, but I do not name the mountain "gender;" I call it “human nature.” The struggle to forge my own identity wages war not just against what society whispers is acceptable and unacceptable of me, but also against the ego that believes it is always right, the hand that takes without concern for others, the fear that one is small and must step on others to be big. My war waged. I had learned from childhood to hide behind couches and underneath beds. Quiet observation kept me alive, so when the thunderous voices of those above me insisted I was wrong or a nuisance, I learned to watch before speaking. I found wisdom in the practice. I honed my perception, but I felt alone. The mask of stoic resolve had become my face.
Over time, the loneliness eats away at you. No, not all at once, but you begin to notice parts of yourself are missing and wonder, suddenly, where they all have gone. I longed to reconnect with my spirit, to the full me that was sleeping underneath the unflinching exterior. But how does one return to a place one has forgotten? Every time I slumped on the couch with my pride tucked between my knees, my eyes wandered to a familiar title on the bookshelf. Even as my worth pooled into dark corners, one text glistened and cried out what is most important.
While far from the mainstream, it’s a book that continues to remind me that I am human, as raw and complex as the cosmos itself: Normandi Ellis’ translation of the Papyrus of Ani, a manuscript also known as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. I’ve found other translations of these ancient hieroglyphs to be too dry and literal, but Ellis’ translation, Awakening Osiris: The Egyptian Book of the Dead, calls forth the universal experience of seeking one’s own soul. She considers it more of a meditation than a translation, however, encouraging readers to ponder the original text as well. Her aim was to reinvigorate the wisdom of the ancients in a new, contemporary light.
The book is divided into numerous brief chapters and is akin to reading a short story anthology with a unifying theme. These funerary texts were written for the dead to aid them in the afterlife. Though the context is grim, the book is unexpectedly a glorious celebration of life rather than a commencement of its end. Ellis clarifies: "Osiris, the god of the dead, is a green god, an image of the seed waiting in the dark to burst forth into renewal...His death and rebirth illuminated the path from darkness to light, from unconsciousness to enlightenment. In that light, I called this book Awakening Osiris for I thought of it as a call to consciousness and spiritual awakening. We are all Osirises." From incantations of becoming birds, reptiles, and plants to the beauty of water itself, each chapter is endowed with humble gratitude and appreciation for life’s wonders. "I am the sun roaring beside two lions named Yesterday and Tomorrow...I am the heir of eternity where water flows."
The chapters speak of life’s splendors and tribulations in haunting, poetic prose. They depict peace in passing on, in watching one’s children grow, in the spirit’s infinity. There are things to be gleaned from chapters such as "Not Dying a Second Time," the title and contents expressing the importance of pursuing one’s light and remaining true to it. "I am the sun on the horizon. I am the song, not the lyre. I will not die a second time. I am coming. I will not pass away." The suggestion is that, in giving into pain or allowing fear to consume oneself, she succumbs to a true death—the death of the soul—whereas following one’s heart unifies her existence with the cycle of life. Sunlight and music are representations of the abstract and untouchable, yet they surround and consume us with warmth and emotion, just as the memory of a loved one remains.
I discovered the book when a friend shared an excerpt from the chapter, "Becoming the Phoenix," several years ago. I was struck by its illumination, its purity. Expecting a description of a fictional firebird, instead I found an uncompromising celebration of dying and rebirth, of laughing in the face of endings, and of welcoming life’s obstacles without hesitation. Change is the aspect of living that demands the most of us, calling us to stretch and suffer in the wake of personal growth. "Becoming the Phoenix" testifies to these necessary hurdles while attesting to the reader that her inner fire is eternal. "Generation after generation, I create myself. It is never easy. Long nights I waited, lost in myself, considering the stars. I wage a battle against the darkness, against my own ignorance, my resistance to change, my sentimental love for my own folly...I lose and find my way over again." The words continue to remind me that I can do everything over, that it is never the end. The glory of falling and overcoming can be a way of life. "I am the god in the world in everything, even in darkness. If you have not seen me there, you have not looked. I am the fire that burns you, that burns in you." It was then that I learned to look.
Ellis’ translation calls for action from its readers: to embark on the path of introspection. "What I hate is ignorance, smalless of imagination, the eye that sees no farther than its own lashes. All things are possible." The text invites us, instills us to believe in the world our heart created, and when the terrors of the night are set upon us, to be grateful for their lesson and rejoice in conquering them. "We agreed to know sorrow in exchange for joy, to know death in exchange for life." No chapter speaks of beginnings more than "Becoming the Child," the words infusing the very meaning they encourage. "I am a child, the seed in everything, the rhythm of flowers, the old story that lingers." Drifting through these pages, it would be difficult not to imagine oneself with unlimited strength and resolve. The whispers of the dead transcend time to share the universal message of being.
The book speaks of Ra, the sun god, and other Egyptian gods but paints them as faraway dreams, waiting for our return when our eyes are closed. They are not portrayed as looming creators hovering over our shoulders to chastise our sins. More abstract concepts, they are buried in the attributes they represent, empowering the living through the light of the sun, the stones beneath our feet, the breath swelling in our lungs. Ellis clarifies that the Egyptian word for god differs from the Western interpretation with their understanding being that of a spiritual essence or principle. This definition is likely why the consistent message throughout Awakening Osiris is that the gods are within us.
The most inspiring chapter to me is "Becoming a Light in the Darkness." It speaks of trusting the wisdom within, the beauty of one’s flesh sewn to bone, and the unity of mind and heart to body. Its message is that no matter how dark the path may become when all hope is absent, light remains within. "I have known terrors in the night, eaters of flesh, the teeth of evil. I have known anger and hatred, more terrible even by day because they were unexpected. And I learned to relax in the jaws of death...and let the world go on. I find joy in the advent of stars, in the song rising out of darkness. My heart fills with the spirit of wind, a great sail that carried the body home." The chapter evokes the secret desires that we all seek, that of contentment with oneself in a place one has built and belongs.
Awakening Osiris is a celebration of all dark aspects of life and the capacity we possess to overcome them. As Ellis stated, we are all Osirises, each with the ability to create ourselves again and again on our path towards spiritual truth. Through years of research, she amassed such a powerful message, one she believed the world should have.
At the precipice of these words, I return to the person I want to be. I remember the fire that no one can extinguish, the gods that rest within me. No matter what befalls my journey, when I return to this book, I recall that we are all made of the same thing, each of us seeking happiness and struggling to grasp it. From those who have lost their way to those who have twisted their minds into things we hesitate to call human, we are all searching for the light. That perspective melts my fears away, expands me beyond the cultural confines of woman and reconnects me with the human that is becoming. There, beyond all the burdens, was the person I knew I could be, laughing at the fire.
I return to this knowledge, over and over, to remind myself that my voice is still within me. No matter how far I wander in search of the words, I keep fighting to break the silence.
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Sin Ribbon is a storyteller on page, canvas and screen—her work culminated from poetry, screenplays, films and paintings. An eclectic blend, she draws from the philosophical and spiritual to spin existential tales of encouragement and consequence. Her works originate from the caverns of introspection and explore issues of identity, origin, loss and depression, and the quest for meaning. You can find her art on her website at https://sinribbon.com and her narrative podcast, 'In Her Burning: A Surreal Diary,' on iTunes.