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A Wonderful Surprise

I’ve recently been on a book tour, doing interviews about my new book, Your Mind Is What Your Brain Does for a Living, and as a by-product of the publicity, I received this email: “Hi Steve! If your mother is Leah, then I am your cousin. My grandmother was Ann, your mom’s sister. I’d love to hear from you and say hello! Warmest regards, D.”


I responded, and a week later my mom and two of my daughters hosted a dinner at my home for three relatives I never knew existed. None of our newfound family members was anything like I imagined they would be. By all appearances, we seem to have come from entirely different backgrounds, and, in many ways, we did.


My Mother and Her Sister: Two Different Worlds


My mother and her sister Ann (my second cousin D’s grandmother) never seemed close, because they rarely spoke and saw each other probably only once every few years. In fact, I met Aunt Ann only a few times when I was a child and saw her only another couple of times 40 years later. Yet, somehow, I always sensed that they loved each other.


Both of their parents (my maternal grandparents) were Jewish and had fled Riga, in Eastern Europe, in the late 1800s during the pogroms (the mass annihilations of Jews). They worked their way to England, where they found jobs as servants until they got to America, around 1914. I believe my grandparents feared anti-Semitism and therefore chose to live “under the radar” about being Jewish. My mother married my father, who came from an observant Jewish background; Aunt Ann married a Christian man and lived in a Christian community.


And though all of us grew up in Southern California, sitting together at dinner we all felt like we had come from different worlds. I had been brought up in Jewish neighborhoods and belonged to a Jewish fraternity at USC, while D, her nephew, and her lifelong non-related adopted sister had been raised in a more small-town community. And while I look like a graying, preppy artist-author and traditional financier, my cousins reflect an urban, hip-hop style.


On the surface, despite being 50 percent from the same bloodline, it looked like we had almost nothing in common, yet I felt warm and loving feelings toward my newfound relatives, and I experienced the same coming back from them to me. And we do all have common family traits. One of the qualities we share is a desire to grow, and to make a positive difference in the world.


My Youngest Cousin’s Life-Changing Experience


I was especially interested in the youngest of my visiting relatives, who is now 30 years old. He described himself as a recovering gangbanger who was shot in the back of the neck in a gang dispute and left for dead, an experience that changed his life. Now he is devoted to an anti-gang activity—lecturing to teens and leading them to a more productive way of life.


I saw Chinese tattoos on his fingers, hands, wrists, and biceps, and asked what they meant. He explained that they were inspirational Chinese characters and that they covered up his old “ink”—gang-related tattoos that no longer represent the person he is now.


Quite a gift and a delightful surprise, meeting three people whose paths would probably never have crossed mine, despite our being related by blood and living in the same little corner of the world. Yet, our paths did cross, and now we are connected to and inspiring each other.

  • 16 Apr, 2014
  • Posted by Skye Wentworth
  • 9 Tags

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