I am a Basque.
I didn’t start out that way this morning, but a package from Warrior Roots, a genetic research service which can track down the complex puzzle of an individual’s DNA, was given the job some time ago, and the package with the results arrived in a beautiful leather folder.
As an adopted person, I had very limited details due to the way certain folks – the Basques – were brought into the U.S. in the 50s and 60s. Many times, they were misidentified, and called Portugese or Spanish, but in fact, these folks were members of the proud Basque people. Somewhere in Providence, RI in 1966, someone had a child they couldn’t take care of, and elected to put them up for adoption.
That child was me, and my adoptive parents took great care of my sister and I and we grew up and did very separate things. My sister became a Registered Nurse, but the draw of the military was too much for me – I had to go in because I loved the idea of serving my country. I loved it so much that it broke my heart when the Clinton cut-backs left me out of the military. I still have dreams about being “reactivated,” something which will never happen due to medical issues, but Those dreams are the hardest to wake up from – the waking up is heartbreaking as I realize none of it was real. I would love to take up for my country just once more. I would love to wear that uniform again.
But my father was in the Navy and both my grandfathers worked hard for their families all their lives – right to the end. I tried desperately to serve honorably and make them proud. I don’t know if I did. I hope so.
My grandfathers were Swedish and Portuguese, and I have developed mannerisms, which I know come from them. I also know my great patience and work ethic comes from my Father’s example as a truck driver and a great parent. I believe he would argue that none of those amazing driving skills transferred – although there were some folks in Somalia with me who might argue that point. I know my stubborn, strength comes from my Mother, who is a tough lady and whom I love very much.
However, today I had to try to assimilate the in-depth package sent to me by my friends at Warrior Roots. Understand I love my family – and have adopted children myself – and at least one of them considers themselves to be Irish and Portuguese, in honor of my father.
But today I found out I am wholly and completely Basque.
I’m not sure how to internalize that. It explains some things about me I think, but how do I use this and how do I reconcile this? How do I make connections with a group, which until today I really knew very little about?
What are any of us, anyway? Here for a tiny moment in time and gone tomorrow. Are we more than the nature vs. nurture equation – do we have more than our friends and family, our jobs, our religion and our politics to define us?
I sold a vehicle which was much loved today, despite its’ quirky, expensive, insanity. But the sale will free up money to pay down debt in this difficult economy and take care of my family. So after so long trying to sell it, does it matter? Did it ever really matter? Will I really get a shot at my dream motorcycle when everything is back on track - and really, do any possessions matter – even if they make you feel better? I think not.
I’m a disabled vet. I’m always going to be on certain medications and I’m always going to be fighting blood clots, screwed up lungs and bad dreams and all the rest of it. I’ll be on the oxygen at night and have to be careful of bruises and cuts. Do my actions all those years ago in Somalia and elsewhere, determine who I am? Is that my marker?
We are a society of stories. The great singer, songwriter, Harry Chapin knew that. He didn’t become a traditional Rock singer. He became a storyteller. His stories inform us on lost loves, broken souls, sad night watchmen, whistleblowers and even lone-gunmen and vets lost to the world in the worst possible ways. The most recent Ft. Hood shooter is being dissected by television talking heads. But his story and the stories of his victims are real and they can be felt in our gut. What would lead a man to do something like that? What are we, really?
Chapin is dead, but his music lives. Looking long enough into the mirror of Chapin’s lyrics, do we see ourselves looking back?
I don’t know. I do know that because of the work Warrior Roots did identifying my genetic profile, I am now without a doubt, biologically 100 percent Basque descent.
I like Basque folding knives. I like their culture. I like their folk stories. I like their strength and autonomy. I like olives and wine.
But is that enough? Is it a starting place? I believe we can become better than we were the day before. I believe we can become stronger and we can pursue the things we need to with intent and focus. I believe we can extend our lives in ways, which will bring honor and truth and peace to those who’ve forgotten what these things feel like.
Does that make me Basque, Portuguese, English – or just another American searching for some truth always out of reach and barely in sight, but just visible enough for us to know it’s out there for us.
I choose to become more again. I choose to redefine myself and accept this for what it is – an extraordinary chance to see who I am more clearly. I’m going to try to understand more and grow more, and look for more connections with people and try just to be better.
I can do that. We all can do that.