Saturday, August 30, 2014

where did I come from?

My neighbor Joe and I slowed down a little yesterday and met in the street that separates our houses. Our meetings are never deliberate, but when they happen, they are pleasant enough.

Joe said he was just back from a couple of vacation months in Canada. He was packing the car to return for a couple of more months after which he and his wife were headed to Sicily and a trip that would help Joe fill in some of the blanks in his lineage.

Joe sounded enthusiastic about the small villages near Palermo that he had already researched: Relatives reaching back in time had lived there. Imagine that! Imagine knowing where you came from, who your forbears were, and possible common threads of interest or profession might exist! In his retirement, Joe seemed to have found direction and purpose, partly in a lineage investigation and partly in an eventual plan to move -- perhaps to Kenya -- where he could put his Christian convictions to work helping the poor.

Mostly our conversation centered on lineage and Joe's gathering of information. Joe obviously took it seriously. I had a hard time being quite so enthusiastic. As I said to Joe, I had done similar research in the past and invariably ran into a brick wall: To know where or when someone lived and to know what they did for a living and the offspring they sired ... well, it's interesting up to a point, but then I always get stuck wondering what a person's favorite color might have been; what cheese excited his/her palate; whether they ever tried bigamy or robbed a bank; what made them angry or sad; what a best friend did for a living; what vanity was most appealing ... you know, the human stuff.

I can sympathize with a clinging to lineage, but in the end, I am not interested. If you knew where you came from, what, precisely, would you know?

This is not so suggest that lineage be ignored. It is merely to suggest it does not hold much water when adored.

Yes indeed -- mother, father, sister, brother and on an on into the unfathomable past ... and the toilet bowl still leaks whether the king or scoundrel provides a backdrop. Intellectually, this is fun, perhaps. But I am interested in the personal seriousness anyone might be willing to apply.

1 comment:

  1. I know what relatives i knew, three out of four grandparents. After that there are rumors, notions of where names come from, etc. But ultimately, my family never cared for itself, they couldn't get along. So when the cabins burned down that consumed the precious clan history's in the family bibles, it seems likely that those bibles were used for kindling. But from what i know of my relatives, well... we don't speak. My forebears fought a feud with themselves, and i won.