When it comes to families, I was dealt a pretty solid hand. I feel like my roots are rather terrific.
To begin with a quirk, there are suggestions that we might have been related to Catherine Howard. I have no great desire to follow in those footsteps. The collars alone… Plus, the thought of spending too much time around Henry the VIII concerns me. And I dislike the idea of being beheaded. However as far as, “have I got a family story to tell”, it holds up over time.
What I know for certain is that our ancestors came over in the same group of ships that brought over William Penn. (I am not sure that Quakers can have a flotilla or a fleet. Perhaps it was a gathering?)
If you ever ask about my Christian background, I will quickly tell you that I am ninth generation Quaker. I am a “Birthright Quaker”, if that term appeals to you. I love that aspect of my family. (The part where every single one of us know we will have to wear glasses one day balances it out somewhat.) I have tried other churches. Quakerism works best for me. I just happened to be born into it. One of my kin was among the first to start singing in church (rebel!).
The only downside to this is that the line may stop here. Of my immediate family, only my mom and I call ourselves Quaker. The Mennonites and the Methodists pulled in the others. And that is fine.
Part of me really wants there to be a tenth generation; keep the line going! However, being childless at the moment, that hardly seems like a great reason to bring a kid into this world. “Look, get good grades, be polite, but most importantly, get us to that lofty double-digit status, would ya?” No, I think nine generations will suffice.
There is a new family revelation which is my current favorite. Something I never expected but immediately became fascinated with. It makes me laugh that I read several books on this person before I knew we had any shared history. I already knew about this guy. Now I am eager to keep learning more.
Abraham Lincoln is my second cousin.
There are many caveats to this. First off, he is my second cousin six times removed. If we go back, his great-grandmother was ours. Second off, I had absolutely nothing to do with this. It helps keep me humble. One cannot really brag about being related to someone when you cannot control who sired who over the centuries. (Also, it gives me pause. Two family members were leaders… and they were both murdered? Well, that settles it. No career in politics for me.)
It still makes me feel special. During the stressful times at work, when I see people lashing out at each other, I have a new phrase that runs through my brain. “You know what? It is okay. You are related to Lincoln.”
I understand that “God loves you” is a better phrase to have playing on a loop. However I have heard that for decades and the Lincoln bit is new. I am still relishing the fresh trivia. And no, I do not think that Abraham Lincoln was perfect. I do think that if you are looking for great people who tried to do good, he stands tall amongst many others. I will probably always think of John Quincy Adams as the finest president. Lincoln though, he is family, darn it. We can have a tie.
Plus we have things in common. We are tall. We love to tell yarns. And we both greatly benefit from facial hair.
Then the temptation comes to rest on my laurels. When civil unrest occurs and people start being jerks, I get a little worked up. I want to yell, “Look, I am related to the Great Emancipator, my family helped give women a voice, and we gave up on slavery before it was popular. What more do you want from me?”
In return, all someone would have to ask would be, “Okay, but what have you done to help others?”
I get stuck at that part. Using royal blood might get you into high society. Yet family connections will only get you so far when it comes to morality. Eventually you have to stand on your own feet.
Some areas I have set myself apart from my family. My grandparents did not let my parents watch movies. They thought paying for one would support all the bad ones. (I believe they made an exception for Gone with the Wind.) I spent many years being paid to be a film projectionist. I think they made their peace with it because I mostly showed documentaries. I saw no need to tell them that I also screened six Harry Potter movies.
No one else in my family needs a cat. They all have three kids. If the kids want pets, then they talk it out. Me, I have no need for kids, but I cannot go more than two weeks without a cat.
No one else in my family runs. My grandparents would spend hours around the dinner table talking to God, reading from scripture, and bringing the family together to worship God. I take myself outside. Nature is where I see God the clearest. Exercise is what calms me. When I run in the quiet mornings, I feel God resetting me for the week ahead. Then I go to church afterwards, once all the crap is out of my system.
I had an amazing foundation given to me. I am not allergic to anything. My grandparents all lived to be eighty-seven to ninety years old. No matter what health I was born into, I cannot sit on the couch all day and eat nothing but potato chips. I have to decide what to do with what I am given.
My family tree has always consisted of three trades. Farmer, pastor, teacher; they all worked some combination of those three jobs. I have done none of those. My focus has always been on stories. Barista, projectionist, comic shop guy; find me a job that revolves around stories and that is what I want to do. Get people to tell me about their lives and let me collect engrossing tales.
I have no control over what my family passes down to me. (Certainly not in the middle name department. Ardella? Loren? Lissie? Evalyn? What were you doing?) However I can take all the fine elements that they have contributed to me and try to follow along in my own way. My specific branch of the family tree might stop here. I can still try to be sturdy and keep growing as long as possible.