England: Day One

By

NASHVILLE to LONDON. I’ll start with a confession: I’m an ancestry junkie. Once, at about eleven o’clock at night, Jamie asked if I was coming to bed. I told her I was almost ready, I just had to check a few more things on Ancestry.com, and then I was turning in. When I looked up I wondered what that strange light on the horizon might be and I realized it was the sun coming up. I came to bed just as Jamie woke and we both pitied my weakness for treasure hunting. One of my Christmas presents (to myself) this year was one of those DNA tests where you spit in a vial and mail it off to what I presume is a laboratory full of people in white lab coats worn primarily because they deal with peoples’ spit from all over the country. They do some scientific voodoo and email you a few weeks later with a readout that tells you exactly what you’re made of.

My main reason for the $80 splurge was that so many people (including Asians) have asked me if I have Asian ancestry I wanted to know if, indeed, one of my great-grandparents from Sweden had married someone from the Far East. My eyes, I admit, are a bit narrower than those with typical European genes, and it would have been super-cool to find a new reason to stay up till dawn on genealogy websites. The results came in last month and I opened the envelope with a level of excitement that mystifies my brother, who couldn’t care less. It turns out I’m 34% Scandinavian (no surprise there, since my great-grandfather Peterson was a Swedish immigrant, which explains my love for meatballs). I was pleasantly surprised to find that 29% of me is from Great Britain and 19% of me is from Ireland. This explains my love for old books and poetry. It didn’t, however, explain the Asian Question, until I zoomed in on the results and there it was: 1% West Asian! I laughed out loud. But wait—what does West Asia mean, exactly? Answer: the Middle East. I leaned back in my chair and raised my eyebrows. Father Abraham had many sons, indeed. I’d love to know the story, but alas, Ancestry.com is silent on the matter.

I bring this up to try and illustrate my state of mind every time I head to Europe. Understand, I love America. I love Tennessee. I love where I live and the colorful history of this place. My two hallowed bookshelves, the ones that flank our fireplace, are divided by region. The British Isles authors, which include Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald, Chesterton, Heaney, and Hopkins occupy the stately shelf on the left, while the right shelf boasts O’Connor, Merton, Wangerin, L’Engle, Buechner, Rawlings, and Berry—authors from the land of my sojourn. My love for Europe is in no way a disdain for the many delights of this continent. But when I get on a plane for either Sweden or the UK, I feel a delightful flutter in my stomach brought on by the mystique of the Old Country where, according to those in the spit-covered lab coats, my father’s father’s fathers farmed and married and built and battled.

Rock band pose. I'm not angry, just pretending I'm standing at some railroad tracks with a Stratocaster.

Rock band pose. I’m not angry, just pretending I’m standing at some railroad tracks with a Stratocaster. Eric is mentally gloating over how many awesome books he will discover before I do.

I made my way through security at the Nashville airport and found my old friend Eric Peters waiting at the gate, book in hand. We spent an hour talking about quite a few spiritual struggles before we boarded the plane for London. Seven shows, nine days. One day planned for the Welsh book town of Hay-on-Wye. We both felt a little guilty for leaving our dear wives and children at home in the middle of an ice storm while we were off gallivanting in England—but only a little. Danielle and Jamie are both incredibly supportive, and they knew that seven concerts in a row qualified as legitimate work. And they knew that few material things make Eric and I happier than the discovery of a rare first edition with a tattered dust jacket. Armed with that spousal goodwill, we boarded a massive plane and prepared for jet lag in Albion.

My body slept, but 29% of my DNA strands were squirming like kids in line at Disney World.

 

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


14 Comments

  1. DougMc

    Love it. My theory is that in eternity, we will be more ourselves than we are now, that our distinctions from one another will become sharper and more appreciated, as they will reflect facets of the image of our Creator that each of us were intended to uniquely display. I tend to view people groups and cultures in the same way, supposing that each will become eternally what it was created to be, displaying in the beautiful uniqueness of each race and tribe and people group and tongue, aspects of the glory of God that the others of us will stand reveling in slack jawed wonder at.

