During my lifetime, the closest thing my family has had to a matriarch was my grandmother, not in the fact that she “ruled” our family but she lived until she was 96, was elegant and stately and was greatly admired by the generations that came after. She was my father’s mother, and come to think of it, she probably was the only one who could influence his thinking with a subtle nod of approval or disapproval.
The first matriarch of the Meister family in my novel, EDEN, is Sadie (Sarah). In the book of Genesis, Sarah, wife of Abraham, was also the first matriarch. Sarah was venerable and beautiful, and it is from her that all Israel is descended. But in true Old Testament fashion, Sarah is also depicted as an imperfect human. It is said that Sarah was a prophetess and knew the way things should play out, but when she insisted Abraham banish Hagar and Ishmael to the wilderness, it probably wasn’t her finest hour. One can just imagine her in a jealous snit, putting her foot down with Abraham. The subsequent matriarchs in the book of Genesis are Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah who go on to birth a nation despite their human frailties.
It has always been comforting to me to study Genesis in that it emphasizes that the holiest figures in the Jewish religion are just regular, imperfect, people. And although the book is not without its patriarchs, it is first and foremost a book of matriarchs. The insights of its wives, mothers, and midwives, who often made things happen behind the scenes are responsible for the flourishing of the Jewish people. In addition, the book’s themes of familial struggle, including sibling rivalry, jealousy, and rebelliousness are those that we recognize in our own families today. And although, it is sort of discouraging to think that humans have had the same weaknesses and relationship issues for ages, I find it a consolation.
Patterns in families repeat themselves, in Genesis as well as in real life. The pattern of unplanned pregnancy repeats itself for three generations in the Meister family of my novel. A wise matriarch once said that one shouldn’t be defined by the surprises in her life, but by the way she responds to those surprises. So, possibly, as we evolve as people and as mothers of a people, may we learn from history and try to do a little bit better in our lifetime.