This Newly Familiar Place (Essay)

Once again reveling in and revisiting the odd rituals that come with the New Year, and reflecting on how strange the journey is turning out to be, now that I've turned a few.

In case you missed it, in the Western world the calendar has flipped again. Our annual revolution around our beloved nearby star has reached this particular spot in the heavens, and because we draw 12 pages with an odd number of boxes on each, we must have a starting point for each of those collections. Thus, January arrives, heralding a New Year, and toting along all of the assorted rituals that we have tethered to it.

I'm not big on resolutions, but I do like to check my progress (or lack thereof) in a variety of ways, and of course count my blessings - including the ones that I might overlook. I have a toothache. I'm grateful that all the others seem fine! We plan the minute details of this activity or that, and fumble our way through others completely unprepared. We use apps to help us track the details, and quantify in some way our levels of unpreparedness. One of my favorite activities this time of year is the simple belly laugh; thanks to having a kid, a handful of funny friends and the occasional blip on social media, I usually don't have much trouble getting in a few every day.

I imagine it is inevitable though to look back over the years. My high school class is once again faced with one of those milestone reunions. I realized that we've probably all reached the age where we never imagined what it would be like to be here now. Sure, the young, the married, the kids, the career - but, middle age? Grandparenting, or even retiring? Far off in the future, well beyond the reach of any teenager's crystal ball. I remember well dreaming of a future as a musician, and plotting the details of getting through college and graduate school somehow. But back then my imagination ended around the notion of flipping the millennium, and having years start with 2s instead of 1s. And that milestone of course went by 17 revolutions ago.

I never really envisioned that my more recent quest, to uncover the myriad stories of my family and to bring some of them to life in music, would lead me back to the scientific and problem-solving part of my brain. I spend hours some evenings poring over the intricate details of triangulating where chromosomes match, adding bits and pieces to a crude pencil balloon drawing helping me get some sense of where different lines of a family come together. In an odd way it feels like my life is mimicking the pattern of the DNA double helix - never repeating itself, but spiraling around to new perspective and new uses for whatever God-given talents might be wrapped within my own genes. And all in service of finding the real Rosetta stone - teasing out the stories of how I got here.

I sense that I've been in this musical and creative metamorphosis for several years. I often spend time working on simple but new techniques on the guitar. I fill my iPhone with an endless barrage of recordings, snippets of melodies, lyrics, and general ideas. Perhaps all of this chromosome mapping is preparation for winding some of these musical ideas together, with some vain hope and overarching goal of making it both cohesive and artistically engaging. It feels like a big project, until I sit down and spill out a chorus and a couple verses in 20 minutes again and remember that yes, I can do that too.

This last year I connected with family I never knew existed. Shared stories and formed relationships from one coast to the other. Real people who suddenly appeared out of a lifetime of fog and uncertainty. And music wrapped up all in those same genes we share. Marvelous, mysterious and delightful.

Another trip around the sun. An old dog, new tricks. Old stories, new light. The unexpected surprises, and the constant truths. This last journey has been a wild one. I guess they all are. I hope that this year's batch of "unexpecteds" is mostly good too. And I wonder what new stories I'll reflect on when we arrive here again.

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