The light of the past
“…everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us…on the inside, looking out.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer
I think it’s interesting that the rapidly accelerating understanding of genetics is co-occurring with an increase in hobbies related to ancestry. Scrapbooking, photography, genealogy, cultural studies, family reunions and organized efforts to record and document oral family histories are all around us.
It’s partly due to increased leisure time, of course, along with the advances in technology that make research and discovery more feasible than ever before. But I think it goes beyond all that. Most all of us, whether or not we realize it, are deeply connected to our family history.
We may know relatively little of our ancestors beyond the past few generations. But it’s a safe bet that almost everyone’s family tree features a dazzlingly diverse cast of characters, if only because of the way the numbers multiply so rapidly with each backward generation. Two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, 16 great-great grandparents, and so on, with countless aunts, uncles, and cousins into the mix.
All (or almost all) of us, if we look far enough into our family trees, come from a mixture of many different races, religions, nationalities, cultures, personality types, ability levels, occupations and ambitions. Some lived long, though difficult, lives (mere survival in past generations was challenging, even for the privileged, compared to today). Others never enjoyed good health and died at ages that seem tragically young to us.
Some were holy, some profane; most were somewhere in between. Some owned businesses, some worked in fields, forests or factories. Some wore suits or dresses, some wore chains. Some were creative and artistic, some diligent and methodical, some logical and analytical, and some a potent mixture of all of these things.
I don’t think the past determines who we are. I do think, though, that it casts a long shadow; that the influence of our ancestors lives on, in minute ways we cannot fully understand, and lasts for generations. Do you know much about your ancestors? I’d love to hear about them!
For me, it’s fun to wonder about past generations of whom we know only a few intriguing details, and even more fun to imagine those that we will never know about. Though we are seldom aware of it, each of us figuratively sees the world today in a light that, like rays of the sun, came from long ago and far away.
One year ago today: