Tuesday, 5 May 2015

From Whence we Came--Your guide to surviving this summer's family reunion

Let's get a few things straight...I am no historian, I hate family reunions, and I have no clever tips on how to survive one. Ha! Joke's on you...That was just a ploy to get you to read this, but hear me out. I LOVE my family. You couldn't assemble 244 (in the case of this reunion) finer people anywhere on the planet. But this impending gigantic get-together had me feeling a little reluctant, and when I expressed this dread of attending to a cousin who is generous enough to have planned the event, she said, “Well, it's important to Dad, and that's good enough for me.” Point well made. At this juncture, that is also good enough for me... I will be going.

At any rate, since deciding to go, something struck me. Recently, a female friend traveled to Morocco for work. I should preface this by saying that this friend is extremely successful in her career, has her masters, and is a stellar mother and friend. So after months of planning and preparation for this work-related trip, I got a text from her, to paraphrase, it read something like this, “The crew wants very little to do with me, meaning the men, they're having difficulty with me in charge. Just another day.” Now, I realize there is no harrowing tale of oppressive woe here, but those words hit home with me, and the best way I can think to describe the sentiment is this (which I happened to read on a sign today) “When we get too comfortable, we forget other people.” My earlier description of this friend was not to convince you that she was exceptionally worthy because of the letters behind her name or her career success, but merely to point out that these opportunities are not a given in this world. I am very lucky that I get to forget that sometimes. Have I been living in the comforts of this largely non-oppressive country for so long that I have forgotten from whence I came?

An abridged version of my family history for those of you not related to me... My German ancestors, who had been living in Russia for well over a century as farmers, fled as the unrest that would eventually lead to the Russian Revolution was building in the early 1900's. They traversed the Atlantic three times (not in the comforts of a passenger jet) and attempted settlement on two other continents before finally settling near modern day Macklin, Saskatchewan. Honestly, I've heard stories that some spent the first year sleeping in the side of a hill on the prairie. Now, I have lived in Saskatchewan for the better part of 35 years, and that is not something I would want to attempt. Please consider this carefully, these people we call 'ancestors'--they are not characters in a book. They are real people, like you, like me. They are the people that gave birth to the people who gave birth to the people who gave birth to you. In the same breath, please consider the people of Morocco, Russia, the Ukraine, etc. with the same sentiment—real people, like you and me, for whom oppression and violence, whatever the form, are a way of life.

And with that in mind, I am filled with gratitude and awe at the courage and vision it took our forefathers and foremothers to execute this change in our fortune. I highlight courage here because a change of that magnitude is never easy or guaranteed, and I highlight vision because what strikes me more than anything is that I am the beneficiary of this courage. Me... the daughter of the daughter of the woman who made this move, took these risks. She lived a hard life so I wouldn't have to. Going back to my friend who traveled to Morocco just weeks ago and was treated as a sub-standard person, well that could have been my hardship, and perhaps it would've been me fleeing with my babies (MY BABIES!) on my back, leaving everything familiar, any wealth I had accrued, behind for a life of toil and uncertainty.

Toil and uncertainty, yes, but also hope. And it is my hope that these people who gave birth to the people who gave birth to the people who gave birth to me will be there in spirit this weekend in July to reap the harvest of the seeds of hope they planted all those years ago.

So, yea, no particular clever tips on surviving your family reunion this summer... Sorry! But this is Canada, land of immigrants, chances are your story is not so different from mine. If nothing else, while you eat and laugh and catch up with old-cousin Murray, raise a glass to the people who brought you here in the first place.


1 comment:

  1. Wow, Adele, just wow. I love this post. Makes me think of our ancestors as well as some of the recent(er) immigrants I know from work. Knowing Belj's story - a current example of the challenges of losing everything and risking all for the sake of her kids futures... Well, minus living in the side of a hill.
    May all their futures be as bright as our present.