The dates on the old gravestones across the street from the farmhouse where my mother grew up, go back to the mid 1700’s. Its August and muggy as I wander through the old cemetery. The names on the worn stone surfaces are familiar. Settlers in a new land, my ancestors from Massachusetts. The inscriptions reveal that many of them had hard lives and died young. So much about them I do not know. Where did they come from? What did they do for a living? What did some of their young children die from? What was their spiritual orientation?
Over the years my mother had told us some of their history. They came to America, venturing across the ocean on wooden ships, becoming indentured servants or tradespeople or fisherman or farmers. Then some of them moved inland from the coast. Clearing the forest, working the land, building communities. Farmers and shopkeepers and teachers and ministers. They came to America seeking freedom to worship and live, have families and build a new country. Some perished in wars and uprisings, accidents and illness. And then some moved on to Illinois, Nebraska, and Oregon and California, seeking new experiences, having families, creating businesses, building communities. Scattered across America.
A few years earlier I had traveled with family members to southwestern Ukraine to search for the roots of the other half of my family of origin. Ancestors who also lived in small rural communities, in towns where people of Jewish origins were allowed to live. It was harder to read the gravestones in that country, as many of the markers had been destroyed or never even put there during the great war when so many were killed.
Oppressed by pogroms and intolerance, my grandfather left early on for a better life, opting for freedom, a way to escape when he was conscripted into the army by Cossacks. If he revealed his origins he would be murdered. So he left and walked a 1000 miles through fields and forests and somehow got to Amsterdam and on a ship, arriving in New York City in 1905 with nothing but his clothes and a few belongings. He was seventeen years old. My grandmother was fifteen when she came to this country, and worked in a sweat shop in the lower East Side of Manhattan. They started with very little but my grandfather was a mason and knew how to build houses, so that is what he did.
My ancestors made difficult choices to seek better lives. The details now lost, they sailed or rode or walked into the unknown, danger lurking, letting intuition guide them. Leaving family and friends behind, often forever, probably heartbreaking. But they survived. That took courage and faith and tenacity. Multiply that tenfold for people were sold into slavery and brought in chains, killed because of the color of their skin or the difference in their culture. Our collective origin story, we all came from somewhere else.
I used to think I was so different from all those settlers and pioneers and migrants and refugees who came before me. Growing up in a leafy suburb, safe, nurtured, educated, career paths beckoned and a potential life course rolled out before me, so planned, so stable, so predictable. But now I see that wasn’t the way it worked out at all. None of us stayed where we grew up, we all moved away. Was the impetus to migrate away to somewhere else baked in our DNA? Unconscious cues from those around us? Wanderlust? Serendipity?
Just as my forebears before me left their villages and towns for somewhere else, me, my brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, children, scattered all across America, just as our ancestors did. The new migrant experience. Texas, Florida, New Mexico, North Carolina, California, Michigan, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland. Some have even gone back to Europe. Circumstances, opportunities, family ties, pushed and pulled us apart, to live in other cities, suburbs, small towns, resort communities, states, countries.
Einstein said once that God doesn’t play dice with the Universe but in my family, we sure landed far from where we began. And that is who we are. Who I am. A migrant from a family of migrants in a nation of migrants. Diaspora redux.
And now I being to understand why I have grown to accept this life experience. My ancestors gift to me was the realization that, regardless of outer circumstances, setting one’s intention and having faith in the future, allows one to go wherever one needs to go and seek one’s destiny. Faith in oneself, faith in the future, belief in an abundant universe, kindle the light within that has led me to travel, study, live, work and put down roots in many places. It has taken me, at times, way out of my comfort zone but ultimately, when things settle, I feel at home, am at home, the world is my home.
Taking risks, accepting challenges, facing the unknown. We all have to deal with this. So why not embrace it? Enjoy the ride. Take the wheel. Trusting Spirit will guide us to our next destination, next challenge, showing us our path, our purpose in life, who we want to share life with, and what it all means. Experiencing life fully in an abundant universe, honoring oneself, serving others. The way out, the way in, what it is to be truly free.