I returned recently from a trip to Switzerland. I was privileged to spend some very special time with a local family for the better part of a week. I was unexpectedly bathed in the beauty of generations of family, not just visiting with each other, but living with each other. Day in and day out. I was envious of what I experienced as a guest, yet an outsider. They often spoke with each other in a language I didn’t understand but could understand and sense the love and spirit of connection in those moments. I walk in and suddenly I’m a part of the family.
The closest I get to that experience is when my family visits for a few days at Thanksgiving. My heart says, I would love that to be my norm. However, that isn’t my norm and I have a sense our world is missing something very important (and I am too). I think I and my world pay a price in significant levels of isolation, loneliness, and alienation. Social media is there to attempt to fill the gap, and since it can’t we just try to consume more, me thinks.
Another Switzerland take-away was during my entire time there, I did not see one person, young or old who was overweight. I ate with them and understood more of why that was true. That changed dramatically when we wandered into the area frequented by American tourists.
A coincidence to the entire trip was that the area I was meeting my clients in, was right next door to where my mother’s ancestors lived and died since the time of the Celts. Some emigrated from there in the early 1700’s. Many are still there. It was beautiful and amazing to stand on that ground. To look over the terrain. To visit the site of the church they would have attended. To see their burial grounds. I felt the connection. Really felt it. No words can explain it. It was an experience. Some of you who have felt that know what I mean.
Then whoosh, I’m back in Colorado. Again, without specific intention, we ‘found’ living descendants of the man and woman who emigrated from Switzerland. We had pulled over along a lonely remote dirt road near Moffit, Colorado, looking at a ‘ditch’ that the map indicated had my mother’s maiden name. An unusual name. As we were taking pictures and speculating, a gentleman pulled up alongside us on his four-wheeler and asked if we needed any assistance.
We talked a bit about why we were pulled over and what we were looking for and thought we had found. He concurred that what we were looking at was it. He had been born there, was raised there, and knew the land intimately. He farmed it.
I asked him what his name was and was stunned when he told me. My mother’s maiden name. That makes him a relative. A cousin several times removed, but a cousin, nonetheless. Both of us were sort of stunned and amazed. And a flood of energy was added to the water in the ditch.
He asked if we would like to see the family homestead (late 1860’s). He told us he lived there and would love to show it to us. And we did. The original log home is still there. Still being used.
He also invited us to visit the local isolated small cemetery that holds the graves of those who left Ohio in the 1860’s, (never to be heard of again by those people in Ohio) of all of his (and mine, indirectly) relatives.
A branch of the family of which I didn’t know. In a remote part of Colorado. An entire branch of the family tree that I had started a vague rumor of their possible existence, but nothing more. It was a powerful reunion.
We later met with him and his sister (who is the family archivist) and had a wonderful chat comparing the traits that seem to persist through our genetic heritage. All of this was very exciting, powerful, and somehow fulfilling (more of that at the end of this piece) and created a greater sense of internal peace.
I, and others from time to time, have mentioned that when we visit different cultures, especially, those who have little to nothing in terms or riches and possessions, we experience ‘something’ that we can’t quite put our fingers on that they have that we don’t. And we intuitively ‘want that.’ It isn’t earthly goods, because quite often, comparatively, they have none.
What they do have, that I believe is the missing piece for my culture, is to know exactly where they come from. A Lakota friend can tell the story of his entire lineage since the beginning of time. In twenty minutes. He, and the others in that culture can tell you exactly who their ancestors are, and I am not just talking about their human ancestors.
They may not have much, but they know exactly who they are and where they came from. The more I discover of my literal relatives, the more I can feel that peace. And the more I integrate that my relatives are not just human, the greater peace I also experience.