My parents told me that they found me under a rock in the mountains of Namaacha in southern Mozambique. True story. Not the under the rock bit. The bit that they TOLD me I was born under one.
For many years I believed this mythology because I didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes like my brother and sister. I guess that’s what parents tell their kids when asked where babies come from. I don’t mind that at all, it’s rather original, although being dropped off at my parents’ doorstep in a basket lined with pink softness by a stork does sound appealing.
But what does “origin story” mean? I mean there’s the chronological bit, that’s easy. I know I wasn’t shipped to earth, bitten by a spider or caught in the blast of gamma radiation. So let’s get that out of the way, shall we?
I’m second generation Mozambican although I can’t lay claim to that nationality anymore. My parents relinquished it when we immigrated to South Africa. Both sets of grandparents were also immigrants, having left Madeira and Portugal for a better life in Africa many decades before this.
Now that that is out of the way let’s get to the exciting stuff.
Family rumour has it, that on my Mom’s side of the family we’re descended from the illegitimate branch of a Portuguese noble family. It’s rather convenient that it is the ‘illegitimate’ branch because usually there’s no record of those, especially 200 or so years ago.
I haven’t been tempted to do a genealogical search but I may (maybe…perhaps…)…have searched my Grandmother’s apartment in Lisbon for a crown, maybe some jewels, maybe…at least…just a tiara…but alas, nothing. So this narrative that never was shall remain the stuff of family rumour as we regale ourselves on Sunday afternoons with ‘what if’ scenarios.
My Dad’s family hails from Ireland and it’s said that during the Great Famine our family branch fled to an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – beautiful Madeira. This one sounds a bit more plausible and there’s a whole lot of this family still around that tells the same story.
All of these narratives have remained oral at best. There’s a part of me that is curious to verify these stories and there is a part that is happy to just let it be.
But there’s more to origin stories than just where one comes from. I did some research on origin stories and came up with some interesting concepts.
Ben, in the Daily Post says that “Spiderman has one. So does Wonder Woman. What about you?” and how one of his favourite aspects of the genre of comic books “is how characters, superheroes and supervillains alike, get to have a compelling, poignant origin story: a pivotal moment that made them who they are, and set them on their respective paths of altruism and destruction.”
Robin Rosenberg in his article “The Psychology Behind Superhero Origin Stories” in the February 2013 issue of The Smithsonian Mag says that “origin stories show us not how to become super but how to be heroes, choosing altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power.”
He found that superheroes go through 3 types of experiences that change their lives.
Trauma - Bruce Wayne witnessed his parent's murder and vowed to dedicate his life to fighting crime as Batman. "In real life, many people experience “stress-induced growth” after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists."
So I haven’t become a social activist although it’s not too late for that. I won’t lie…leaving Mozambique and the enforced separation from important people in my family did have an impact in my life. The bright side of this was the shaping of the Family narrative as a top value in my life.
Destiny - "Buffy the Vampire Slayer, about a normal teenager who discovers she’s the “Chosen One” — endowed with supernatural powers to fight demons. Buffy is reluctant to accept her destiny, yet she throws herself into her new job. Many of us identify with Buffy’s challenge (minus the vampires) of assuming a great responsibility that compels her to grow up sooner than she wants to."
As a teenager I had visions of being a special person, chosen to do something great in the world. The details of what that ‘something great’ was is not clear and I confess to it never being clear. It was a cool notion though, a bit of normal whimsy in a normal teen’s life. My life has progressed in a normal way, thankfully. Great responsibility has come with trying to live a good life, being a good person, and being true to my values, beliefs and dreams, knowing that these are likely to change in my journey of becoming a better person today than I was yesterday.
Sheer chance - which transformed a young Spider-Man, who was using his power for selfish purposes until his beloved uncle was murdered by a street thug. Spider-Man’s heroism is an example of how random adverse events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path."
Random adverse events have happened. How my life has changed and what learnings I’ve got from that have come to me most often long after the event. I haven’t always reflected in this way, and as I have dealt with trauma and other stuff that’s happened I have changed and become a different person. I’m hoping a better person, better able to serve herself and the world around her.
I’m happy that I wasn’t shipped to earth, bitten by a spider or caught in the blast of gamma radiation. I’m happy being the kid found under a rock on a mountain somewhere in Africa. I’m happy with the rumours of nobility. I’m happy with the Irish connection.
We all have origin stories. We are all original. This is a part of mine because my origin story is still alive, evolving as I reflect, learn and adapt to the unfolding flow before me.
I’m happy that I know who I am.