During a recent Fire Speaks event, Grandfather Fire spoke of the ancestors as those who came before, and how we today benefit from their work, effort, sacrifice, sweat and blood. When they see us sitting around fire, as they once did (whether around a hearth or a candle on a kitchen table), sharing our love and laughter, and also our common human concerns, they see that we are not dismissing the learning they have left us, that their work was not in vain or forgotten. Firekeeper Mai Duong offers this honouring of the gifts her parents left her through their living example.
Fire has been around since the beginning of time. Fire is the great connective energy, connecting us to others, to the living world, to spirit and to our path. I started my path toward becoming a Firekeeper in 2012, but only recently realized that this vocation has been in my blood for a long time and that I had finally listened and followed my heart’s longing.
For the first nine years of my life, my grandparents in Vietnam raised me. My uncle and his wife also lived with us. In Vietnam, most homes had two or three generations under one roof. We always had various people living with us, some for a week and others for years. My father’s first cousin moved in for a while. He tutored me, picked me up from school and was my mentor. My grandparents were retailers and were very entrepreneurial. They raised quails and sold their eggs. Grandpa also made and sold fireworks.
In 1971, I came to Canada to join my parents and siblings and extended family (my mother’s two first cousins and a teenaged second cousin were also living with us). My parents owned a fish-and-chips restaurant and the cousins also worked there. My father was a professor of nuclear physics by day and entrepreneur by night. My parents made Vietnamese shish kabob and sold them in the summer at Exhibition Park. They had an arcade and video stores, just to mention a few of their many enterprises. Dad would have the vision and creativity for new businesses and Mom would be the doer: organizing, setting up and executing his ideas. I’m thankful I inherited all of these traits from my parents.
My father passed in 2014, and my mom passed July 2017. They were married for 55 years. They definitely had their differences. However, there are a few important values that they instilled in their children. Both were extremely generous and giving. We always had many people living in our house, including grandparents and cousins. Our home was like “Welcome House” for many Vietnamese newcomers and immigrants to Toronto. My parents would house them, help them find jobs and homes and get them settled. This taught me a lot about creating community, being inclusive, and helping and serving others. I feel blessed to carry on their teachings.
When Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2007, we decided to move in together and purchased a home suitable for both of our families. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to be closer to my parents in the last ten years, caring for them and paying it forward. What was most precious was that it gave me the chance to heal my relationship with my mother, making amends for what I felt I didn’t have the first nine years of my childhood. I had the opportunity to work things out for myself, to show my appreciation and love to my mother, to learn to accept her unconditionally, to surrender, to forgive and let go of my childhood stories. I realized that she did the best she could. It is a blessing that our children got to live with their grandparents who shared their dreams, stories and wisdom with them.
My parents were ordinary people with extraordinary hearts. They taught me the value of community, how to extend a helping hand to others and to listen to my heart’s wisdom. They are now like ancestors who have been guiding me on my path, leading me to my heart’s longing.
— Mai Duong
Toronto, ON, Canada
October 17, 2018
Mai Duong lives with her husband and their 2 sons, in Toronto, ON (Canada). Besides being a Sacred Fire Firekeeper, she is also Director of Events for the Sacred Fire Community, a Plant Spirit Medicine Healer and produces Motherly Love Kombucha.