Tuesday, September 2, 2014

When They Were Humans

It began a couple of months ago when I came across an old wedding photo of my parents. It's one I've seen many times before - two fresh faced "kids" to whom I bear a vague resemblance, dressed in wedding garb, smiling as they look out of the back window of the get-away vehicle. A thought I'd never had before while looking at that picture came barreling through, "They're looking out the back window at all their friends and family waiving them on and wishing them well. Meanwhile, the car is speeding forward to an unknown future. A future that is as wide open as any can be." I can imagine them as newlyweds, nervous about their first night together, excited about building a home together, maybe even wondering if they'd just made a tremendous mistake (c'mon... they wouldn't be the first couple in history!).

I stared at those two in the picture, familiar yet so completely foreign to me. I couldn't help but wonder, not for the first time in my life, "Am I at all what they had in mind?" I mean, my parents were Catholic. Barring any medical issues, they were going to have children. They ended up having five. I was the fourth. It's not a matter of self-doubt or self-loathing or anything like that when I ponder this question. It's more of a..... *sigh*... I wonder if they pictured a family beyond babies or school aged children. I wonder if they ever pondered an adult child, female, headstrong, creative, emotional, funny, intelligent and nowhere near perfect and entirely okay with that.

I could ponder this very question with regard to any of my siblings, again, in no way implying anything derogatory. "Is he what they had in mind? Is she? Were we?"

Because it isn't in their eyes in that picture. The look in that picture is the perfect mash-up of  here-we-go and dear-god-now-what-do-we-do. That was back when they were humans. Before they became parents. Before the world stuck its big nose and its meaty fist and its grimy foot in the door. They had dreams. She had dreams of being a teacher; he had dreams of being an artist. In a way, both of those dreams came true. She ended up with a captive classroom of five; he became a commercial artist - a sign painter.

How many times over the years have I forgotten that they were humans? Countless. They were my parents. As far as I was concerned, that was their identity and their only identity. Put a seal on it, and call it done. I wonder how many times they sighed heavily and thought, "I wish I was something besides a mother doing something besides housework and raising children. I wish I was still a human." Or. "I wish I was a guy going off to the woods to fish and do artwork and that I didn't have to worry about protecting and feeding these people. I wish I was still a human."

Am I what they expected? After all that.

I know my aged mother is proud of her children, of that there is no doubt. I know my father was too. That's not in question. Was this person, the one sitting here typing at you, was she in any of the imagery of some distant future? I just wonder about that. That's all.

I found myself delving further back. There's an old adage that says you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you come from. I traced a line back to my father's great great great grandparents - the Blacks in my lineage who first came to this country from Ireland, Archibald and Sarah. They would have been young, early 20s at best. Yes, back when they were humans. They came on a promise of land that they could own and work themselves and upon which they could build a family.

Am I what they expected?

Are any of us ever?

Yet we, as Lionel Ritchie once said of his own heritage, "stand on the shoulders of greatness."  Never mind the personalities that didn't always see eye to eye, never mind the occasional clash in ideals. Generations sacrificed without once thinking, "There will be a woman named Barb. We're doing this for her." No. They just did it. They persevered through adversity and never wasted time in complacency. They did what had to be done and now, here am I.

I owe a tremendous debt to those who cleared a path. I owe them my own dedication to the work I do. I owe them my own tenacity when faced with impossibilities or inevitabilities. I owe them an authentic life.

I may not be what they expected, those people, back when they were still humans. But I'm determined to make sure they're at least pleasantly surprised.


  1. I still remember the first time I realized that my parents were people...humans...too. It was so surreal. And you write about it so well. Thanks for the post!

  2. Ah Barb, such beautiful writing, thank you for sharing your musings with us. I think we choose our parents. I know I often thank my daughter for choosing me to be her mom. She has taught me so very much. I'm sure your parents have said many prayers of thanks for you!


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