Longevity runs on my mom's side of my family. Most of the ancestors in my grandparents' generation lived into their late 80s or 90s. One great aunt lived to be 101 -- she was born in 1898, lived all the way through the 20th century and died Jan. 1, 2000, a few months after her birthday. I try to fathom the changes that took place in the world during her lifetime and it's so hard to imagine -- going from horse-and-buggy days to the Space Station.
If I maintained a noble heart, I would attribute the longevity to lives filled with kindness and love, with lofty goals for making the world a better place to be. No doubt good old-fashioned farm life, full of hard work, provided the foundation for these long-living relatives.
Yeah... that's what I believed. And then the alarm clock rang and I woke up.
Now I am pretty sure they were all trying to outlive each other so they could control who knew the truth about their lives. They were each too mean to die and let their lives be exposed for what they were.
After visiting with my cousins last week, I learned about infidelities; unknown children born of illicit affairs; lifestyles born of revenge; molestation; abuses; and hatred.
While going through my aunt's possessions, my cousins found a letter from one of the great aunts which confirmed things we all thought, and added more information that filled in a few missing puzzle pieces.
It's amazing what you can learn in a few moments of intense, truth-telling talking with your relatives. Since our time together was limited, we each took advantage of what stolen minutes we could find to share missing information with each other. Those bits of knowledge helped form a more complete picture of this mess that is my heritage.
Now I can almost understand the thread of alcoholism that has run through so many generations, because now I see it's not limited to one cousin. Now I think I may be the "odd" one in the family because I'm not chemically dependent. (Yeah. Not to say I don't abuse food the way they abuse vodka and other enhancements.) And maybe it's because I came late to the party and missed all the gory details of their lives, being so wrapped up in my own. Hey, it's hard to know about a cheating uncle when you're getting whupped up on daily.
Anyway, here's the truth as I know it, summarized:
Life can stink. Bad things happen in all families. No one's life is perfect, no matter what it looks like to outsiders. And eventually, truth will win out, even if it is ugly as sin. And ugly never can be hidden deep enough to pretend it's not there, just waiting for the chance to ooze to the surface.
But we also have a choice. We can pick ourselves up out of the ooze and move on to better things. With honesty and love, we can support one another and build each other up. And we can stop the cycle.
Truth is a beautiful thing.