Who Am I?

It’s been more than a dozen years since my husband began to search for his Croatian cousins. Mike was raised next door to his dad’s parents who migrated from their homeland as teens. This close proximity made Mike privy to bits and pieces of his grandparents’ story which no one else heard. It’s no wonder he engaged in a years-long search to find the family his grandparents had left behind. After extensive research, numerous phone calls and a letter to his grandfather’s childhood parish, it was his cousins’ parish priest who provided their contact information. All of this resulted in an amazing visit with Mike’s family in Krasic, Croatia. We’ve been in contact with these wonderful new additions to our family ever since.

Though I wish I could tell you that Mike was satisfied with these efforts to discover his roots, I cannot. Some years later, he began a similar search on his mother’s side of the family. Though Mike didn’t live next door, he visited his grandmother often at her home just a few miles away. Mike’s maternal grandfather had passed away just prior to Mike’s birth. As a result, his grandmother looked upon him as a blessing who filled the hole in her heart. As a child, Mike listened intently to this grandmother’s stories as well. Like those Croatian tales, they stoked his curiosity regarding his grandparents’ life in their homeland. So it was that the research, phone calls and correspondence began again. A few years ago, we spent a week in Sicily and a day in Mike’s grandparents’ village. Our friend Onofrio arranged for his Sicilian army buddy Gianfranco and his wife Aurora to explore Altofonte with us that day. This enjoyable adventure provided Mike with far more information. It also added many more questions to his need-to-know list.

Today, Mike and I are in Sicily. This time, two locals are exploring Altofonte with us. While researching via the internet, Mike came across a high school student’s video which featured her hometown. When Mike commented that his grandparents were born there, Pietro joined in the conversation. He shared that he lives in Altofonte and might be able to find additional information for Mike. Since that first online meeting, Pietro was elected councilman in Altofonte and he and Mike have communicated regularly regarding local news as well as Mike’s family history. In the mean time, Mike discovered the Sicilian Genealogy page on Facebook. Someone used the page to request on site help in discovering her family roots. When law student Francesco came highly recommended, Mike decided to contact him. In the midst of his studies, Francesco engages in genealogy searches as a hobby. At this writing, Mike and I are anxious to meet these two in person. Mike is anxious to meet his grandparents’ history in person as well.

Since I packed my bags to join him in this undertaking, I think it’s obvious that I support Mike’s efforts in this regard. I spent my childhood listening to my family stories, too, and I certainly appreciate their value. The difference, I think, is that I’ve never felt the need to know more. I loved my parents who made me who I am today. My grandparents, aunts and uncles were the frosting on the cake who enhanced my parents’ influence. Of course, my own siblings and my sixty-plus cousins added to the mix as well. I’ve never wondered where I came from or who I am because I felt that I knew. The truth is that, until this writing, I continued to feel this way. It is the question Jesus posed in Mark’s gospel ( 8:27-35) which urges me to acknowledge that I have more to learn after all…

Mark tells us that, as they walked between villages, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” I’m fairly certain that Jesus knew how he would answer this question. Our Loving Creator meant everything to Jesus and he had made his people’s history his own. Jesus knew from whence he’d come and he lived accordingly. Perhaps Jesus posed the question to help his disciples to discover who they were and where they were on this life’s journey. They’d enjoyed friendships with Jesus and they’d witnessed his preaching, his miracles and his compassion. Still, they also shook their heads at some of what Jesus said and did. When Jesus posed his question, most of them didn’t have the courage to express what they felt. They merely quoted what they’d heard from others. Only Peter stepped up to say, “You are the Christ.” When he identified Jesus, Peter identified himself. Peter was willing to follow wherever Jesus lead him because in knowing Jesus he came to know himself. Though Peter balked when Jesus spoke of his suffering, Peter remained. Though Peter denied Jesus during his passion, he embraced their friendship at the foot of the cross. By the time Peter joined Jesus in eternity, Peter knew exactly who he was.

Discovering his extended family has enriched Mike’s sense of self beyond expectations. I think Mike will agree that his relationship with God defines him even more so. As for me, I have much to learn from my relationship with God and my own history as well. One day, I’ll really know who God is and I’ll really know me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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