Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The power of the written word!

This is one of those overly verbose posts of which my average reader may just want to take a pass. I'm writing it down here as a way to preserve the flit of an idea that I spent way too many hours of what should have been my sleeping period developing into a body of thought. Right now it's still in a rambling form but I have the desire to pursue this line of reflection and set it down in a more conventional manner.

For those of you who didn't heed my warning above here is a short set-up to the following musings.

1] Through my recent genealogical pursuits, I have discovered that for MANY generations back, in ALL the branches of my family tree, I find all of them to be educated people.

2] I've been amazingly lucky to find documents confirming my relationship to people as far back as 1770.

3] My daughters have no one in their Guatemalan family tree with any education.

4] My daughters will find no documents of their ancestors.

5] How can populations of people blessed by the dumb luck of their birth be so educated yet ignorant? Can we ever really reconcile the inequalities of 'birthright'?

It started as just an "Oh wow!" moment as I came across the entry in a church register. There it was,  written in a beautiful old script  "---date--- 1835, baptised Daniel Sullivan son of Patrick Sullivan of Ardgroom Inward, a teacher, and his wife Honora". In 1835 my great-great-grandfather was a school teacher. One would logically assume that he was educated as a child in order to obtain the position of teacher...especially given the knowledge that the competition for teaching jobs in County Cork was fierce since he lost his to the brother of the parish priest (read sarcasm there)! From that first "oh wow" I've come to realize that everywhere in my ancestry there is proof of education.' Teacher', 'news dealer', 'engineer', 'nurse', 'fireman', read the occupation lines on the old census forms I've found. Old census forms filled out by the occupant of the property in 1860 Chicago showing the clear script of a great-great aunt as she listed her surviving children and herself "widowed". Then my musings moved on to the marvel of modern technology which allows me to see these beautifully formed scripts written on paper so many long years ago AND the marvel of being able to actually piece document after document together to form the story of a family. These thoughts ran around my brain as I lay trying to sleep but this morning the ideas ran around another corner!

See, as I stood sorting laundry with the whining thought in my head of "Why should a woman with a doctorate degree still be doing this mundane chore???" the powers that be shoved me around that next corner!! Or maybe just good old Catholic guilt at the self-pity....anyhow I suddenly was pondering how very hard the birth mothers of my daughters worked just to survive. I'm sure my conscience was just trying to pull out of the "woe is me" moment but it became more. These women work much harder than I by FAR. They have no computer, library, art museum, movie theater, satellite radio, or cable television to offer mental respite. Even if they did they could not read the words on the screen or comprehend the subtleties of modern urban life. At that thought my mind's eye pictures the thumbprint that sealed the adoption contract between two diametric worlds! A THUMBPRINT! Really! A finger rolled on a pad of ink in a lawyer's office in Guatemala is the only way these women could affirm their participation in a phenomenally complex legal arrangement. 

The mind has a funny way of presenting complex ideas which we 'get' immediately but take time to form into verbal or written expression! Right now I am wrestling with a rush of thoughts that need codifying. Like how it took 11 months to handle the paperwork for Mari's adoption-so just how many years would it take her to find any records in Guatemala should she embrace my passion for genealogy? Given the political and social history of the Maya in Guatemala is there or was there ever any written documentation of either of their ancestors? Can the vision of a thumbprint strike the same emotional chord as the script in an old church ledger? Why do Americans feel that we can compare our lives on any social or political level to those who's only way to document is with a thumbprint? How can I prepare for the time when my children will struggle with questions on the fairness of life especially given the overwhelming bounties here versus the deprivations in their birth places...just because I had the dumb luck to born when and where I was born and their families the tough luck to be born in Guatemala? There is so much power in the written word and I have the incredible blessing of having generations of practice...now if I can only find the powerful words needed to persuade the world on the right of all humans to obtain an education?


  1. Maya's birth mother did have some education and could write actually quite nicely (better then me).
    I was just thinking some thoguths along these lines after watching BONES last week and it was about a Krean family, I mean there is such a difference between just north and south and how its just luck that you are born on one side or another. I am very happy to have been born here in the US.

  2. nice thoughtful post. it sure makes you think and wonder. and see the beauty of God bringing you and Mary together. how can two worlds be so different and yet produce from each a mother for a daughter, and a daughter for a mother.