Where I come from, family reunions are common, and at least for my family, they tend not to be small.
This weekend I attended one for my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, where 180 people showed up.
And that doesn’t even represent the full count: I know of at least 20 people who weren’t there, and that’s from the small part of the family whose faces and names I recognize.
But meeting people you’re supposedly related to, yet have never seen in your life — that’s what you expect going into these things.
What I didn’t expect was a certain piece of family history.
It wasn’t the bit about our being Viking warriors many, many centuries ago. I already knew that, thanks to my mom’s cousin Gary, a brilliant professor who has chronicled much of our family history.
The thing that shocked me? That we can directly link our family to Ernest Lawrence, one of the fathers of modern physics, a Nobel Prize winner, and an instrumental player in the creation of the atomic bomb.
Nobody goes to family gatherings expecting to learn they have a direct family connection to a mass murder.
Thankfully, I can say that I am not related to anyone on the team that created the bomb. (At least that I know of.)
The connection was a long-dead relative — a second cousin of my three-times great grandmother, a man who was best friends with Lawrence during childhood.
Of the three friends in their group, Lawrence and another boy named Merle Tuve went on to become world-renowned physicists.
My distant relative was the only one in the group who opted to stay in the tri-state area of Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and live a simple farming life.
And I’m glad he did.
While no one in my family has ever been on the cover of Time Magazine or featured in the New York Times, I prefer knowing my family had anything to do with making an atomic bomb.
On the other hand, Lawrence’s work also led to the creation of the modern MRI machine, which has done a lot of good for humanity. (Hell, even I’ve had an MRI done.)
I suppose when I weigh it out that way, it illustrates no one’s actions can be painted in black-and-white tones. Nothing is ever that simple.
And while I’ve failed to think of a metaphor comparing family reunions with the making of the atomic bomb — and it’s probably best that I didn’t — I will try one of another sort.
Our lives and the decisions we make during them are like family reunions.
We can plan, try to do the right thing, and hope for the best, but ultimately we don’t know how they’re going to turn out until we’ve lived it.
I think this reunion, however, was a success. I’m still waiting to find out about the rest of my life.
Matthew Stensland-Bos explores conscious living, loving, healing and grounded spirituality in Know This Love, a weekly SFBay opinion column. You can find him on his website, www.wordswithmatthew.com.