    But then, I have to ask, “What of mutts like us?” Those who no longer have any certain people group. Will I be assigned a place within the tribe of the eternal Celts, because of the lineage of my name? Or will it be the Scots? Or some other ancient tribe of the British Isles? Or will I find my people among the Germans or the Dutch? Or, because I haven’t paid for one of those $80 tests yet, while I find some as yet unknown strain that my soul responds to with a resounding “Yes, that’s the place I belong?”. And finally, how will our placements be decided on that day? Will there be a sorting hat? Will we be given the choice? Or will those to whom we belong meet us at the gates and usher us in to those eternal halls? I have no answers, of course. Only endless questions. And anticipations. All tied up with that the longing to discover and become what I most am, and to see my friends as well, for who they always secretly were.

    Anyway, thanks for stoking the good fires, friend.

  2. Dan Galbraith

    I love knowing a little (or a lot) about my ancestors. Paternally, I am pure Scottish (or is it Scotch)… But realistically, we are so far removed from those generations, that single strain represents literally 1/128 of who I really am genetically. Although given our ancestors’ the propensity to marry like racial and cultural makeup, I guess it’s probably much more than that. Not that it matters – I can barely understand a Scottish accent anyway (can anyone?)

    But, you realize we Caucasians actually have a lot of Middle Eastern in us… being from the Caucasus Mts and all.. 🙂

  3. Heidi Johnston

    19% Irish?! That explains alot. Even more reason to come back and bring your family. Also, since Pete is also 19% Irish he should come too. 🙂

  4. April Pickle

    I love this. It reminds me of what a wonder and mystery it is, this business of feeling so drawn to and so at home in a particular place, or with particular sights, sounds, tastes or smells. I experience this when I see Spanish moss in oak trees, when I hear Irish music, when I visit places I lived as a child, when I look at that big cross at Church of the Redeemer in Nashville.
    A few weeks ago, I visited an uncle of mine in a nursing home. He suffers from Alzheimer’s and has recently lost his clock, so to speak, and has been walking the halls all day and all night. This has caused him to lose weight and now that he is thin, he looks like my grandfather, the man who I spent lots of time with as a baby and toddler. When I arrived, I spotted Uncle Bill at the far end of a long hall, and my heart leaped in a way that is hard to explain. I knew this was Bill and not my Pop (Pop died 28 years ago), but I was so happy to see Bill looking like Pop. I ran to him, I didn’t think about looking silly or breaking any rules, or running over any old folks who were also walking the halls, or anything, I just ran. I was child again, happy and free, completely in the moment.

  5. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Looking forward to reading more of the travelogue.

    The “rock band pose” reminds me of that Box Canyon Sessions video where you exhorted Messrs. Greene, Gullahorn and Taylor to look “angry and awesome.”

  6. Wendy

    learned a new word today that made me think of this post….thought people might appreciate it… 🙂

    vellichor
    n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.
    (Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)

  7. Manders

    I am Korean by birth, Scots-Irish-German mutt by adoption, so I wonder what tribe I will belong to on That Day. Maybe all of us adopted kids will get our own crazy mutt tribe and be a place of joyful chaos, Babel in reverse.

    That being said, I went to Scotland when I was a college kid and felt right at home in those hills, maybe because my genetic ancestors lived in a rainy, hilly place, too. It’s funny, the ties that bind us as people.

  8. Lisa

    Really excited to hear more of your travels! England is my heart-home….well, more specifically, Wales, the land of my mother’s birth. It’s funny, my dad was born in Germany but I don’t have the same feeling for it as I do for England. I guess because we got to visit England a couple times as I was growing up, and of course reading Wind in the Willows, and Tolkein, and Lewis….you know. I so enjoyed your pictures of your trip over on Instagram, thanks for sharing some words, too.

  9. LauraEm

    “My body slept, but 29% of my DNA strands were squirming like kids in line at Disney World.” Love it! Someday I hope to go to my ancestral land to see if I feel a connection with the land of my fathers and perhaps meet a few distant cousins during my travels.

  10. Loren Warnemuende

    Just got a chance to read this and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think what I love so much about this Rabbity crew, you and Eric being a key part, is how you can have deep conversations about spiritual suffering (among other things) in one minute, but be thrilling to the adventure of books and ancestry in the next. This group may not be my genetic family, but it is definitely spiritual family.

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