I stand in the midst of a snowy wood, heavy flakes falling gently around me. I feel the swirl of a cool breeze against my cheek, and I close my eyes. When I open them, an old man in a black overcoat, long gray beard streaming over his chest, appears before me. He beckons me to follow him. “Do I know him?” I ask myself, but I feel that I do. He turns and begins to walk through the woods, and I trudge after him through the deepening snow. As I step over and around fallen branches, he seems to follow a straight path. Although he seems to walk slowly, I struggle to keep up with him. We pass down a steep incline and out into an open field, and I see a small white house in the distance. Out in the open, I come up alongside him. He looks straight ahead, and although I don’t know where he came from or who he is, I feel at ease. He turns his head slightly to look at me, a wry smile crinkling the edge of his mouth before he turns his head back to face the house, which we are now approaching. I follow him up the stairs onto the porch, through the door, and into the bright light. And suddenly, although it doesn’t make any sense, I know who this man is, and where we are. This man is my great-great-grandfather, Carl Schwarz, who has been dead for 100 years, and this is the house he built with his own hands, the house he passed on to his son, and then on to his grandson – William, my paternal grandfather – who I called Grandpa Schwartz. This is the house I visited often as a child, and we have just come through the entryway into the main dining room. My Grandpa and Grandma Schwartz come in from the kitchen. “Jimmy,” they both say with delight, “welcome!” They take my coat, and my Grandma turns to the living room. “Gay and Maggie, Jimmy is here!” she says, calling out the names of my maternal grandparents, who soon enter as well, both hugging me. All of my grandparents passed away more than 10 years ago, but I don’t find the situation strange. Soon, more men, women, and children are coming in from the room next door. Some of them look vaguely familiar and others I have never seen, but somehow I recognize all of them as my great-aunts, great-great uncles, and distant cousins. I feel at ease knowing that  this is my family. Out the window, I glimpse the woods where I first saw Great-Great-Grandpa Carl, and I see the snow falling, continuing to envelop us in its magic.

Some of my ancestors: Bill Schwartz, my paternal grandfather; Eldora Schwartz, my paternal grandmother; Carl Schwartz, one of my great-great-grandfathers; Maggie Theder, my maternal grandmother; and Gay Theder, my paternal grandfather.

When I’m standing in the midst of a snowy wood, I can just about believe that all of this is possible. For whatever reason, in the snow I feel my ancestors closer to me. Maybe snow evokes the struggles they faced, the difficult journeys they made. As the snow blankets and transforms the landscape, maybe it offers me the chance to transform what is possible. Whatever the reasons, as I stand there in the silence, I feel them near me, whispering their stories, reminding me of their care for me. I feel a responsibility to them, and to those for whom I will one day be an ancestor. It is a thought that is sobering and freeing at once – the idea that I am both the culmination of one lineage and the source of another, crossing with others’ lineages in a great web of family and humanity and life. I can almost speak to them, and they can almost speak to me. I don’t know what they say, but I am listening, always listening. And although I don’t know if they are there, I know I feel them. In the midst of a snowy wood, that can be enough.

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