My mother’s family has never been normal. And they’ve never been satisfied with ordinary explanations.
Extreme beliefs run rife there, in particular beliefs of the ToE variety – Theories of Everything. Grand ideological edifices that explain and prescribe How Humans Should Live. My grandfather and my grandmother, I am sorry to say, were life-long passionate believers in National Socialism, mixed with Nordic religion, and the collapse of the Third Reich, detention and a life on the margins did nothing to cure them of their fervor. If anything, it made them feels like possessors of special knowledge, which the masses were too dumb to understand.
One aunt took those selfsame beliefs and added a dose of Wiccan magic and started her own cult.
An uncle ran a youth organization training the next generation of right-wing activists.
Another uncle sought refuge merely in a particularly austere variant of Protestantism.
And yet another uncle became a committed communist and staunch defender of the Soviet Union, but after the grand collapse switched allegiances to buddhism and the new age.
Many of my cousins were or are members of right wing organizations. One is a fundamentalist Christian. One of my sisters is a new age practitioner and teacher of highly unorthodox therapies and for a while became a breatharian until reverting to raw veganism. Another sister believes that chelation will take care of most diseases, and is busily prepping for Armageddon.
My mother’s journey has taken her from astrology, to Christianity, to the power of crystals and other new age practices.
I am of course not saying that these Theories of Everything are equivalent – they range from the outright evil to the benign. All I’m saying that my mother’s people are either genetically or through upbringing predisposed to search for Meaning with a capital M.
I’ve always prided myself on my dry pragmatism and my pursuit of scientific knowledge. After all, I didn’t just study philosophy, I also studied psychology, physiology and statistics.
And yet, I know I have that Meaning-seeking urge in me. I’m drawn to ideas and theories that propose grand solutions that promise to make everyone healthier, wiser, happier. There is something elegant and seductive about a good Grand Theory. It begins to answer the question of How to Live – the biggest, unanswerable question of them all.
And I have to keep reminding myself, that Theories of Everything have a terrible record, especially in the hands of politicians and dictators.
And then I remind myself that I am also my father’s daughter. A long line of hardworking, humble, honest people who tried to do the best they could for their families and the people around them. Most didn’t go to school beyond their 14th year and yet they all read widely, were curious about the world, traveled, but never thought they had all the answers.
Those are my people too.