Wednesday, 19 October 2011

finding the past in me

My background is Mennonite. And usually I'm proud of this, but occasionally it has made for interesting questions and conversations. Do you have electricity? Do you have arranged marriages? Are you allowed to go to movies? Do you drink wine? Are you allowed to do anything fun?

My maternal grandfather was of the Old Order Mennonite variety (horse and buggy and black clothing) until he was 6 years old. His family switched to "our" type of Mennonite because his parents wanted their kids to go to Sunday school, and my great-grandfather wanted to ride a bike to work.

So I feel like I have a secret inside of me sometimes - this connection to the past, but also to a people living in the present.

This photo was taken on a gravel road near our house. The boot is me; the car is mine; the buggy is in front. I don't usually drive with my foot up like this.

But it shows parts of me. The boots, which I love. The car, which I drive. The buggy in front, a connection to a part of my family in the past. I don't question that I'm where I should be (in the car, not in the buggy), but there are pieces of me that want to be in that buggy. Very small pieces, but they're there. The parts that romanticize a lifestyle: growing and eating local produce, living in ways that don't harm the earth like I do right now with my planes trains and automobiles, more simple things that bring pleasure, entertainment that doesn't depend on computer or TV, Monday laundry days, and a strong community of support. 

Which parts of the past do I bring to my present? What pieces of my history and my ancestry inform who I am today?

A few weeks ago, I saw a conservative Mennonite couple at the Starbucks at the Toronto International airport. They looked very out of place. I wanted to tell them: I know you. I'm one of you.

But I'm not at all. I recognized them, but they didn't even see me. I didn't know who they were, but I knew the people they belonged to. 

They have sacrificed much in terms of their lifestyle and choices. Me? Have I sacrificed anything? It's doubtful. They are visible because of the way they get around and the clothing they wear. I just fit right in. Nothing distinguishes me as having a shared ancestry. I am invisible, one of the masses - peopleless, potentially, in their view.

I wanted to claim my Mennonite-ness in that instant - to reach out to them to make them feel at ease (they looked a bit uncomfortable) and also to belong. To claim them as part of my larger family. But I didn't say anything. I just got my chai latte and lemon-cranberry scone and sat alone. Because that's part of the larger culture that I've learned - individualism.


  1. Your last line word really caught me. Why do we seek to be individualistic. It doesn't make sense. It is usually in those moments of reaching out to other people we find a wealth of stories and common ground with each other to remind us that we truly are not separate from each other at all. Thanks for the good thoughts.

  2. Thanks Lisa. You're right - about that reaching out and finding stories and common ground. I think there is value in individualism, but not at the expense of living in community with others, and seeing others as an extension of ourselves. Where do I stop and you begin? I think we've defined ourselves too narrowly sometimes.

  3. DIDO DIDO (how do I spell that?) - I have shared so many of these thoughts and experiences. You just put them into words! And I am loving the boots. Where did you get them? Your boots - are very "Rebecca" your flare. The flare I love about you! I just read the comments above - how does mine fit in? Not sure :) I am pressing send anyway. Cheers.

  4. Shauna: Yours fits in perfectly. Ditto. And thank you. I got the boots at a thrift store in Ithaca, New York - I tried them on one evening, thought that $40 was too frivolous for thrift store boots even though I loved them and they fit perfectly. Thought about them that night and the next morning when I woke up. Made everyone rush back to the store when it opened in the morning. The boots were still there. Phew! Derek very much supported me in that purchase even though he thought the boots were funny. He said, "Just get them! I'm going to be hearing about it if you don't." He's wonderful, isn't he?

  5. Rebecca, this will be a terribly frivolous comment on a posting that gives rise to so much reflection, but here goes nonetheless: those boots ROCK!

  6. Not frivolous at all. Thanks, Mara! :)