Sunday, September 25, 2011

Go West

Written by Karen
Yosemite, California
This idea seemed to captivate everyone’s imagination a couple of hundred years ago. The old adage, “go west young man,” made popular in the late 1800’s was an idea that you could make a better life for yourself if you were willing to work hard and actively be in control of your own destiny. In today’s vernacular this is expressed as being the captain of your own ship.  Whether people were individually compelled to move forward or repelled by outside circumstances to go in a different direction, the idea of physically moving somewhere else to find a better life burned brightly.

 As we’ve been shifting gears for our change into the unknown, I have been thinking about that period of time a few hundred years ago, when it seemed that the idea of endless possibilities and the great unknown merged into an incredible concept of change that was available to anyone.  It didn’t depend on class, status, or birthright. If you wanted a better - a different - life than the one you currently were living, you could do something about it.  It seemed the idea of change, moving somewhere else, redefining yourself was a concept that was acted upon frequently in those days.
Yosemite, California
I wonder if we have we lost that ability to be curious, determined and relentlessly go full steam into the unknown? To be the captains of our own ship? To redefine ourselves?  Who were these people who picked up everything and just headed out into the unknown? Who were the individuals and the families who headed west? Why did they leave friends and family for the complete unknown? 
Along with those who also come from an immigrant background, they were my ancestors.  I recently wrapped up a year of looking deeper into my ancestors’ lives on Ancestry.com.  What a treasure trove.  It’s a very addictive website because there really is no end to what you can discover about the past. The links, the connections to people, other relatives, documents, information; it is really a very small world. 
What I realized is that history is dependent upon knowing all of the pieces of the puzzle.  If you don’t have all of the pieces, you will draw inaccurate conclusions.  But, even if you do have all of the factual pieces of the puzzle, you still won’t fully be able to understand the context of the time, relationships, and decisions without knowing and understanding the human dimension of the puzzle.  

I will always be curious about filling in the gaps and holes of my historical past, but I am beginning to think that it may not actually matter that I understand completely my ancestral past. There are many questions that I have that will probably never be answered.  Those who could have shed light on my questions are no longer here and my answers have gone with them to the grave.  
Monterey, California
I think that what does matter to me now are identifying the concepts of how I am connected to my past; understanding the threads that touch my ancestors and link my past to my present and future. 
I have spent hours (I did say it was addictive!) researching my ancestors, finding stories, linking dates and names back to the late 1700’s, and connecting the dots as best as I could. And the concept that I have discovered that absolutely links me with my historical past is the collective idea of my ancestors leaving behind everything that was known to them and striking out into the unknown for a better life.  
That idea completely captures my imagination.  I am the daughter of explorers. 
Normandy, France
Wow.  Although times are very different between then and now, that truth remains solid.  My ancestors packed up their lives, said good-bye to their friends and family, and left for an idea of a better life without knowing how things were going to turn out.  Whether they travelled by boat or by covered wagon, they were curious and determined to live differently and to create a better life for themselves and their families.   They were willing to risk everything for the promise of uncertainty, hard work and the possibility of redefining themselves.  Who does that nowadays?  And, if we are not doing that, shouldn’t we?
I can only imagine the conversation around the dinner table. Talking about the pros and cons, whether they were crazy for considering this risk, what would their friends and family say, would they be able to create a new life, would they be successful, should they stay in their current life instead?  
Santa Cruz, California
In this regard, history, time and distance melts together and becomes six months ago, five days ago and today.  These are the same questions that Adam and I have asked ourselves and we probably share some of the same answers with my ancestors of years past. As they eventually concluded before they set off into the unknown, I don’t know how this will all work out, but I’m willing to work hard to make a good life better.

“There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Anais Nin

1 comment:

moneyIQGuy said...

Lately I've been reading from one of my favorite authors, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk who enfuses his words with such kindness, and that are so inspiring and uplifting to me. In one of his books he describes being careful of the input that we bring into our bodies, whether that be food, or images, or conversation, or things that we read, since that will have such an effect on us. So, with that in mind, I really enjoying reading your posts because they are enrichening and inspiring; also, they touch upon greater truths that are profound in their potential.
Knowing that one's ancestors were brave travellors- perhaps Vikings- sheds light upon oneself in a different way. Can you imagine how scarey that must have been to have taken such journeys, and yet they did it. It's so easy for all of us modern-day citizens to fall into a groove mired in security and safety, that we lose sight of the bigger world and all the possibilities inherent within.