I thought last night’s “Finding Your Roots” was pretty interesting – more interesting than I sometimes find the show. “Finding Your Roots,” is a genealogy show that, some may disagree with me, often focuses on celebrities with slavery in their family trees. Famous sports figures with slave owners and slaves in the family! People with absent fathers with slavery or abolitionists in the family! Famous journalists with slave owners and slaves in the families- with a bonus that one slave owner was hacked to death with a hoe (honestly, didn’t Henry Louis Gates look just a little TOO happy about that story?)! To be fair, there are other discoveries, but I feel like more attention is paid to the roots of civil rights issues; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing since the host is a famous scholar of African-American Research. On the other hand, I have to admit to a tiny internal sigh when **YET** another guest has roots in slavery. To a certain degree, I like “Who Do You Think You Are?”, another series, a little better because of this.
However, I really appreciated hearing about Ben Affleck’s family, partly because he often had something funny or insightful to say about the time or the family member. One thing that he talked about at the end, is that genealogy is important because you see that there is an end date for each of these people in your family – and that makes you think about making the most of today. I think this is such a simple, but profound statement: Elizabeth Dicer, that woman who was arrested in the Salem Witch Trials, who is an interesting grandmother in my family tree and footnote in history – she was as alive as you and I once. And now, she’s bones in a grave somewhere. Did she think of this during her time? Did she get caught up in daily life – must grind flour, wash clothes, iron – or did she spend as much time as she could with the people she loved? Granted, women didn’t have as much chance to really achieve as much as they do now, and technology has made some things in our life much easier. That means that we don’t have an excuse to not make the most of our days. In my job as a psychiatrist in a small town in Central California, I so often here, “I’m unhappy and depressed because I live here” (First of all, civilization, including the beach, and two of the biggest cities in California are no more than a few hours away, and there’s a Barnes and Noble, Whole Foods and Sephora 45 minutes away). This often makes me think, “C’mon, you’re only in a prison of your own making! People like Victor Frankl and Nelson Mandela made great strides in their internal life and contributions to the world, despite being in prisons (concentration camp, in one case) not of their own making.
Khandi Alexander, another guest, mentioned that whenever she has hardship, she reminds herself about the trials of her ancestors, that they were strong enough to overcome, and that their blood runs through her veins. I think of this too, sometimes- I can manage this small issue, if my relatives had to sort out their lives, with people dying around them, the first year off the Mayflower; if Franklin Delano Roosevelt, my sixth cousin a few times removed, managed to make changes while suffering from polio, I think I can work through my minor aches and pains!
Genealogy enriches my life in ways I had never been able to name before, and I’m sure, am still learning about!