I like to think that I'm a unique individual. Whilst I give a certain amount of credit to my parents for all my bad bits (!!), I tend to believe that my hope and dreams are very personal. My flaws and foibles mine to erase (and feel badly about). My glories, mine to celebrate. I think we all do. In a culture which does not have ancestoral worship and which deifies the individual, we tend to try to distance ourselves from our families, from our lineage. We have lost a sense of perspective of ourselves as being a ring in the tree of our family's life, in a great forest.
Yesterday I read the first draft of my father's autobiography and I was humbled. Perhaps for the first time I really felt my place in the flow of life, my position in a family line which lives through me. I have always known in my head what my grandparents and parents were interested in, the work they did, the values that drove them, but to see it written out, I felt the stream of life that courses through the years, pulling us all along with it, in such sharp relief. For perhaps the first time, I lost my sense of them and me, and really felt the "us" of our family. The spirit that expresses itself through us all, generation after generation, each doing our bit, playing our part, being unique, and yet part of the same strong flow.
I never really felt this, because I never knew them. My grandmother, Lucy Helen, for whom I was named, died seven years before I was born. My grandfather was ill and barely knew me and my father doesn't talk a huge amount about them.
I see the books running through our veins, our love of the written word, our need to drink in the progressive ideas of others, and then live it out. And our love of good food, learning, creativity, mindfulness and beauty. It's all there. Generation after generation. Our vocations calling us, demanding to be lived through us, an incessant urge which has made us dance our lives to its tune.
My grandmother was a teacher of the most progressive kind, a free thinking educationalist who helped to found and run The Peckham Experiment, a revolutionary approach to family health, wellbeing and education which influenced the founding of the NHS. And of course she wrote a book on it! A career woman first, she had her first (living) child when she was 43. My grandfather, like his father before him, was a printer by trade and antiquarian bookshop owner. Their bookshelves, in rural Ireland of the 1950s were full of Sufism, cutting edge educational tracts, and mysticism.
It feels wonderful to get this perspective, of the tides that course through us. This combined with other insights that I have had this week, makes it all a lot less personal - my life, my work. All I need to do is play my part in the dance, not stress or worry. The spirit that moved my ancestors, moves me too. It's nothing personal!