September 6th, 2020

Years ago, my parents had a formal dining room in their house. That meant the room was never used. It was more of a shrine than anything else. Besides a large, heavy table in the center of the room, there were numerous black and white photos scattered about. These framed pictures were of various relatives, most of them long dead. Many of the photos were from weddings, or from other significant life events. I could recognize some of the faces in the frames. I did not feel like I knew any of the people well. Some of them I didn’t know at all.

I remember asking my father once about the people in the pictures. I asked him if he had ever written down anything about their lives. He shrugged and said, “No”.

I remember my parents meticulously putting together a family tree on a large sheet of paper. I was quite young then. The family tree did not mean much to me at the time, because it was just a list of names connected by carefully drawn lines. I knew very few of the people, and I still don’t.

Both the photo collection and the family tree were useless to me. I can find the faces and names of my ancestors, but very few histories. These men and women are, and always will be, strangers to me, and that is a shame.

The life stories of these individuals are of interest to me, because I want to understand who they were, so that I can understand who I am. Patterns of behavior persist through the generations. These patterns affect me, they affect my children, and they will affect my grandchildren. But I don’t know enough to see these trends. I can’t see the connections.

Maybe I just haven’t lived long enough. Age is no guarantee of wisdom, but a person can learn a few things if they pay attention.

My father’s mother lived well into her nineties. She had wisdom. Her mind was sharp until the end of her life, and she had seen enough to recognize the patterns. She was able to discern what was important in life and what was not. I could go to her for advice, and know that it was based on her observation and experience. She understood.

I am only in my sixties. I see events unfolding in the family in ways that are similar to what happened years ago, but I don’t know why the cycles are repeating. Is it all hereditary? Is it genetic? Is it environmental?

I would like to understand. Maybe I will, or maybe I won’t . Perhaps it doesn’t even matter.

Maybe it just is.

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