Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Being a Memory Keeper

Inevitably, parts of my journey involve taking in everything I have learned and processing through it, letting it change the way I see the world and my place in it. Not in large or grandiose ways, but in small ways that alter my perception. I am becoming a Memory Keeper, a library of details of lives that have passed on, bits and pieces of flesh that will tell a larger story when I have collected more of them.
Genealogical research is like putting together a giant puzzle. There are names and people that fit into the lifeline that becomes me. You have to match dates against places, children born and occupations. To help with my tasks, I split my ancestry into four pages, four mysteries to track down. There is my mom’s mother and father and then my dad’s mother and father. It simply made it easier for me to learn the names and histories while I kept track of where they fell in my family tree.
I went upwards, starting at myself, thinking of myself as patient zero, since all paths end in me. I have been going from parents to parents, through direct ancestors and their marriages, one generation at a time. My research is a tree, growing up and splitting into forks with every name found, reaching still for names undiscovered and unknown. I want to know where I came from. I want to know the migration of my people.
In less than a year I found two paths of immigrants who came to settle the new world, one maternal and one paternal, both traced back to the Norman invaders, traced back to the same village of Vikings. From my mother and my father backwards, around the vastness of family trees joining and splitting, merging and separating, I trace them back to the same village, to the same group of Vikings who claimed what would become Normandy. Could those comrade-in-arms have imagined that a thousand years after them their descendants would finally come together again? Is that not a wonder? Is that not a genius way of nature reminding us of our interconnectedness? It humbles me and fills me with peace.
And still… it prods something in my heart. It is sobering. In my research I try to include the names and birth dates of all of the children, not just the ones I am descended from. They flesh out more information about the lives my ancestors lived, how many children they had, how many survived… I made the decision though, for the sake of my sanity, not to delve into the lives of the siblings more than birth or death dates. If they are not a direct line to me, I don’t look into them more. My brain can only hold so many names and dates. But that means, if I were a future amateur genealogist, I would not pay attention to me.
I have no children. I will have no children. There will be no one to look back and find my name on their family tree as one of their ancestors. I don’t know why that fills me with such sadness. We are all forgotten, all eventually lost to the rivers of time. I may have discovered that “Mary unknown” wed one of my ancestors, but I don’t know who she was. And even though I know that Freeborn Wolfe, the name, came before me, I don’t know anything about her.
My nieces and nephew will remember me. My time with them has always been precious and too fleeting and I make the most of what we have. I am a loved one they see once a year, so much time stretching between captured moments. They know I love them but I am an occasion, like my own aunts and uncles who lived out of town were in my life. I hold the time we spend together in stasis from one to the next. Each time, they have aged a year of their life in seconds to me. They forget their youth, as we all do. But not me. I do not forget their youth. I remember everything.
My nieces will remember me and mourn me. But most of their children won’t know me. In the blink of a generation, I will be lost. Reflecting on all of the people that I don’t remember, the ancestors who once lived, and how little that not-knowing affects my life is, honestly, a weight off. It’s like the pressure of becoming an extraordinary person has dissipated and I understand I only have to be the best version of the person I am. What I want is to live fully present in myself and in my life so that when I die, I shall pass with such a dense burst of exhalation that the echo of my spirit vibrates on in the ether.
I am sometimes filled with the compulsion to go out and randomly carve my name in stone in the woods. I understand why so much of the world is covered in graffiti stating that so-and-so “was here.” The human part of me would at least be remembered in mystery than not at all. The spirit part of me understands that it is not our individual self that matters to the history of our species. It is how we evolve, how we migrate, how we leave the world behind us that is of importance.
If, when we die, we have touched lives and opened eyes, if we have loved and been loved, have we not made an impact on our world? This dance is at the core of the Work I do, the balancing shift between honoring the past and preparing a better future, and living in now. I don’t have any answers, just questions. How are my life choices rippling out into the future? How am I leaving this world a better one than I found it to be, for my nieces and nephew, for my grandnephew? For all those who will come after?

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