Thanks to my wonderfully generous family and friends, I’ve had two lovely baby showers as I prepare for the arrival of my first child. At one of the showers, I received a gift that moved me deeply. My mom’s cousin gave me a doll that my grandfather, at that time a young army doctor, brought back for her from France after WWII; a gift for his brother’s first child, his goddaughter. As her beautiful note articulated, the connection between the doll’s provenance, my lifelong interest in French, the fact that my soon-to-be-born daughter, Lyla, will be raised to be bilingual (and hopefully have an interest in “la Francophonie” like her parents), not to mention the fact that the doll had been gifted to her by my deceased grandfather when she was a baby… all signs indicated to her that this was the time to pass the doll along to a new generation.
Lyla will be my beloved 85-year-old grandmother’s first great-grandchild. Likewise, if my grandfather were still alive, he would be excitedly welcoming her as his first great-grandchild. As I opened the doll at the shower and began to understand its significance, several things hit me. During my pregnancy, I’ve often reflected on how fortunate I am to have such an exceptional family— not only in terms of talent and vision, but also because of their bottomless reserve of love and ability to nurture and inspire. It’s easy to imagine what Lyla will learn from my parents, sister, grandmother, extended family and my in-laws. I’m beyond excited to discover what various family members’ traits and interests she will share— as well as some that are all her own, of course. However, until I opened that doll, I hadn’t really thought about the traits that she will inherit from those who have left this world; the lessons they have passed down through us that will, in turn, be passed down to her.
The term provenance is typically used to describe the origin or source of an object. It comes from the French verb provenir (“to come from”). I first encountered this term in the French context twelve years ago was while I was waiting for a train at Gare Montparnasse in Paris. On the arrivals/departure board, the terminology used is en provenance de, describing where the train is coming from. Seeing this expression for the first time made me think of where the train had stopped before it got to me, and who it had picked up along the way. My imagination ran wild.
We are all on a journey, and, for most of us, our family members are the first people we encounter— if we are lucky, they become our nurturers, our teachers, our guides. They encourage us to be our own people, to strive for our own goals. However, whether we are conscious of it or not, their journeys no doubt impact and inspire our own. Whether living or deceased, they have much to give us. Remembering those who have gone before us and reveling in the presence of those who are still with us has given me much joy in these anticipatory days before I meet my next inspiration, my next teacher— for I know this child will be both of those things and much more.