The author of the letter to the Hebrews used this statement, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, to persuade believers in Christ, during a horrible time of trouble to maintain their steadfastness in their faith. I will use it for a significantly different purpose.
I am of the tribe of Oisin. I know this because of the DNA that is within my blood. There are many in my tribe, but I am glad to know where I fit in within the world. My tribe settled in Western Europe many ages ago, and we have moved to most of the continents in the Western Hemisphere. I trace my genealogical tribe through my father’s DNA, and he was glad to know of his background, because my father doesn’t know his father.
It never bothered me, not knowing my paternal grandfather, as my grandmother’s husband was always kind to me. However, upon learning some of the circumstances about him, I wished I had known him, as I am sure my father does. When I told my father about my details, which were passed to me through him, that’s how DNA haplogroups work, they go from gender to gender, he was very interested. I didn’t understand why, but my wife who is an adopted child has given me insight.
In my mind’s eye I can see my antecedents, and I understand that from male to male in my particular line of the tribe of Oisin, this has been passed from father to son through countless years. I don’t know them, but I have come to believe that in some way I do know them, and more importantly I am known of them. In ancient cultures it was a rather common practice to ponder, pray and mediate upon one’s ancestors. I know that some may find this concept ridiculous, and perhaps others sacriligeous, and my intent was not to offend or appear unreasonable. I feel I am being neither. The connection we have as human beings is altogether binding yet tenuous, however, it is not so among those in your line. This is not merely family traditions, but flows from the very source and symbol of our life, our blood.
Today, in class many of my students were wearing green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. One girl, could be a poster child for Irish girls. She is also, a completely wonderful child. We discussed – deciding to take a little break from the planned activity – to learn about where the Irish came from, and today was a teacher directed discussion – with a great deal of student input. After the lesson, I wanted her to think about this; that 10,000 years ago, a young woman of her age, 12, was likely in Ireland. I asked her to try and visualize this woman to whom she shares an unbroken link in history – traced through her mother to her grandmother and all the way back in time to when the one that makes her particularly unique was there.
I asked other students to do this also, and the results were breathtaking. One of the things I know I will miss about teaching – when I switch next fall to administration will be the moments with the learners. Among the comments were:
“I want to know them. I want to see them and understand what they felt. I want to love them and feel that they know and love me.”
“I want to know a time when Jews were not hated by so many in the world. “I want to meet my antecdent from that time”.
“I want to think that they are watching out for me”.
“I feel connected to the things we have learned in history. I know I am a part of this”.
Amazing what the minds of young learners can bring forth when their voices are heard. They understood, and hopefully some of you do also, that all of us are surrounded by this great host of witnesses. I can’t prove this, and the only rational basis I can posit this concept is that so many in the past sought the guidance from their ancestors, whom they had never known, but believed knew them. I don’t find this a heresy or a witchcraft. I find this completely wondrous, and I do confess, that I have at times sat contemplating those who form the chain of my life, which is now continued in my son, and I pray it continues on with his own son. My father’s line will go on, as he had four sons, and all have had sons. Good job, Dad.
I too want to know them.
I want to believe that they watch over me, and are concerned for my well-being.
I close my eyes, even now, and I feel their collective strength, bound to me through generations of a continuous line to the first of my tribe, the Oisin. As I think upon them, I feel them surrounding me; a great cloud of witnesses. They surround me, until that time, I am joined to them. At which time, I will watch over my descendents which form my tie to my forebears.