A Mirror Up to Nature

There is so much to contemplate lately, I hardly know where to begin!  It started, let’s say, with a visit to Picton last week. Harmless enough. I was going to a talk given by a professor, Dr. David Warrick, on one of my ancestors, Dr. Thomas Moore, who lived in Picton over 150 years ago – along with a young wannabe lawyer of 19, John A. MacDonald (before the “Sir”).

Dr. Warrick would be uncovering the history-making first trial of Sir John A. MacDonald in Picton in 1834, in this public lecture on April 20, 2011, followed by a paper he intends to publish by the University of Toronto press in 2012. The MacDonald project, of which he is the chair, intends to erect a bronze sculpture (created by the noted sculptress Ruth Abernethy) of Sir John A. MacDonald at the age of 19, in front of the very courthouse this historic event took place.

In a previous post I told you that my great grand-uncle, Dr. Thomas Moore of Picton, was accused of punching Sir John A. in the nose.  Well, the two men went to trial, and Dr. Moore, my noble ancestor, lost, at a cost of six shillings.  I thought it a charming story. No shame to me, certainly.  No shame to him, either. He continued to be a great doctor in town for 44 years, and, well, Sir John A. went on to be the first Prime Minister of Canada. No harm done.

So what does it all mean? I ask. Why do we eat it up like candy, the stories of our past? Why do we delve into history books (at least the people reading this blog who have an interest in such things, a passion, even)?  I am not a scholar of history. I studied literature.  But whether the particulars are true or untrue, isn’t there some form of resonance that catches us and stirs us to know more?  When we look beyond the facts, the fiction, do we not see ourselves?  As Shakespeare reminds in Hamlet, the job of a good story, or player is to “hold a mirror up to nature”.  And our job then, as audience or reader is to ask, who are we in this?

Why do I look at my ancestor’s past? Why do I reflect on my own past? Am I stuck? Can I not inhabit the present or future? Am I afraid?  No. I’m not afraid. Not anymore. I see more of myself in all of these things than I ever did. I see the hero and heroine, I see the scoundrel and the dummy, I see the nobleman, and the peasant trying to make a living. I see all of it in my own flesh, in my history. And yet, here I am now, breathing and living it all, remembering and dreaming of more.  Beginnings and endings, never-ending.

So, what did I learn from this? Well, I’m tantalized as always by a good story that I can relate to, personalize, live. And, I create the story by my living:  I can invent. I can forgive. I can change things around. I can create something new. I can go back and reconsider. I can ask new questions. I can pull things once lost together. I can do anything I want to!

“You can’t go back”, they say. Oh yes you can! Because time does not exist. And if you want to get your “puzzler” going, just think of Einstein. Or fractal geometry. The self-same patterns just keep going and going. Beautiful infinite and timeless, turning in on themselves and ever-expanding. Self-reflecting. Oh yes, how far can you go?!

I could go on forever considering these things. As I look backward and forward and at the very beginning of everything. I could go in leaps and bounds and never stop questioning. Never stop dreaming. Never stop launching into and including, sweeping up all the forgotten pieces into one great whole.

Oh yes, I could get quite philosophical on you. But I don’t want to scare you off.  So I’ll just say, there’s more to the story than what you see. So ask!  What does this have to do with me? How can I live more of this now? How can I make this even better than before? How can I look back as if into a mirror, and then create a great prism where everything is reflected more and more? You want to live forever? Just think about that.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?  Life. Never-ending. Charming. Intelligent. Infinite. Life.


We thoroughly enjoyed the evening at Dr. Warrick’s lecture, and how generously Dr. Warrick portrayed my ancestor and Sir John A. as two very prominent and upstanding (though temperamental) citizens in the community of Picton.  I also enjoyed playing the “naughty Moore” for the evening, allowing myself to encompass a little piece of history in my genes and in my demeanor.  After being invited back to Dr. Warrick’s lovely home and having a toast to the ancestors and to those present, Dr. Warrick pointed out a special keepsake in the corner of the living room that they intended to auction off for the cause:  a simple wooden chair apparently owned and used by  Sir John A. MacDonald. Before I left, I couldn’t resist playing my part to the fullest, having the honour (and gumption) to place my saucy behind on Sir John A.’s chair.  Finally, a Moore and a MacDonald meet again! And that, as they say, is history!

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Playing What If…

What if that one event we thought so pivotal to our life never happened?…

After watching Shrek Forever After today, I had to wonder what my life would be like if I hadn’t taken with my husband or moved close to the city.  I would not have become an actor when I did, I would not have joined a band (certainly not), I would not have had my daughter; nor would I live in this house, care one bit about gardening and keeping up with the weeds, or what schools to go to.

Then I look at the events in my family history, each ancestor’s life merely a time-line to me.  And I wonder, what don’t I know?  Why did this person do such and such?  Why did they marry this person and not that person?  What if they hadn’t?  And here I am, in the present, a live vestige of their every decision, now making my own decisions that will affect the lives of everyone around me.  What if I weren’t here?

Everybody wonders that at some point.  But this has come alive for me in the context of sorting my family history, and my life, all at once.  In the papers of old, I have asked myself where do I fit in, do I matter in this infinite time-line of events?  What difference do I make?

Maybe I am being hard on myself.  But I didn’t punch Sir John A. MacDonald in the nose, or build a railroad (my great grand-uncle did).  I didn’t leave my native Ireland and start all over again (my forefathers did).  Or did I?  In some small way, did I not leave my own native country – my childhood, the little city I called home, my family of origin?  I left all of that behind to go to university, earn a living in the big city, incite a passion long wanted, and eventually have a family of my own.  We all make choices and take leaps in our own way.  We all have our stories.

But what if we hadn’t?  This is not a question for regret, but for appreciation.  No matter how ugly it gets, there is benefit.  There is something or someone who wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for you.  You may not know it yet, but 50 or even 100 years from now, when someone is fishing through your papers or photo album, or remembering something you had said, they will be happy you were here.  They will be grateful that you did what you did, even if it was to give them something to write about!

One more thing:  And this is sentimental.  Since doing a time-line of my family of yesteryear, I decided to do one for myself.  Looking at the events of my life, I see not much at all.  Yet knowing myself and my life as I do, and how rich it really is, I have to realize that my approach to my family’s history (and the perspective of my life) has been very, very thin.  Amidst all of those dates – births, marriages and deaths – and great escapes – was a life, many lives, intertwined.  And what were they intertwined for?  Love, hatred, war, forgiveness, personal battles, contentment, building a home, building a country, building a Life.  In between all of the things I thought were important, the signposts and milestones we may consider noteworthy, a real live person breathed.  A real live person kissed their husband for the first time.  A real live person lost their innocent child and grieved.

There is so much more to family history than names and dates.  And, so much more to my life than meeting deadlines or phantom expectations.  If only I realized now what I have already done is build an incredible life – not only noteworthy, but rich with possibility and creativity, with people I have loved and lost along the way, yet all in the very same boat with me.  And a generation to come, or two, may not know or care, but I do.  I will never know all of the people I affected along the way, or what ripples I made – all I know is, like Shrek, I am very glad it did.