Family

I had a wonderful day on the farm yesterday with my ‘adopted family,’ as we like to call the 8 of us. When we met each other this year we felt like family, so we decided to become an impromptu one, just like that!

Five of us are in fact related by blood: Mom and Dad and their 3 young daughters. The rest of us are 2 gay men in their 20s, and me. We are an unlikely concoction, but it works!

We spent the morning weeding the circular beds of the labyrinth and planting out medicinal herbs: thyme and sage, yarrow and Yerba Santa. The two littlest girls, Robyn and Reiko, worked the hardest of anyone (even though they worried they’d get bitten by spiders) and altogether we were a rather fabulous team.

The girls’ spirits were contagious, the guys vigorously dug holes and planted elderberry trees and the rest of us pulled weedy grasses that had sprouted after the recent rains. The kids learned how to dig holes small enough to set out seedlings, and they examined every single worm they came across. We all worked hard, gossiped about everything, and finally put down our trowels to troop back to the farmhouse for a lunch of potato salad and hardboiled eggs, salami sandwiches and greens from the garden, still telling jokes.

It was only later when we were heading back to the labyrinth and I saw them strung out along the path that I noted - as if I hadn’t known it before - that my adopted family consists of 5 Phillipinos, one Guatemalan, one African-American-Latino Caucasian mix, and me, a Russian Jew. We are multiple shades, different body types and ages, have very distinct personalities - and we love one another a lot.

However you cut it, this is the new America. Actually, it’s the old America too which was peopled by ‘red-skinned’ tribes long before immigrants from Europe and Asia even arrived here.

They – we – were the newcomers who rudely took over desirable land and killed whoever happened to be in the way - the native peoples, for example.

The fact is that most of us were refugees from somewhere else to begin with, our DNA mixing it up generation after generation until we’ve become the amazing polyglot mish-mash that we are now. Even our new President Elect comes from stock that includes both Scots and German immigrants, and his young son contains Slovenian blood. The fact that their genes result in light pigmentation make them neither more nor less American than the rest of us – just a bit pasty-colored.

It’s the very mish-mash that makes America great, mister!

Personally, I’ve been told all my life that I look like an American Indian, even more so now that I am older and people say I must be indigenous. When I lived in France, people thought I was Italian. Wearing saris in India I was assumed to be Kashmiri, and in Calcutta I was taken for Bengali. I’ve got one of those universal faces, I suppose.

All I am is a second-generation American from Eastern European Jews and probably carry genes from all of the above somewhere along the line, or none of the above, but what does it matter?

“Momondo – A DNA Journey” is a fascinating study of the DNA of random individuals, tracing their genetic lines back many generations. The subjects chosen for the study gathered in a studio to learn what had been found in their DNA, and a film was made of the event. As each one’s lineage was revealed, many were surprised to discover that they were actually related to one another! Two people - a dark-skinned man and a white-skinned woman - learned they were cousins, and for a stunned moment they stared at each other, and then came together for a big hug, laughing and crying.

I cried with them.

When I was growing up in my fearful household in Brooklyn, my best friend Mary was an Irish girl who went to Catholic School and had bright blue eyes and reddish hair, very different from us with our black eyes and thick, dark hair. I had to sneak out of the house to play with her, because I had been forbidden to be “anywhere near them.”

“You’ll thank me for this!” my mother warned between clenched teeth, “They’re killers. They don’t even give their children piano lessons!”

Who could ever forget such a line?

As you might imagine, it made me love my friend Mary more than ever, and all her freckled sisters who laughed a lot, and the Italian boys on the street who roller-skated faster than anyone else.

And then there was Della, the cleaning lady who came twice a week, the “schvartze,” the dark one. I always ate lunch with her and she taught me I did not have to get stuck in fear. Della, who threw her head back when she laughed and confided in me about men and the problems of life on the other side of the tracks. Della, the mysterious woman with coal-black skin who, in fact, shone with light, bless her forever.

It was Della and my dog Dukie who kept me sane, I am quite sure.

I know intimately about how hatred comes from fear and from unleashed grief. I also know that, as a culture, we are terrified people who have forgotten how to grieve, to our great detriment. Whoever we are and whatever our DNA combinations might be, here we are, right here and right now, members of the same human, American family, combining our DNAs more every single day thanks to the magic of sex.

In these last 2 years of mourning a man I loved long and well, I have learned to grieve out-loud and wildly – oh yes, kicking at walls and sobbing in the streets! It’s in my Russian blood, in my history as a Jew, in my life as a woman. In my being human.

I highly recommend it – although I’d suggest you do it in a safe container, as I often did not. I now understand why widows wear black.

I’ve learned that I could not come round to joy unless I released all that grief and fear I held. As I needed the energy of the joy to do the work the world is requiring of me right now – of all of us, really – then I had to express the hurt, anger and loss that over the years had gotten stuck in every cell of my being. Letting it go has not been easy, but once it started flowing I could not have stopped it if I tried, and the joy that seeped in through the cracks in my armor made it all worthwhile.

It is ecstasy, really, and an ability to love that still takes me by surprise.

It’s why we’re here, I believe, to do the hard work of clearing ourselves of accumulated grief in order to help the world make the transition, person by person, into the innate, powerful field of joy-filled love.

No, it’s not easy but it is necessary that at least 51% of us participate in this shift of values - what Joanna Macy calls “The Great Turning.”

I call it the “It’s-About-Time-Moment,” for we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Personally, I suspect those of us living on earth at this time even chose to be here now to do this work –

but that’s a whole other story…