Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sins of my Fathers

When I was young, my maternal grandmother who raised me was somehow aware of a particular one of my ancestor’s indiscretions on my father’s side. Whether she knew of these events because of stories she heard from her parents, or whether it was from information she gleaned from my father’s side of the family when those two sides were still talking with one another I can’t say for certain but she knew nonetheless. I can’t say that there was any fondness for my paternal family by my grandmother after my father exited from my life when I was nine months old, and she certainly didn’t hold back any opinions on the matter. She would tell me how they were all a notorious bunch of Galitzianos, from a family that had once had power and recognition only to lose it all and were now nothing more than wandering gypsies bereft of all they once had. Womaniser and gamblers that still believed they were something special even though they had been stripped of everything. It would be easy to attribute this rant of hers to being typical of the animosity that arises from a family split except for some of the references she had used which were actually reinforcing the concept that they had been far more in the past than they were in the present. The clincher though was a statement that she once iterated that the downfall of my paternal family came from the selfish actions of one of the ancestors long ago. That one man had brought about their demise in her eyes through his own selfishness. She raised it as a warning for me, as a warning against false pride and lack of humility. A caution against following in my ancestor’s footsteps.
I later discovered that this man she spoke of was none other than my third great grandfather. He had risen well above his humble origins of Brody Galicia, eventually rubbing elbows with Emperor’s and Queens. Being awarded gold medals in both London and Paris, and rewarded handsomely by the Emperor Franz Josef to stations well beyond his level of academia. You see, Jakob had never gone to what they referred to back then as the Gymnasia. It didn’t mean the health centre as it does now, but in fact was a reference to high school. Jakob had no formal education, yet he was able to enter directly into a university and years later was appointed a professor at the University of Vienna. Not a bad achievement for someone without their high school certificate. Lately I’ve been finding myself dwelling upon the events in my third great-grandfather Jakob’s life to a considerable extent and my grandmother’s comment on his being selfish.
The decisions he made when examined from an antagonistic viewpoint could all be considered selfish. But when one takes into consideration the motivations that drove him to his choice selection then it is possible to gain a different perspective.
Turning his back on his destiny after the finding of the documents past down from his ancestor in the 16th century was a natural outcome of living a lie. The concealment of his past which was in direct conflict with the future planned for him meant that a decision had to be made one way or the other. He chose to preserve the ways of the past; the ways of his ancestors. Is it selfish to deny others the right to determine your future?
Taking the funds provided to him by the community in Brody which he used to pursue a doctorate in Middle Eastern languages and literature instead of enrolling in the Rabbinical School in Leipzig as the money had been intended might also be viewed as selfish. I know when the arrest warrant was issued by the Brody community they were thinking far worse than merely selfish, such as criminal, contemptible and far worse, but then wouldn’t one consider all the money that Jakob returned in the future to the children of not only Brody, but in Germany and Austria to fund their education (although only of a secular nature) through the benevolence donations of the Golden Thaler a fair return on the community’s investment? Shouldn’t one be allowed to compensate for their ‘criminal’ actions and gain forgiveness?
The irreparable rift between Jakob and his father was originated by his father’s actions of disowning his son. It was an age when such action by a parent meant that a man’s honour was at stake to challenge the action. A vow was a vow no matter how much it may have been regretted in the future. But even so, Jakob warmly welcomed his brother Julius when he arrived in Vienna, not only providing for him but obtaining for him a position in the university archives as well. Even though Julius had been bound by his father’s vow as well to never again communicate with Jakob whom was to be considered dead, it did not stop Jakob from extending a helping hand to one that had previously turned his back on him. That can hardly be categorised as selfish, can it?
And when the Emperor Franz Josef appointed Jakob as the personal tutor to his young and impressionable empress, Elisabeth, was it Jakob’s fault that they should be drawn together to such an extent that the Emperor’s mother had to question as to whom really fathered the Princess Sophia when she was born? I’ve seen many portraits of the young Elisabeth and I know exactly what my third great-grandfather felt each time he was in her presence. If such an attraction did occur, was it selfish to let it develop or was it merely the natural course of romance?
The retribution against Jakob for what may have been considered his final indiscretion in the previous paragraph did lead to the family being stripped of much of its honours. But those honours were only obtained through Jakob in the first place. They were his to lose if he so desired in a matter of speaking. I’m currently working on Jakob’s life story in the 9th Book of the Kahana Chronicles and exactly how he will be presented I cannot even tell you at this point. The writing takes on a life of its own.
So on reflection of the true meaning of selfishness, I am led to question does it truly exist or is it merely the perspective from which we view the actions. If we accuse an individual of such behaviour could it be only because we lust for what they have obtained and therefore to view selfishness is only possible if we in turn possess jealousy? Are we truly able to say that if we found ourselves in similar circumstances we would behave in an entirely different manner? In life there are so many questions but so few answers.

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