With yesterday marking the four year anniversary of my paternal grandfather’s death and the coming of All Soul’s Day this Friday, I’ve been in the midst of a bit of an existential crisis.
While I am at a place where I can truly say that I am content with my life at Hopkins, there are still times when I miss my family back in Charlotte, N.C. This is especially the case when nagging questions like “What at am I going to do with my life?” or “How will what I’m doing now influence my legacy?” start to eat away at my conscience.
It’s times like these when I’ve found that there’s something grounding in looking to the lives of those who have come before me in search of the commonalities that link us together as well as a much-needed dose of inspiration.
My aforementioned grandfather, John Logan, had a passion for knowledge. While our disciplines may be completely different — he was an electrical engineer before he taught math in Boston city schools, while I cringe at the word “geometry” — the manner in which we wholly devote ourselves to learning is comparable. He didn’t live to see my success at Hopkins, but I know he would be proud of all I’ve been able to achieve here.
His mother, my great-grandmother, ran a boarding house in Boston by herself, collecting rent and ensuring on her own that the building was kept up and more. In fact, this is how she came across his father, who was one of the men staying in the residency that she ran. Quite a remarkable way to meet — cute, if you ask me.
Meanwhile, anyone wondering where I get my love of music or my feminist streak from need look no further than my great-grandaunt Catherine, on the Corbo side of my mom’s family. Like me (even if it’s just while breaking out Singstar or in the shower), she had a passion for singing. In fact, against the gender norms of her time, she moved out to California alone in pursuit of making a record.
In case that wasn’t enough of a badass life story, she went on to open her own salon next door to her dad’s barber shop, building up a loving clientele over the years. She worked, sang, bowled, loved her family and lived life to the fullest until the end. To say the least, not a bad role model. Her sister-in-law and my great-grandmother, Irene Corbo (married to Catherine’s brother, Louis) was known for her baking. Each year each member of the family would anxiously await the tin of assorted cookies she would send their way during the holiday season. I think she would approve of the fact that I get my zen on in the kitchen, and, to this day, the scent of anise makes me think of her.
Meanwhile, if you know me, you know I love to host people at my apartment. A little like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, I find there’s something artful, even magical about bringing people together to share delicious food, laughter and conversation.
My great-grandparents on the Powers side of the family, Bill and Betty, similarly took joy in having people over to their home, whether it was simply inviting friends for dinner or going all out throughout the holiday season. They may not have had a lot to spare themselves, but they made their home an inviting, festive environment regardless.
It’s hard to bask in self-pity when I objectively look at how hard these individuals and the rest of the generations that came before me worked to enable me to be where I am today. I’m at a stage in my life where I can start to craft my own unique narrative to add to my family’s history. Yet, rather than seeing this as stressful or overwhelming, I’m striving to see it as an opportunity.
It’s true what they say about being unable to pick your family, but, by and large, I am incredibly proud of those that paved the way for me. Now, it’s time for me to allow my actions to serve as an homage to the values and passions that they instilled in me, as well as the sacrifices they made.
Next time you’re feeling down and out, try looking for solace in the stories that make up the tapestry of your own family history. Think of your ancestors like invisible cheerleaders, rooting for you to succeed in their wake.