This photo was taken before I was born, in the pizzeria my father owned shortly after he came to America. There's my father stirring the pot, beside him his parents, and that's my mother, small in the background. There's a reason she’s in the background. Far off like that, looking alone and like an afterthought. It's a long story. It's not always a pretty one, but a lot of family stories aren’t.
I wouldn’t understand the dynamics at play in this image, in this single moment, thoughtlessly captured, I'm sure, if I wasn't in the habit of asking about what I call The Majesty of my lineage and family stories—the great pageantry of what each of us belongs to. People rarely start talking about the past spontaneously, and if they do, it's usually surface anecdotes, small, fun, nostalgic stories from childhood. To get the gems, you have to ask them to talk about it. And The Majesty matters. Even if you weren't there, you’re impacted by the relationships, choices, failures, successes of your family's stories. You're born, and your life gets woven into that narrative. Knowing The Majesty strengthens you, it gives that sense of belonging we're all looking for. In a great wide spinning world, you know you're a part of something, a part of something long and winding and still unfolding, a whole long saga that belongs to you and your blood. And that can be the difference between doubt and confidence, depression and joy. It’s not just my opinion, researchers have proved it.
This is an excellent time to call your parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, and ask them about their lives. They’re probably feeling lonely and isolated, so you’ll also be doing a nice thing, showing them you care about their experiences. Zoom is a free way to record calls, but if you can’t get grandma onto Zoom, there’s a “Call Recorder” software you can purchase for a nominal fee and use through Skype. Once you’ve downloaded it, you can call anyone on a regular landline or cell phone from Skype and record your conversation. If you need help I'm happy to walk you through it; just comment below or DM me privately.
Some questions I’ve found helpful in the past to generate detail and stories from my family:
1. How did you and X meet?
2. What did you think when you first saw him/her?
3. What was it like when your families first met?
4. What was your wedding day like?
5. What do you remember of your grandparents?
6. What were your first thoughts when you arrived in America?
7. Do you remember your first day of school?
These are just basic starter questions. I find when you get people talking about their lives, and show a genuine interest, things they've forgotten, things you never thought you'd learn, just naturally enter the conversation. Those are the gems of your Majesty, and if you capture them now, you'll be able to pass them down to your children, and in doing so, you'll consciously weave them into the great saga they entered when they were born, and they'll learn what and who they belong to.