Sometimes I think about the ones who came before me, without whose lives I would not be here. Like many of you, I have spent hours on ancestry.com, looking for clues. What were the names of those who went before me? Where are they buried? Who has followed in their lineage? As the generations spread out beyond one another, so do the increasing numbers of cousins and second cousins and “once removed” relations.
Google it! I have googled to learn the difference between a cousin once-removed and a second cousin. There is a difference! I have googled my own last name, and the first and last names of my parents and grandparents, looking for clues.
But finding the facts is not the reason I wonder about the ancestors. Of course, the facts are important. The facts reveal where they lived and how they made their living. The facts reveal that they left the land of their birth at some time to immigrate to another land. The facts reveal that one died of cancer, another of a heart attack, another in an accident.
Still, discovering the facts is not the reason I wonder about the ancestors. I am looking for something else. I am looking for answers to why I am here, why I lived my life the way I did – and did not live my life in other ways. I am looking for answers to connect myself to history, to my own personal history, and, in another way, to the history of the world.
I am turning the pages of personal history, looking at pictures and thinking about dates, to find something of myself in that personal history. Why am I here at all? Whose dream is it that I am here? What stroke of history has brought me to this place? What is the larger reason for my being here?
I am turning the pages of personal history, also, to discover my own part, my own culpability in issues of the day. I am searching for the reasons for my own hesitations, worries, choices.
From Family Systems Theory I know that patterns repeat themselves in families. For example, one child is abused as a child, and in the next generation, another child, through remarkably similar conditions, is also abused. In one generation, the eldest son goes to war, and never returns to the family. In the next generation, or the generation after, the eldest son goes to war and never returns to the family. In one generation, one child receives an education, and the others do not. And it is eerily true in the next generation.
Shame runs through families, also. Shame runs through the generations. The shame may be based on different things, but there it is, seen in the eyes and the choices of the children. Shame, it seems, comes to us when someone else tries to rid themselves of their shame. They throw their shame onto us, and then it is ours.
Patterns, also, are part of who we are. In my own searching, I look for those patterns to discover myself. I turn the facts of history over and over, piecing them together like a patchwork fabric, looking at the parts that are beautiful and at those parts that are discordant. I see how I fit into the pattern, and sometimes, although I am looking, I do not see. I cannot see. I am lost in my own searching.
Sometimes, over the years, something I have known forever becomes, in a particular moment, completely clear. The truth – or my truth – about that event or person was always present, but it was not clear in my sight. Then, I knew.
Sometimes, over the years, I shift blame from someone to someone else, as a way to make sense of my own history. Sometimes, I shift blame from someone else to myself, and then I face a new story, a new reality. How, then, do I live?
The ancestors are a source of interest to me, but the ancestors are so much more. They are the reason for my being here, and they are the ones who unconsciously, brought me here. I am their future. They are my past. We are connected, through blood and story and family and time.
I have learned that the ancestors will answer you, if you speak to them. You will hear their voices again, you will see the expression on their faces. You will see these things in the mirror, or you will hear their voice in your own. They will tell you their story, if you speak to them, and then, if you listen.