Friday, January 8, 2010

Breathing Life Back into My Work, and My Ancestors



Photo Credit: Karen Meyeres


Keeping this project alive all depends on my persistence. There are some days when this project has a life of its own and moves forward without my help (those moments are what I call “the treasures”), and then there are phases when I feel like if I don’t blow life back into my work, it will lose momentum and die. This feeling is particularly apparent when I feel less connected to the Italian language, my research, and the people whom I met in Curinga.


I look at Maria’s face every day on my Blackberry. Her face is a reminder of the amazing journey I have taken thus far. She is the symbol now of what I had originally sought when I crossed the Atlantic looking for my roots in Curinga. She was the biggest of all the treasures, and I was fortunate to hold that treasure in my hand for two weeks before Maria completed her own life journey. How powerful is that? I made it in time to meet Maria, just as her time on Earth was coming to a close.


I look to my Creator for guidance on this one because I could take “the glass is half empty” attitude, but I try my best not to. That is, Jennifer crosses the Atlantic in search of family in the ancestral village of her grandfather. She unexpectedly finds one living relative, Maria Orlando. She meets her, and then Maria dies 1 month after Jennifer returns to the United States. That would be the negative take on this whole incredible experience. And believe me, I have shared my cynical nature with God about this matter. But it doesn’t get me very far.


I look to God for guidance on this experience because my Creator knows how much I long to belong. I struggle quite a bit with the orphan archetype. I sense my “only childness” and I wonder if I will ever come to a place where I can say I belong to a clan who will consider me one of theirs.


But like I said, I seek guidance on this one because it is the card I have picked, and perhaps God wants me to learn something from this experience instead of complaining that my time with Maria was cut short. Maybe God wants to show me that regardless of the size of my family on this Earth, I am really not as alone as I think I am. Don’t ask me why the death of Maria would make me feel less alone, because I don’t know. Maybe it is just that I am more grounded than I was before the trip to Italy? I just know that when I take a step back and get a bird’s eye view, Maria’s passing does not contribute to my sense of being orphaned. The only time I feel the orphan archetype making itself present is when I come down closer to Earth and view life at the micro level. Then I want to be invited to the weddings, then I want to be at the dinner table with everyone, then I wish I had children to call my own.


You probably think I am crazy because life really is about the micro level. It’s what we do every day and it’s about the people who surround us. So, if that’s all life is about, then I should feel sad and despondent, right? Not really. Just sometimes.


If this genealogy project has taught me anything, it has taught me to look at the bigger picture of which I am a piece. I see my intricate family tree, the ancestors and their life choices, and then I see myself as one little branch in that whole tree. The fact that I ended up as an only child, single in adulthood with no children, I know there are a lot worse things that could happen to a person. Besides, we never know what can happen at any given moment in life. Things could change my course and path. What those “things” are, I don’t know yet. I just need to be open to them. Just like Rosa Orlando was when she gave birth to Maria in 1924 as a single woman at 43 years of age.


All I know is that when I do my genealogy work, I don’t feel so alone anymore. Call me strange for being so preoccupied with my deceased ancestors, but there is comfort to be found in this work. There is comfort in knowing that they completed their journey and they probably had it a lot harder than I ever will. There is comfort in knowing that at the end of my road, I will get a great Italian embrace from all these ancestors I discovered on paper and whom I didn’t even get to meet in this lifetime.


Yes, I probably avoid a few nasty family quarrels because I am hanging out with the deceased loved ones instead of growing my own family around me. And remember, when we die, folks only seem to remember the good things about us. So, I don’t complain about anyone. All shortcomings have been forgotten! Grandpa gets the best deal because I never even had a chance to meet him!


In all seriousness though, persistently breathing life into this work is what keep it alive as well as the memory of my ancestors. I feel an obligation to them to be that person who reminds everyone that just because someone is dead doesn’t mean they are gone. Just because we didn’t know our ancestors doesn’t mean we shouldn’t honor them by saying their names and sharing their story with others. We are a part of them as they are a part of us. Alive or dead. Being aware of that very fact and believing it’s true, that is all I really need to assert my place on this Earth in this life God has given me.

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