Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

Is anyone else watching this show?  I have become enchanted with NBC's Who Do You Think You Are.  Since my brain is frankly too tired to try to explain the concept (even though it isn't all that difficult) I have chosen to "copy" the description from the Who Do You Think You Are website.
NBC's acclaimed alternative series "Who Do You Think You Are?" follows some of today's most beloved and iconic celebrities as they embark on personal journeys of self-discovery to trace their family trees. From the trenches of the Civil War to the shores of the Caribbean, and from the valleys of Virginia to the island nations of Australia and Ireland, each episode will reveal surprising, inspiring and sometimes tragic stories that are often linked to events in American and international history.
The celebrities featured in the second season are Gwyneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Steve Buscemi, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Vanessa Williams and Ashley Judd.
Each week, a different celebrity is taken on a quest into his or her family history. The search is one of surprising and deeply emotional encounters, resulting in one of the most compelling reality formats of recent years. During each episode, viewers will be taken on a personal and often mysterious quest following some of America's best-known celebrities into their ancestral pasts, as they uncover stories of heroism and tragedy, love and betrayal, secrets and intrigue, that lie at the heart of their family history.
At the same time, "Who Do You Think You Are?" celebrates the twists and turns of a great nation and the people who made their way here in search of freedom and opportunity. As each celebrity discovers his or her unknown relatives - most of whom overcame hard times - the show will take viewers back through world history to expose how the lives of everyone's collective ancestors have shaped our world today.
From Executive Producers Lisa Kudrow ("Friends," "The Comeback") and Dan Bucatinsky ("Lipstick Jungle," "The Comeback"), in conjunction with their production company, Is or Isn't Entertainment, and Shed Media U.S., the series is an adaptation of the award-winning hit British television documentary series from Wall to Wall Productions, created and executive produced by Alex Graham. Jennifer O'Connell and Al Edgington also serve as executive producers.

The second season ended last Friday with the impeccable Ashley Judd searching for answers regarding her paternal ancestry. 

Here is what Ashley blogged (February 25, 2011) prior to the her episode:

Who Do You Think You Are? is one of the most wonderful experiences of all my born days. I have indeed been amazed, and as Dario predicted, I have wept my way through some of the revelations. The producer said he would bet his career on my episode, and yes, he gets to keep his career. It is a doozie. I can’t reveal anything as yet; it airs 8 April, then I can discuss the extraordinary people who are my ancestors! The researchers began working on my genealogy a year ago! They asked what I might like to learn, what questions I might have for my people. I said I wondered if there were any activists in my background, any agitators for social change, champions of the poor, or reform. Were there people of exceptional faith, charity, hope? Who was the God of my ancestors’ understanding? Were there any rabble rousers? Is there an explanation for where my urgent need for justice comes from, my passion for ecumenical tolerance, my desire to protect the vulnerable, for a fair, equitable society? I have had many of these questions answered in spades. I can give one hint: Today I was at Cambridge University. When the porter who escorted me asked what all I might like to see, I said, “the lecture halls.” I miss graduate school. I dearly miss being dedicated exclusively to study. I am very afraid of neglecting my intellectual growth.

 She learned that her direct grandfather, 13 generations back, William Brewster, was instrumental in the "Brownist" movement in England....the primary group of religious separatists initiating the eventual pilgrimage popularly known as "The Mayflower."  She was quite shocked to learn that she had any ties to England since she had spent her entire life describing herself as a Sicilian, hillbilly rabble rouser.  

Certainly we all know Ashely Judd as an actress; but she is also a proud humanitarian focusing on the rights of women in third world countries, poverty, public health, human rights and social justice.  She earned a graduate degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and continues to dedicate her time to critically important humanitarian causes.  Her social activism dates back to her undergraduate years at The University of Kentucky. 

Ashley used a phrase that has stuck with me since Friday night.  She said, "blah blah blah....the narrative that has informed my life."  (I used it in a conversation with a friend on Sunday....so, friend, I must admit....those words were not my own.  I can not claim them.)  She was proud, almost relieved, to know that rabble rouser-ism is simply woven into her DNA and she referred to that particular characteristic as "the narrative that has informed her life," and likely the lives of others in her lineage.

I began thinking we all have familiar narratives that inform our lives and allow us the unique experience of "belonging."  We can share that narrative with others and find comfort in the knowledge that a shared narrative offers a certain sense of legitimacy.  However, each of us has a unique narrative that informs our lives, and our lives, only.  More of an "inter-personal" narrative rather than an "intra-personal" narrative.  Only one, and one person alone, can know their own narrative.  Sometimes those types of narratives can inform our lives in horribly traumatic ways and manifest themselves in often maladaptive behavior.  Conversely, the joyful, personal narrative informs our lives in loving and gracious ways.  And for the most resilient: the negative narrative informs a life in a way that produces the most courageous, least expected, oft respected manifestations of life's glory.  

So...I feel like, at this point, I have written myself in circles.  The point I am, so poorly, trying to articulate and arrive at is this: 
Every one's experiences inform their lives in a completely unique manner.  Given that their narrative is....just that....THEIR narrative....there is no possible way I can ever truly understand another person and I should really just stop trying!  Similarly, my narrative is mine and I often feel the deep and critical analysis of my life by others is absolutely unwelcome. (Unless, of course, I am paying you....then that is a completely different story.)

Wow....that was wildly tangential.  However....you have now been provided a tiny little window into the thought processes that go on inside this vivid, colorful landscape.....

As a side note...in researching for this entry I came across Ashley Judd's website.  I am FASCINATED!
Visit Ashley's website here.

I am going to spend the rest of this evening reading her blog entries.  She is a wicked wordsmith....a trait I admire above many others.
You feed your body every day.
You must also feed your mind.

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