Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Finding family

A handful of years ago, my great aunt Isabel and her daughter Jane began to do some research. They knew we were of Italian descent (Isabel's parents had immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900's), but knew nothing of our ancestors. With some help from the internet, they found a name. This person shared our last name, and had an address in Southern Italy.

With nothing more than a slip of paper bearing this name, they went.

Isabel, nearing her 80's, and Jane found their way to the region of Calabria (red section above) and the small town of Cortale (a speck within the yellow dot above). It has a population of 2,400 and is too small to have a hotel. No one could speak English. Here is a photo of Cortale I found online.

Isabel resorted to pointing to the slip of paper and motioning her hands. Someone went to fetch a woman who could understand, and to everyone's shock, this woman KNEW the person whose name was on the slip. However, no one knew, yet, she would quickly lead them to the home of Isabel's first cousin. At the moment of arrival, Isabel met the daughter of her father's brother. Her name was Isabelle, and she was about the same age.

Fast forward a couple of years to my parents' first visit. Isabelle had a son in Milan about my dad's age with a wife and daughter, Erica. My parents contacted them and then one summer, showed up at their door. Isabelle took a small plane up from Cortale just for the meeting. When my dad entered their home, Isabelle burst into tears, pinching the flesh of his cheeks with both hands. Erica was an excellent translator (she is fluent in six languages!), and soon her father made his way to a hutch, slid open a drawer, and removed a stack of old photos. Black and whites of my dad as a boy and his parents were among them. Throughout the years, unbeknownst to anyone in the U.S., my dad's grandpa Joseph had been sending photos of family living in California to his brother in Cortale. Those photos were passed from the brother, to his daughter Isabelle, and then to her son who has them today.

Inside that home in Milan, an integral piece of the puzzle of my heritage was snuggly put into place. In August, my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting these newly found family members for our first time. We shared one beautiful but short day together. And so I was thrilled to discover one month later that Erica had made last minute arrangements to visit the U.S. Her trip even included a stay in California with us for one week!

This visit ended yesterday. And after spending several days together, I am so absolutely blessed to not only know her, but also to be her family. She is so passionate and expressive, wears her heart on her sleeve (another English saying, Erica!) which is so familiar to me, and simply sees so much beauty in life. From food to music to children to nature, she is constantly distilling out and sharing the beauty she sees with those around her. In this way, she is a very inspiring person, and points others toward a deeper appreciation of life in its many intricacies.

One way Erica inspires and points to beauty is through photography. It was great fun to watch her find beauty in my everyday space through her lens. I can't wait to receive the CD she is burning for me of her shots during her visit. I will surely share some of them here.

But for now, you'll have to be content with this one: Erica and I at Los Alamitos Race Course.

Nine of us in my family took her out to a very fun night at the horse races. We laughed at her repeated bad luck, losing her $2 or $3 bets race after race. And finally, as we were about to leave, her horse finally won! I believe she won all of $35, probably breaking even for the night. Here she is with her winning tickets.

I thought meeting our family members living in Italy would be more or less like meeting strangers with whom we happened to share a common point in history, that history being quite far removed from my life. But I experienced something unexpected; it seemed a connection between us had existed all along and we were simply tapping into it now. Love was already there, waiting for us to unlock the door that had been shut on our family line three generations ago. It was so easy to walk into a new and spacious field of love for each other.

This is all important to me because family and heritage is extremely important to God. He has reasons for putting us in our particular family and none other. And He accomplishes His good and wise purposes from one generation to the next. If we invite God into our family line, He can do what no one else can, in terms of bringing healing, reconciliation, and the breaking of destructive patterns that get passed down. He is at work in my family, and I am privileged to observe it. From my grandparents' lives all the way down to my children's, He is visibly at work. Beautiful, wonderful work. And, I truly believe the Lord is so delighted to see a family tree bearing much fruit. I'm so thankful that the severed branch on ours has been restored with so much promise for the future.

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