We are all stories. Our stories are woven from the stories of our parents, our grandparents and so on through our ancestral trail. Some of our stories are more complex than others, their narratives ducking and weaving across and around war and trauma and flight. Some of our stories are thickly woven with tales passed verbally or otherwise down the generations, some are spread more thinly but are nonetheless relevant. Our stories are told and untold, simple and intricate, known and unknown, colourful and shades of grey, layered and exposed, obscured and visible.
We are continually adding to our stories. All the things we see, taste, hear and smell, each experience we have, each lesson we learn, every connection we make adds another chapter to our own story. And our story is passed on to our children and their children, and so on. Of course, there are some stories which end with us. All stories must have a beginning and often they also have an ending. There is nothing wrong with that.
I believe my own story is a complex one. On both sides of my family there is revolution, war, conquerors and vanquished, flight and refugees, loss and rebuilding. Each one of those tales is interwoven into my DNA, forming a multifaceted narrative. My father’s family began with German crusaders who, in the 12th and 13th centuries settled in Kurland, now known as Latvia. My father’s family lived on their estate for over 700 years, it was their home and their homeland, until they lost it during the Latvian War of Independence and were eventually resettled by the Nazi government into Poland. But despite the life they knew and loved disappearing so violently, the family have survived. Scattered around the world, they keep in contact with regular family reunions where stories are told, retold and remembered.
I don’t know the beginnings of my mother’s family, but my grandmother told me her family had their origins in Sweden, moving centuries ago to Russia, where they were part of the aristocracy. I believe my maternal grandfather’s family were originally among the Tartars who invaded Russia in the 13th century but I know very little about his family. Both of my maternal grandparents were close to the last Tsar of Russia and his family. They had to flee their beloved country during the Russian Revolution, never to return. But they survived and rebuilt their lives. One day I hope to learn more about their stories.
The narratives of war, upheaval, struggle and seeking refuge are tightly interwoven into my story, as are the tales of survival and rebuilding. I have added my own chapters to these stories, and I’m certain each of my sons are busy adding their own tales to our shared story. I am heartened by the knowledge that no individual story is forced to accept the narrative they began with. Each of us can revise and rewrite our stories as much or as little as we want to. We have the power to take a different path, to edit, to enhance or embellish as we please.
What is your story?