When I was a kid growing up on the west coast of Canada, I thought that no one else in the world had the same name as us. As far as family with the same name was concerned, I knew only my brothers, my mother, my father and his parents. I had no sense of there being a family beyond these limited relationships of ours. It seemed natural at the time, although I did wonder why all my friends seemed to have more relatives with the same name as them. But I just accepted that this was the way it was. I assumed that the rest of the family had died out.
Then, a few years ago I heard from my brother that there were some people with the same name looking to make contact. I ignored it at the time. Then a year or so ago, I received an email from a man who had the same name as my brother. As I opened the email, I was surprised to realise that this was from a man who lived in another part of the continent, who was searching for relatives descended from the same family line. Through him, I began to get in touch with a number of other people descended from the same line and even, at times, with the same last name.
At first I was just surprised and curious. After all, having lived in a very isolated family for 50 years, I felt no need to expand beyond this little nucleus. But my father is dead now and the family was feeling a bit smaller than it used to feel. So, after leaving the mail on the computer for a while I answered it. And the writer responded with information about my grandfather’s brother. My grandfather’s brother! I’m not sure I even knew my grandfather had a brother. To make a long story short, I have been gradually getting in touch with other “distant relatives”, and tracing the family history, about which little is known. It seems we were all isolated.
So, “what’s the point?” you ask.
Connectedness, that’s the point. Here I am at the age of 51 beginning to experience myself differently, beginning to have a different sense of who I am. Feeling a little more like a part of a family of people connected through history to one another. And belonging. Having a sense of belonging to something greater than the little nucleus within which I was raised. Connectedness and belonging. Two of the most powerful experiences that we can have.
I wonder sometimes now, how my life might have been different (or the same) if I had these connections and this sense of belonging when I was growing up. Perhaps nothing would have been different. Perhaps something important would have been different. But this is what I know right now. If this experience can be so impactful for me, now, at the age of fifty-one, imagine how much it might be important to the children and youth with whom we work. If they felt a greater sense of connectedness and belonging with family, would they feel the same need to belong some place else?
I know it is not possible for everyone to have a direct experience of their family – either immediate or extended. But what I am discovering is that even just knowing that you are connected, that you belong, can have an effect on how you experience yourself. So, even if those children and youth with whom you work have no-one they can visit or be with, they can at least have a sense of their history, who they are, where they came from, and the values and beliefs that are a part of their own, very special, family history. Even just finding out that someone before you carried the same names as you, can be a powerful experience.
So, to the point. No matter what people say about a child's family, that is this child's family and she or he has a right to know about their history so that they, too, might feel situated in the continuum of their own personal history “and from this, develop a greater sense of belonging and personal connectedness.
By the way, if you know any of my relatives, please tell them to get in touch.