They sit stuffed within a ruffled stack of documents beside my desk, although the haphazard nature of their filing belies their importance to me. They are “official immigration documents” but their value to me is far more personal than political.
The first document is a copy of the manifest from the good ship Oceanic, sailing on the Atlantic on the White Star Line out of Queensboro, Ireland in September 17, 1902. It arrived at Ellis Island, New York City and the historical record transcribed on the manifest is as follows:
Name: Michael Brett
Age: 17 (typed as 14)
Cash on person: $15
My grandfather left Ireland with not much to keep him there. He lost both of his parents at an early age, presumably to tuberculosis, although the historical record is a bit sketchy on this matter. Michael came over as an orphan with my great uncle John Brett, seeking a better life for he and his future offspring.
I moved to Chicago from Ohio when I was 21 and I was intimidated by the prospect. I can’t fathom what it must have been like to venture to a foreign country you have never visited. Then again, I also can’t imagine what it must have been like to be an orphan as a teenager with only $15 to your name.
From time to time, I read the manifest when I feel the urge to take a big step and need the proverbial kick in the ass to pull myself out of my routine. We all get stuck from time to time, as individuals and organizations. Change can be scary and paralyzing, particularly in a recession where you don’t know what lies ahead. But it beats stagnancy any day.
What big moves have you made to keep yourself moving forward and take yourself further in your journey? Are you moving ahead or spinning your wheels? Sometimes you just have to jump on that ship and see where it takes you.
The move worked out pretty well for Michael Brett. The orphan from Tulla, Ireland ended up having ten children of his own, and siring 53 grandchildren.
That second document I keep beside my desk? My Irish passport, which I was able to secure through Irish citizenship, the benefit of my grandfather being born in Ireland.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.