This morning, research led me to discover that my great-uncle – my papa’s brother – was in prison. I expect my dad knows this, and I may have known it at one point, too. But still, it feels like discovery.
Then, that great-uncle with the prison record – I see he married his first cousin.
Stories sketched out in the slanted hand-writing of census takers and medical examiners.
That maxim about everyone fighting a battle.
And the one about the sins of the fathers.
Our battles may have been etched for us by generations, by choices – with which race to identify, with how to care best for our daughter who is mentally ill, with how to marry when the taint of prison hangs over you – choices made long before we knew we’d be born into them.
My family is bearing a heavy burden – the burden of gruesome, media-gathering choices made by one of our own. Choices we cannot understand and could never have anticipated. Choices we want to wish away or explain or pass back through the generations as blame.
I read the news articles and hear “his family” not as a generic term but as my aunts, my cousins, my grandparents. I see his name and think of my grandfather who gave it to him.
These are not media facts; they are not tabloid covers – not to us. This is our story, even if we do not understand how we came to own it.
So much valor comes in acknowledgment.
This research, the current moment – all of the stories of my family – remind me that the battles are long and the burden heavy – generations heavy. And that we bear it together in our blood if we choose to claim one another.
That is a beautiful thing.