Thursday, February 9, 2017

In My Family

Occasionally I reread past blog posts, a bit like one might reread a journal, for I have eight years of my life well documented in these pages.  I notice that in many of my posts, I say "in my family we..."

Value education,
Love words,
Write protest letters,
Have strong opinions,
Value creativity, 
Make use of failures,
Speak up...

All defined within the construct of a family, one which now has lost those two central people who created it.  Fortunately my sister had two daughters and so the family continues. My nieces were close to their grandparents and absorbed much of those underpinnings directly, as well as through my sister and perhaps a bit of me.

 I've also written about my grandparents who were immigrants and how that immigrant history informs my politics. Who we are doesn't spring out of nowhere. It is born in a family of beliefs, in a family of experiences that are passed down to us and within a heritage and cultural history. It is one of the most important things we get from family.  Whether we concur or rebel, it influences our world view.

Some of us grow up in a religious tradition that influences our perspective. Mine was as a Reform Jew and it echoed and supported the beliefs of my family, one grounded in questioning and challenging, in speaking up for what we believe is right.  That perspective is
My niece's cape at the DC Women's March
often the wellspring of creativity.  Questioning allows us to see the world through fresh eyes.

We also grow up in a community.  I grew up in downstate Illinois in what was a pretty conservative area. Sometimes we define who we are in opposition. I found little to rebel against in my family's belief system, but I did define myself in opposition to the politics around me. In high school I used to work in political campaigns to meet people who thought like I did. My candidates invariably lost.

We each have a story defined by family, religion, community and our life experiences. We also absorb the experiences of our family as if by osmosis, not always realizing the source, but absorbing the message.  As a reader I have always valued story, it is the focus of my artwork and my writing.  

I've been working on a project for many years that grew out of interviews with Jewish elders. It has grown from interviews to artwork to public speaking and hopefully in time will be available in a book.This project has been important to me because I think it is important to acknowledge and understand the history that defines who we are, that underlies our beliefs which in turn feed our actions. Family history tends to become important to people as they age and begin to lose the people who embodied that history, but even if we don't take that deep dive into family history research, it is important to share our family stories and their embedded values with children and grandchildren. As I explored questions around family history, I ran across the research by Marshall Duke and his colleague Robyn Fivush.  They work within Emory University's Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life and have found that young people who know about their family history have more effective skills in dealing with life challenges. They call this awareness our "intergenerational self." For this reason alone we all need to be family storytellers, linking past to present and ultimately to future.

But it is not just about the next generation. We also need to remember our stories ourselves, to keep ourselves centered in challenging times, to remember the values and traditions from which we come and to act in ways that are consistent with that which is integral to who we are. In this time of turmoil, I take a deep breath and remind myself, "In my family we value education, we value creativity, we write protest letters, we have strong opinions, we speak up ..." 

*Text on cape: My Great-Grandma Immigrated, so my Grandma could Learn so my Mom could Work, so I can March so my nephews will see women as Equals

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