Brave New World

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t!

‘Tis new to thee.

William Shakespeare’s, The Tempest Act 5, scene 1

As an adopted child, I’ve grown up with traits that belonged only to me. If I looked like my family, it was coincidental. If I had similar behaviors or mannerisms, I’d learned them from being around my family, not because I’d inherited them.

In nurture vs. nature, I have been all nurture. Nature was a big, blank void. Such is life when one is adopted.

When I play the cello, I play well because I’ve practiced or, as is more often the case, my playing suffers because of my lack of practicing. Any musical gift I may (or may not) have has been mine alone. My mother sang in the church choir, but her beautiful voice was not mine.

I’m a writer. It’s what I do–here on the blog, sermons, articles. I write. I’ve always credited my writing to the great teachers I’ve had. High school, college, seminary–all along the way, wonderful teachers have edited, and edited, and edited my writing, helping me hone my craft. (This is where I give them all of the credit and none of the blame).

Today I got an email from Jan, (my new second cousin, once removed),  who has put the whole McCourt genealogy online. She wrote:

“Your post, Finding My Face, was very moving; you write beautifully. That’s
no surprise to me; you will learn, when you have time to peruse your
ancestry, that our family is connected to generations of successful
writers – attached you will find a chart, “Complicated Webb, Shakespeare &
Arden Families” which shows that we are related to William Shakespeare
through both the Webb and Arden lines. Follow Janette Webb’s line back and
you will get there.”

shakespeareI read her email and cried out very eloquently to my secretary, “Holy crap! I’m related to Shakespeare!”

Now, I don’t want to overstate the connection. Shakespeare and one of my way back great grandfathers are second cousins. (a 10th great grandfather, I think). Sir Alexander Webb, Jr.

And do I think my writing is an inherited trait from 500 years ago? Not really. But for the first time in my life, it occurred to me I might have inherited it from someone.

Jan also told me my great great grandfather, James Henry McCourt, ran a newspaper in St Croix Falls, WI, and there are other writers in the family tree too. I love having that connection.

As Miranda, the shipwrecked daughter of Prospero, said in my cousin’s play, The Tempest, after she sees people other than her father for the first time in her life:

O brave new world
That has such people in’t!

That’s how I feel, with other people joining me on my island, recognizing for the first time in my life that my traits and gifts are my own , but are not only my own. I have someone’s nose and another person’s eyes. I have someone’s musical talent. I have someone’s sarcasm. I have someone’s laugh.

O brave new world
That has such people in’t!

Am I a different person today, knowing Bill Shakespeare is my 10th great grandfather’s second cousin? No, not really. My gifts are still what they were yesterday. Seeing I have McCourt eyes and nose doesn’t really change my appearance, but I confess it has affected how I see myself when I look in the mirror–now wondering who else might share my features.

It’s a brave new world. I’m so grateful for it all.

We do not look alike

We do not look alike

To really inhabit my Stratford-on-Avon genes, I will try to only insult people using Shakespearean insults. You can find many good ones here. My favorite might be this one from Measure for Measure:

Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade.”

15 thoughts on “Brave New World

  1. Holy Crap indeed! Our daughter, who came to us through adoption, has musicality – in every cell of her body. We, her parents, do not. Singing the Happy Birthday Song can be an embarrassing experience for us. Seriously. BUT we are the people in our daughter’s life who nurture her gifts. We have since discovered how musicality came to her. As you say so eloquently, her gifts are not only her own. Some day, I think that will comfort her. First she needs to get through her teens and the identity struggle that comes with the territory (which, as a mom, is so hard to witness).

    I have always known that I can never truly get into my daughter’s skin and understand what it means to be adopted, at my core. But I can listen, listen to her and to folks like you who share your stories. It is all about the stories. I have told you before that your story helps with my understanding of my daughter. Being loved AND being understood are so important. Thank you for sharing your gift AND your voice.


  2. You may not be a different person due to a Shakespearean trait BUT the options of Halloween Costumes, play on play limericks, and just over all bad-ass street cred is way up in my book! I assume you are wearing the socks. Not because you need them but because they are being revealed as thou true self!

    This piece gives weight for me after spending a weekend on my grand-mother’s cousin’s farm…or somewhere in there. Life felt incredibly foreign to me as I was meeting her first and second cousins and many relatives there after. Then, a guest to the gathering said, you all need to take a photo together, you four generations: my grandmother, her son (my dad), me (grand daughter), and my son (great grandson).

    When I look for traits and whistles that might be shared, even as we have known of one another, I stop…and with your journey, I just say, Thank You! to you and to my family. In incredibly different ways, I now realize we are always going to be meeting and encountering new worlds with our families and i needs to be grateful. Thanks you, Bad Ass.


  3. I read this and focused on the important part: Holy crap! You’ve got roots in Wisconsin! I knew there was a Midwesterner in there.


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