Sunday, January 19, 2014
The new snowfall Thursday night and related drifting are the reason Seamus and I were out early Friday morning shoveling the driveway. I wanted to return, in a small way, the favor to my husband, who had shoveled the driveway two and three times a day the week before so I could come and go to work.
I didn't mind. Simple, mundane tasks like shoveling can be nice sometimes and give space for thought.
I've spent the middle three days of this week looking into the past, and researching, studying, puzzling over, and sleuthing out details about my ancestors. The focus of my research was on my grandmother, Edith, and her parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, and their lives.
I can't look back without the sense that I am reading an old and hidden story, most of it lost, that leads to me, and beyond. This story is full of drama, pitfalls, tragedy, human mistakes, compassion, community, faith in God, and hope in the future. It is replete with sacrifice and loss, heartache and courage, and except for its place in history, is not so different from ours. My mind is full of images of many hardworking people, dirt on their hands, with little time for frivolous pursuits, and those people's children, encouraged to study, and to learn to read, write, and master a skill or trade. Some of those who came coursed oceans as young children. Others were from older generations and included grandparents, sometimes widowed. Many traveled steerage class to come to America with the hope that they could do better for their children and families. Some who came couldn't read or write themselves, but their children would learn. They lived in neighborhoods with others of similar background to soften the strangeness they must have felt as foreigners in a new world. They learned skills, labored into their later years, suffered injuries at work, buried many children, and likely struggled to accept the circumstances they couldn't change. They nursed family members in their homes, dealt with the infirm and needy, lived as extended families, prepared meals, and worked hard to make a living.
I stand on their shoulders.
As I shoveled snow from the driveway, I imagined this simple task they they, too, would have done often in their cold climate, to clear steps and pathways.
I leaned into that very small connection. And the sun rose again in the eastern sky, casting a pink light on my work.
These ancestors invested in their children and in a future that is mine today. Their DNA is my DNA, their physical features are mingled to give me my physical features. All of us connected, and separated only by our time in history. I reached back to them, and they reached forward to me, our hands not quite touching.
As the sun rises again today, I wonder what it means, --this history of known and unknown ancestors who are me today. When I study, I am not hoping to find rich or famous people. I'm hoping to find the meanings, and identity that makes us who we are, that make me who I am. These people, only a few generations ago, are they already forgotten?
There is a place outside of time, outside of pain, outside of imperfection, where we are known, we are whole, and we are one. History is only a clue about our origins.
We should hold hands, because deep within us we know that we are all brothers.
(Sunrise photos from January 17, 2014.)