For whom the bell tolls

John Donne wrote “Each man’s death diminishes me.” My mother has made it a personal mission to prove the point. I want to ask her “Why the sudden fascination with ancestors? We’re not Mormons.” but we’ve made a deal. I don’t joke about religion and she doesn’t ask when the hell I am going back to church. I am paraphrasing.

“Bill, I’ve made the connection! We’re related to William Brewster from the Mayflower!” She said.

I Google him, which is what I do when I want to appear intelligent, but haven’t a clue. That is when the alarm went off.



Apparently William Brewster was the elder pilgrim on the Mayflower and has tens of thousands of descendants. One is me and another one is Sarah Palin. It stings a little. Then I look at the remainder of “notable” descendants. My name is not yet on the list. But Richard Gere is there. That one is good. I imagine myself telling people “Oh, did I tell you that Dick, you know him as Richard, Gere and I are related? Can’t you see it in the eyes?”

I scan the rest of the list: Julia Child. That’s a party conversation starter. I can do my “Saturday Night Live” parody of her. I pretend to bleed profusely and say in that distinctive voice “Now make sure you save the liver” and drop to the floor. Wait for the laughter and applause and then hit them with the punch “Well, I suppose I do such a good job of imitating her because we’re related, you know.”

There are other famous people as well, Ted Danson, Katherine Hepburn and Ashley Judd. I was meant to be famous, it’s in my blood: But what to do with this pesky Sarah Palin relationship? She has “gay friends”, she’s said so herself.  But now that she has a pink branch in the family tree would she suddenly change her views?

Paul and I would show up at her house in Alaska and ring the doorbell, which I imagine is in the shape of a wolf or caribou’s head. “Sarah, it’s been ages! Now listen, we don’t want you to make a fuss. You go on and take the kids to soccer while Paul and I make ourselves at home. We’re just going to soak in this lovely view of Russia. Go on now, shoo!” We would tidy up the place, take down the awful animal heads in the living room, and arrange the furniture so that it made sense. Then we would prepare a nice meal that would not consist of moose meat.

“Now I know we shouldn’t talk politics Sarah, but as your relatives, I have to tell you that when you say that you ‘tolerate’ gay people it comes off as well, how shall we say it? Oh, ignorant.” At this point it would become clear that Paul and I have overstayed our welcome while looking down the barrel of her rifle. And honestly this line of reasoning has not worked with some of our closer relatives, why should it work with such a distant one?

I take another look at the list of William Brewster descendants and cannot find a common thread. There are suffragists, Senators, the co-founder of the ACLU, a president and the inventor of the roller skate. Then it becomes clear. They all had a vision. Most of us do. William Brewster acted on his vision and came to Plymouth four hundred years ago seeking freedom. I have found mine fifty miles from that spot. My namesake William and his descendants have paved the way for my freedom to marry the person I love. John Donne was right, each man’s death does diminish me, but more importantly, each man’s life magnifies me.





The first section above the picture is part of a 100 word challenge for adults, brought to you by The Head's Office.  You can find other entries at http://www.theheadsoffice.co.uk/.  The prompt for this week was ...The alarm went off....

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