My Grandfather with his Sisters
I love when the pieces fit. I started this post weeks ago but life got in the way and I was too busy to finish it. Then last week the writing prompt was “Digging for Roots,” and I said, well, that’s a sign I need to finish the genealogy post. The final piece was put in place as I was reading “The Law of Happiness” by Dr. Henry Cloud and he discussed the “mathematics of happiness.” I knew I had to finish this blog post.
The last few years I have been on a journey to find myself. This journey has required a lot of “textbooks”: Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown, just to name a couple of my favorites. But the farther along in the journey I go, the more I am finding genealogy an essential piece of the puzzle.
This was confirmed for me as I read Dr. Cloud’s book. In the section on “The Mathematical Makeup of Happiness,” he breaks down the origins of happiness into percentages:
…at any given moment, circumstances may be contributing about 10 percent or so to your happiness….The next factor comes from your internal makeup, which is probably composed of genetic, temperament, and constitutional factors. This seems to account for about 50 percent of your happiness level….the rest of what goes into your happiness comes from things that are directly under your control: your behaviors, thoughts, and intentional practices in your life.
(In case you are interested, Dr. Cloud cites Sonja Lyubomirsky’s paper and book on “The How of Happiness.”) Of course, both Dr. Cloud and Ms. Lyubomirsky are focusing on the 40% under our control and looking at it as a positive finding. Of course, me being me — someone whose genetic makeup is to be a “glass-half-empty” person (or as my friends used to say, “every silver lining has a cloud” person) — I jump right on the statement that there is only 40% (or less than half) under my control. Also, I jump back to the 50% genetics…so my instincts in wanting to learn about my genetics seems to be on the mark.
I can blame some of my nature on genetics; there is mental illness and depression in my blood. But I also feel there is a “karma” of sorts flowing there. Like a story that hasn’t ended and needs to be played out. This is the thought process behind this first draft poem I wrote:
My relatives clamor for acknowledgment;
my blood teems with their unmet dreams,
but I am a dead end.
The buck stops here.
My grandfather, who died at thirty-six,
wrote of the first World War
in tiny notebooks of concise script.
He filled letters with sketches, inspired by Paris,
he dreamed of art school, but never got there;
Perhaps it is from him I got the eyes squinting for beauty
that none of my siblings have,
covered by the glasses they don’t need.
My seemingly self-reliant, resilient grandmother,
Who married over and over, looking for the care
no one knew she needed, or the cure for the loneliness
no knew she had; she can no longer tell me
if after 102 years, and four husbands
she ever found it, but I suspect not.
My other grandmother did:
on her second try she found a kind man
who thought her as beautiful as her own father did;
she had the hats to prove it.
How she loved style and fashion,
but she lived with him in a little house set back from the road
in a tiny town, where she hermited herself after he died.
My grandmother’s first husband,
my blood grandfather, I know nothing of him.
He is the mystery ingredient,
the wild card, a scapegoat for the intangibles.
My father thought him dead for most of his life,
believing my grandmother’s well-intentioned lie —
her wave of a pair of scissors over photos made him disappear —
He died at mid-life with a new wife,
and no contact or acknowledgement by his only child,
Which leads to me, some combination,
unable to pass the buck to another generation.
They want resolution here and now, from me:
I feel all their pain,
but I am a dead end.
But now I am determined to learn more: understand the why’s of who I am on the road to the how’s of finding out how to be the best version of me. I may not be able to extend the dead-end with asphalt, but I can cut a path through the forest and build myself a cabin in the woods.