8.2.13

Saudade


"The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness". (In Portugal of 1912, A. F. G. Bell)

John Lucas - Quilts, Coats and Colours

I have come to believe that it is only in being sure of our own identity that we can ever be truly happy. Identity is a person's conception and expression of their individuality or group affiliations (such as national identity and cultural identity). The term comes from the French word identité, which finds its linguistic roots in the Latin noun identitas, -tatis, a derivation of the Latin adjective idem meaning "the same." The term thus emphasises the sharing of a degree of sameness or oneness with others in a particular area or on a given point. In light of etymology, the concept of identity, or understanding oneself, is not a journey of individuality, but of community. 

We cannot know who we are, and what the implications of knowing are, within the vacuum of individuality. It is only in comparison to, and in relationship with, others that we can begin to describe ourselves. The lens through which we view ourselves is shaped by the people and environment around us. And just as our identity is formed by our community, our community is equally shaped by our identity. But identity and community are not concepts that are limited to the present. It is the roots of our past that enrich and inform our present, that teach us, that mould us. He kākano āhau i ruia i Rangiātea.

Lately I have been doing some research in to my family genealogy. There is a family legend that says that King George III fell in love with Hannah Lightfoot, a young Quaker girl living in London, in the mid-1700's. Hannah was whisked away from her family to marry the King in private, and then her and her children were shipped to South Africa so that the illegitimate marriage would never be found out. Of the King and Hannah's three children, George Rex apparently established a line of heirs (not all legitimate, mind you) which eventually leads down to my great-grandmother, Victoria Richmond Rex.
If this story is true, then I have royal English blood in me (which to be honest, I'm not too sure I like the sound of, given the English legacy of colonialism and imperialism throughout the world). Having done a bit of research, it seems more likely that the George Rex I descend from was actually an Englishman from Yorkshire who emigrated to Australia in the 1830's, and we were more likely just a family of settlers eking out a living off the land (conversations about Australia, terra nullis and settler/Aboriginal relationships aside). 

These discoveries - of who I am, where I come from, and what those before me gained and lost in their journeys, whether they were royalty, or peasants...they have given something to my soul. I am no longer just Olivia, in New Zealand in the 21st century. I am a link in the long chain of history. I have ancestors who fought in wars, who sailed months in treacherous conditions with hopes of a new life, or new opportunities, catching in their throats. My identity is sure, because it is shaped by those who came before me, and by the promises of the future moulded by lessons of the past. 

I have often felt lost. Lonely. Saudade. My journey of the past 3 years has been a journey of self-discovery, of community. But I have never seen more than what the present offers. Having begun on this journey of my genealogy and in learning about those from whom I was born, for the first time I can say to myself truthfully, "This is who I am."

Identity may not always come from historical familial genealogy. I think there is great merit in the concept of spiritual genealogy. We come from a long line of followers of Christ, who over centuries have been oppressed and exalted, rich and poor. Our line of faith extends all the way back to Christ hanging on a crucifix, all the way back to King David of Israel mourning in the mountains, all the way back to a Jewish people wandering an arid desert and clinging to their God, all the way back to the beauty of Creation. We are in God, and God is in us. Each of us

The past holds the key to both joy and sorrow. I am filled with pride at the thought of my ancestors bravery in leaving all they knew behind in order to build a new life in a foreign land, yet I am also appalled in knowing the wrong done to the Aboriginal people of Australia by British colonialism. Similarly, I am fascinated by the humble Protestant people of Yorkshire from whom I descend, yet it pains me to think of the historic oppression of the Irish Catholic by Protestant England. But I think that part of living in the present well means acknowledging not just the victories of the past, but the trials of the past as well. By acknowledging wrongs done, people hurt, or decisions made poorly, we empower our children to walk forward having learned lessons, and we do justice to those we hurt which may, hopefully, pave the way for redress and reconciliation. I wonder was the implications of a secure identity for all would be? I wonder if, by being sure of who we were and secure in our knowledge of the past, we would be further empowered and enabled to take charge of our paths and practice love, solidarity and unity? Because if identity is rooted in community, what choice do we have but to love others, be compassionate and stand hand-in-hand, while we walk the journey of our own souls?

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