It’s been a tough couple of months. Politics and pandemic have taken their toll on me. Like many people, I have lost loved ones this year. And almost a year of sheltering-at-home has made me feel that my once larger-than-life life has shrunk to minuscule proportions.
Stuck at home, I have been nursing a deep case of the blues, feeling sorry for the state of the world; feeling sorry for myself, stuck in an unaccustomed and unattractive state of ennui and self-pity.
The other day, unable to concentrate on work, casting about for something to do, I started reading emails. I opened a message from someone I didn’t know. The email caused instant delight. It turned out the author of the email was an unknown, but not-so-distant relative!
Yes, thanks to the Internet and America’s love affair with genealogy, I am now connected with Ben, my new-found cousin, third I think (I never quite get this stuff quite right) on my mother’s side.
My grandparents, Ida and Mischelem Kirschen, were Ben’s great-great-aunt and uncle. His paternal grandmother was Sarah, the daughter of Mischelem’s brother John. As a child, I remember my mother once mentioned John. So, it was so charming to have this name spring to life from a distant corner of my mind — the same mind that cannot remember what I ate for lunch yesterday!
Ben found me thanks to his genealogy research which, in turn, brought him to my published writing. And for that combination of resources, I’m so grateful — especially right now.
The first reason is probably obvious. With all this stuck-at-homeness, it’s life-affirming to have my world unexpectedly expand outward. Ben lives in Georgia. A relative in Georgia? How positively exotic!
The second reason I’m so happy to meet Ben? I just lost a loved one, a best friend who, after 41 years of laughter and shared history, was more sister than a friend. So, meeting Ben is that rare, golden, glowing opportunity to see my family grow, not shrink.
And there’s a third reason I’m celebrating the arrival of Cousin Ben into my somewhat gloomy life: the way he found me — through my writing. It is a validation of my work — that it stands for something larger than a momentary flickering on a computer screen or a glance at an article before it gets tossed into the trash or used to line the bottom of a birdcage.
So, my mishpucha is expanding. And I cannot overstate the joy it is bringing me.
As the much younger child — and sibling — of a once large family, I have felt the loss of family keenly. That sense of loss has fueled my own interest in genealogy, and it fuels my joy in this e-introduction to Cousin Ben.
This sense of familial loss and the related elation I feel is best captured in this quote by 20th Century French philosopher Simone Weil:
“To be rooted is perhaps the most important
and least recognized need of the human soul.”
So, now, even as I tick off the days until my second COVID-19 vaccination, I also look forward to my next email from my new-found cousin, new writing adventures, and, of course, the very thing we all desire — better days.
And in closing: About the spelling of mishpucha — As I worked on this story, I saw the word written three ways: mishpucha, which sounds the way my Grandma and parents said it, and also, mishpocheh and mishpokhe. What matter! It’s all in the family, nu?
Finally, here’s a charming ad Leo Rosten included in his beloved book, The Joy of Yiddish.
“‘The Chase Manhattan’s bank’s memorable advertising campaign is built around the slogan “You have a friend at Chase Manhattan.
‘Tis said that a sign in the window of the Bank of Israel reads:
‘— BUT HERE YOU HAVE MISPOCHEH!’”