A Very Lovely Sunday

What a lovely Sunday.

There was a light snow last night around midnight that lit up the outside world like a full moon, even though it was a new moon. I drifted off to sleep in snowlight.

I woke and navigated icy roads to make it to church with Randee. A beautiful baby boy was baptized as the son of a gay couple, with a proud Pop-Pop in attendance. Only after the service did I realize that I had seen a pair of gay parents baptize a child in church with a beaming white-haired granddad, and I had hardly batted an eye at any of it. I guess things like this no longer strike me as unusual — two women very publicly in love and starting a family, the happy father of a gay woman, two mothers holding a shy blue-eyed boy. Thank God for the arc of justice.

I came home and cleaned house, darned a ripped pair of jeans, dusted and vacuumed and finished up the last of my 2006 tax information. It’s been awhile since I had a happily industrious Sunday setting the world to rights. Then I watched Disc 1 of the old Amazing Stories 1980s television show and found only one of the episodes to be worth watching. Oh well.

But I had YouTube. The find of the day is a wonderful BBC program called Who Do You Think You Are? Lord but that YouTube is like a bowl of popcorn. You can snack all day on the good things there. I am not quite sure how I found this show, but I ended up watching a whole episode with great interest, and it was the highlight of a lovely, quiet day at home.

The premise of the series is this: take a famous British person and film them researching their roots. This may sound boring to you, but I found it absolutely compelling to watch someone discover the hidden lives of his ancestors. Secrets are compelling, and people facing their history bravely — and bravery was needed — makes for fascinating television. I watched the episode that features Stephen Fry, who is just a magnificently entertaining, endearing and intelligent human being. Multilingual, articulate, thoughtful and unknowingly sitting atop a mountain of family drama, he’s a perfect subject for a documentary on family history.

The discoveries he makes in his family history are unforgettable. All unknowing, he begins a tremendously emotional journey. His family, with a Jewish branch in Austria, knew that some of them were killed in the Holocaust. But like so many damaged families, the survivors chose to act as if the lost ones had never been. The names of the lost family members were forgotten after the war, the places they died unknown. Fry finds it all out, gathers all the Frys to him, and at last restores to his family the fates and identities of the murdered ones. His mother weeps openly when she finally learns the names of her lost cousins.

But first, on his English father’s side, Fry unearths a very Victorian family secret hidden away for a hundred years (“Naughty Uncle Ernest!”). On his mother’s side, he eventually realizes that his entire family avoided being wiped into nonexistence by one thing only — a Viennese ancestor’s decision to take a job in England before WWII. And yes, Stephen Fry, the Cambridge-educated comedian who exemplifies fluffy-haired Britishness, is indeed Jewish. He’s the child of an Austrian Jewish woman whose maiden name is Neumann.

Here is the first ten minutes of the Fry episode. The whole things is about an hour long, archived in 10-minute chunks on YouTube. It’s powerful television.

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