During our time in Stockholm, I read a piece by Helen Keller that was published in The Atlantic ages ago. It was a speculative article about what it would be like if she could suddenly regain her sight for just three days, and all the things she would want to do and see in that time. As was probably intended, I went around for a few days after reading it with renewed wonder in my eyes, grateful for the ability to see even the littlest of things, from tulips growing in the park to an old man riding his bicycle down the embankment.

I also couldn’t help but comparing what Keller described to our cousin B’s situation. What does it feel like to have gone your whole life not knowing anything about your family, then suddenly be thrown into the midst of this warm, exuberant, loving group of people that I call my in-laws? To my mind, it must feel something akin to regaining one’s sight after a lifetime spent in darkness.

At first, the sudden onslaught of sensation would be completely overwhelming, as I’m sure it was when B first came to visit California. But after some time, you would start to grow used to the idea, to enjoy and appreciate this strange new world. No matter how much time passed though, you would never ever start to take it for granted. You would always retain that sense of wonder, as people who have lived their whole lives with sight, or with the knowledge of where they came from, can never do.

During our week with B and his family, we learned more about the story of their discovery, and I kept coming back to this same allegory. I saw B give a start when Gabe referred to “our grandfather,” as their fathers shared the same father. Even though B is now used to the idea of his other grandfather, the actuality of it was still clearly a thrilling novelty to both him and his family. They repeated that phrase, “our grandfather,” for the next few days, the wonder of it never quite leaving their faces.

Perhaps even stranger was how similar B and Gabe looked, which people commented on repeatedly throughout our time there. When B and S’s neighbors came over for dinner one night, they looked at both of us in turn and said, “OK, so which one is the cousin?” I really hope they were joking, because their relation is plainly written all over B and Gabe’s faces. They share the same nose, the same lips (or lack thereof), the same way of moving their arms. (Click on the photo to enlarge.)

They even have similar personality traits and interests, and spent many long hours in deep discussion about a huge variety of things. Listening to them talk, you would not believe they had only just met, as it sounded more like the continuation of a lifelong conversation between good friends. Or cousins.

To spend more than fifty years wondering about where you came from, not knowing anything about one half of your heritage, and then to find a man who looks and acts just like you but grew up on the other side of the world… if there was an emotional equivalent to regaining one’s sight, that would be it.

Just as with the Helen Keller piece, learning more about B’s story made me see my own family with a renewed sense of appreciation. It would be all too easy for me to pity myself for having lost a parent before the age of 30 — but at least I knew him, was raised by him, can recognize which parts of me are his. And I know our family, as convoluted as it might be, with all my various siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews (and great-nieces and -nephews…!) I am blessed to have had my father before I lost him, to have all the memories of my childhood and early adulthood with him, and to have all the rest of my crazy, far-flung family to boot.

True, I take them for granted sometimes, but not this week, not after thinking about all this. This week, I look on the tulips and the old man on his bike and all my wonderful widespread family with newly grateful eyes.

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