A Jewish Family Tree: The Genesis of The Elixir of Immortality

I left Stockholm in the fall of 1998 and moved to Oslo, for I had discovered the neighboring land’s greatest natural resource. No, not oil. Better than that: a woman from Norway.

Falling in love is the most intense encounter in life. One perceives one’s true profile and gains authentication through other human beings. Someone else understands who you are, and this fact opens to you the possibility of understanding your own potential and your limitations. The face of that other person approaches yours, intimate and familiar. One’s world is always represented by another person.

We married. And we had children: three boys. The decade that followed, a time of genuine happiness, flew by all too quickly; we were hardly aware that beyond the circle of our little family a complex and constantly changing world still existed. I was overjoyed no longer to be engaged in public debate and publishing commentaries. The existence I shared with our children gave me wings; I soared high above the earth where I was freer and more open than ever before. I learned that everything is possible and that only our self-imposed constraints hold us prisoner.

Then one day a letter appeared in the mailbox. It came from my wife’s uncle, an elderly aristocrat living in a fortified ancestral manor and dedicating himself to the study of family genealogy. He had sent us a family tree outlining 350 years of Cappelen family history in Norway in the tiny county of Telemark. He was asking my wife to add our names and birthdates to it. I was astonished. I knew that the lineages of purebred dogs and racehorses were carefully recorded. But I’d never seen anything of the kind for human beings.

My wife said it was like a treasure map: It offered the children the chance to trace the lives of their Norwegian ancestors. I responded that a family tree was hardly an adequate opening into ages past, considering that it consisted of only names and dates. It held nothing of what really constitutes a human life: no achievements, no reflections, no dreams; no desires or longings. None of the ambitions, disappointments or successes; no family stories or anything else. No flesh and blood. No keys to open the way to the realities of the lives of earlier generations.