Conversations with the Past

I’m back from visiting my grandparents and I have tons of family tree information, along with pictures of photographs (he wouldn’t let me take his albums so I improvised by snapping pics with my phone), hours of taped conversations, and pages of notes. I also came back with the comforting knowledge that Yes, I do have family roots. And boy do they have stories!

Foolishly, I’ve always compartmentalized my family. Dad and Mom have their roles as parents; Gigi and Grammy have their roles as grandparents. And they’ve seemed happy to let me think this way. Until recently when my grandfather asked me to write his life story.

He spoke to me like an equal for the four days for which I showed up chronically late each day. He referred to himself as Pete, not Gigi, and referred to Grammy as Mary. My dad was called David in our talks. Slowly this person emerged and presented himself to me via jokes, stories, and photographs. Pieces of an elaborate puzzle floated without an anchor.

How did he get from the youngest of thirteen children (a fact I’m still trying to verify since he couldn’t remember all of their names. Regardless, there was at least ten of them); to the smiling, carefree sailor posing with family before shipping off; to wearing a kilt (yep, the Navy promised he’d go places and one of those places was Scotland); to this tall, handsome man in a suit standing in front of his newly built home that he built himself; to a dad who adored his children (the proof is in the pictures); to a grandfather who seemed so stoic only to shed a few layers and reveal a dark humor similar to my own?

Those four short days I spent in a time machine, in a place that isn’t quite the past, but definitely not the present. Not only did I learn about my family tree (which I never imagined to be so large and so full of life), but I learned more about the people who have had a hand in shaping my life. In doing so, I am beginning to learn more about myself.

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Is There Room for Fear?

Since removing my boot (broken foot, long story, maybe a blog post down the road) in June, I’ve made it my mission to conquer fear.

Conquer may be the wrong word. I’ll never completely get over certain fears, but I do want to learn to live with my fears. I want to acknowledge those fears exist, and then flip them the finger.

A few weeks ago I went snorkeling. Those who know me know that I have an unfounded fear of being in water, despite being an excellent swimmer. One night, maybe in my early teens, I had a dream that I was drowning. Not pleasant. The same dream occurred on a regular basis for years, into my mid-twenties. Always, I was alone and drowning in murky ocean water. Until I moved to Phoenix and the heat forced me to be okay with pools, I wouldn’t even go in a pool! So, snorkeling was a HUGE deal for me.

I hyperventilated, I silently repeated a mantra, at one point on the boat I said “hell, no,” but that didn’t fly because I had told my husband earlier to not let me sit this one out. And then I got in the water. I started to really panic then because, while pool water is safe, this was ocean water. Not safe, according to my fear based on a reoccurring dream.

That’s when I made an arrangement with myself. I said: Self, you’re going to have this fear, but work with me. Let’s put on the mask and peek our head underwater for a second.

I had a death grip on my husband’s hand. We swam against the current and away from a rock that supposedly burned like acid if you touched it (hey, that’s what the guide said). And then nature showed her beauty. A school of rainbow-colored fish swam around me. For an instant my vision blurred not from water, but from the bright colors of a hundred fish!

Fear–whether imagined or learned by experience– is a barrier. Conquering fear might help some people, but I prefer my less-intense approach of accepting fear and living beside it. I don’t want to miss the magic that surprises us in moments of living. Maybe someday I’ll be over my fear of open water, but until that day comes, I plan to live along side of that fear, but still live.

Past Self vs. Future Self

We look to our past to get a sense of who we are. Where we come from. Our genes, our ancestors. But why don’t we look at our present and ask who we want to be. Who are we in this moment? Are we thrill seekers, the introvert gamer, the 9-5er? Or are we somewhere in between? What experiences and how do we react to things make us more of who we are than any family hierarchy.

My friend is addicted to solving the mysteries of her family tree and recently found out her background isn’t what she’s been told for thirty plus years. When she told me, I was stunned. It was like our giant pink balloon had popped and we were left with broken pieces. Until I realized that this piece of knowledge doesn’t change one thing about her or our friendship. She’s still my best friend, she’s still the most beautiful soul you will ever meet.

While I’m not saying it isn’t great to identify with your heritage–because it totally is. Own it! But you shouldn’t let it define you.¬†Let your current actions and your future dreams define you. Who are you today? Who do you want to be tomorrow? And finally, what will you DO right now to be the person you are meant to be?

What I’m reading now: Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman¬†by Alice Steinbach