two black-and-white portraits of a man and woman
Ida and Mischelem Kirschen

An unexpected email brings joy. I’ve got mishpocha!

It’s been a tough couple of months. Politics and pandemic have taken their toll on me. Like many people, I have lost loved ones this year. And almost a year of sheltering at home has made me feel that my once larger-than-life life has shrunk to minuscule proportions.

Stuck at home, I have been nursing a deep case of the blues, feeling sorry for the state of the world; feeling sorry for myself, stuck in an unaccustomed and unattractive state of ennui and self-pity.

The other day, unable to concentrate on work, casting about for something to do, I started reading emails. I opened a message from someone I didn’t know. The email caused instant delight. It turned out the “unknown” author of the email was an undiscovered, but not-so-distant relative!

Yes, thanks to the internet and America’s love affair with genealogy, I am now connected with Ben, my newfound cousin, third I think (I never quite get this stuff quite right) on my mother’s side.

My grandparents, Ida and Mischelem Kirschen, were Ben’s great-great-aunt and uncle. His paternal grandmother was Sarah, the daughter of Mischelem’s brother John. As a child, I remember my mother once mentioning John. So it was charming to have this name spring to life from a distant corner of my mind — the same mind that cannot remember what I ate for lunch yesterday.

Ben found me thanks to his genealogy research, which, in turn, brought him to my published writing. And for that combination of resources, I’m so grateful — especially right now.

The first reason is probably obvious. With all this stuck-at-homeness, it’s life-affirming to have my world unexpectedly expand outward. Ben lives in Georgia. A relative in Georgia? How positively exotic!

The second reason I’m so happy to meet Ben? I just lost a loved one, a best friend who, after 41 years of laughter and shared history, was more a sister than a friend. So meeting Ben is that rare, golden, glowing opportunity to see my family grow, not shrink.

And there’s a third reason I’m celebrating the arrival of Cousin Ben into my somewhat gloomy life: the way he found me, through my writing. It is a validation of my work — that it stands for something larger than a momentary flickering on a computer screen or a glance at an article before it gets tossed into the trash or used to line the bottom of a bird cage.

So my mishpocha is expanding. And I cannot overstate the joy it is bringing me.

As the much younger child — and sibling — of a once large family, I have felt the loss of family keenly. That sense of loss has fueled my own interest in genealogy, and it fuels my joy in this spanking brand-new e-introduction to Cousin Ben.

This sense of familial loss and the related elation I feel is best captured in this quote by 20th-century French philosopher Simone Weil: “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

So, now, even as I tick off the days until my second Covid-19 vaccination, I also look forward to my next email from my newfound cousin, new writing adventures and, of course, the very thing we all desire — better days.

Karen Galatz
Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, a weekly humor blog. An award-winning journalist, her nonfiction and fiction essays and stories have been featured in multiple publications. She is a former resident Berkeley who now lives in Reno and can be reached at [email protected].