BootsnAll Travel Network

So much to learn

If I could read five pages at once, I would be doing that. My hunger to know is so great. I’m dimly aware of the rest of the world: 360 women, many of them Tibetan nuns, arrested in Nepal. Unimaginable suffering in Burma, where a Red Cross boat full of aid supplies for survivors sank in flood waters. But inside my head, I’m transfixed by the baby daddy drama of my own life. Searching for my father. Trying to understand who he was, and who his people were, and whether that has some significance in my life. What is family? is it a genetic unit? an emotional unit? a legal entity? what are the ties that bind? I sit and stare at the pictures on my monitor, inviting them to talk to me, tell me stories. There is something eerily familiar in these faces, these people to whom I may be related. I study the forehead, the nose, the bridge of the nose, the slant of the eyes, the cheekbones, the shape of the head. What do we get from our genes? I’m reading books I never imagined I would read in all my life: books about merchant ships during WW2. I even got a 1943 Humphrey Bogart movie in which Bogart is First Mate on a merchant ship: torpedoes, flames on the water, stereotypical German officers in submarines (observation: when the “Germans” die, they scream in agony; when the “Allies” die, they look stoically and silently toward heaven), violins playing as the wives back home wait for the news.  The movie starts with a quotation from FDR that ends, “Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!” and it made my eyes fill up. I’ve heard that phrase before, but I didn’t connect with it. Now I do. I’m also reading Judith Plaskow’s Standing Again at Sinai (wonderfully well-written, fascinating: and here’s a short, powerful article by Judith that’s like the condensed version), and I watched a documentary on the Yiddish Theatre . Even if I’m not Jewish (but I think I am, I think I am), I’m having a great time learning all of this.

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One response to “So much to learn”

  1. Bob Currier says:

    Kendall, I’m finding the back and forth in your blog between race and personal identity fascinating. It suggests to me that “family”, like “race” and “genetics”, both contains elements of reality and is a product of social construction. I don’t think that you’re mistaken about family resemblance. And, in my professional work, I see some resemblences that are characteristic of ethnic background.

    But there is also the way in which society deals with differences–either at the personal level or the group level. One of the most powerful examples I’ve seen comes from the book “Everyone here spoke sign language” by Nora Ellen Groce. She studied heriditary deafness on Martha’s Vinyard Island between 1700 and 1850. During that period, about a quarter of the population was deaf, and everyone, both hearing and deaf, were fluent in sign. So deafness was not a “disability” in that context. Indeed, as she asked people about whether their grandparents were deaf or not, many informants couldn’t remember for sure. If only we could be that gracious about our divisions now!

    Wow, Bob. I want to get that book. More to learn! Thanks so much. Yeah, these questions spread out, dissolve, and permeate everything. K.

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