Recently, I have been thinking a great deal about the passing on of stories and family traditions. It was triggered by the funeral of a friend’s Mom. In listening to the eulogy for this grandly-peaceful and courageous lady I realised that there was so little I knew about her and I was disappointed by how many chances I had missed to learn from her life and wisdom. The finality of the grave always means the end of opportunities to know a person better and to love well. As a result, there is often a period of self-questioning & doubt.
More recently there has been a special family wedding which underlined the value of interfacing with the memories, quirks, stories and life lessons of those who went before. Without doubt, my own personal focus in all of this is a result of my personal bereavements. The chance to ask questions of, to listen intently and to learn from the wisdom of my parents, uncles and grandparents has gone. Furthermore, my memory for their stories has not held up well. I am disappointed I didn’t create more openings to sit quietly, that I didn’t pay more careful attention or keep better records of the history we did discuss.
It’s a loss of the detail and the story that I find myself craving.
The good news is that the substance of my family of origin is still alive. The values of my ancestors continues to speak to me. I do not have dates and names memorized I cannot remember the detail of their challenging lives and there are many questions I thought to ask too late BUT there is an intrinsic part of who they were that continues to echo in my current circumstances. This essence was present at the family wedding I attended and I see the character of my friend’s mom in my friend’s warm strength. The genetics and the witness of the lives, courage, compassion and faith of our predecessors is part of how we live our lives now, how we parent and the hopes we hold onto.
The implication for me is that that the passing on of story and meaning is often caught more than remembered. This is both a challenge and a consolation. Perhaps even more so now as a parent. The comfort is in the fact that even when there is no access to relationships for factual memories, meaning is transferred. Nonetheless, it also means that the way lives are lived, our values and family functioning is part of a legacy that cannot be measured and will touch future generations in both positive and negative ways – therein lies the challenge!
The reminder that life in this dimension is finite crept into our lives again this month…. People we love suffered losses: child, mother, mother-in-law and friends. It has unnerved me. As Sarah Dessensays in The Truth About Forever: One never gets used to it, “the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it’s reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you, and it just hits you all over again, that shocking.” I have wept quietly as I have watched from a distance.
It hasn’t been the death so much as the resultant loss that my friends are now experiencing that has unsettled me. This unkind struggle with earthly separation in this fallen world is a disorientating thing and it always seems to catch us unawares:
“And yet it (death) is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know.
It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid
I feel helpless as I watch their reality shift. It’s a private journey through pain to acceptance. How I wish I had enough comfort or a cure or healing but instead I am powerless to remove the heavy ache under their sternums. All I can offer is my presence in their despair and my willingness to stay through the confusion until their world readjusts.
Recently, while exercising, a spiritual truth was made visual for me……
As I ran along marvelous trails, bordered by Fall glory, my mind was not attentive to the path. Consequently, even though I was supposed to stay on the right hand side of the track (so clearly demarcated by Parks Canada) I constantly found myself back on the left. After this happening to me five times (and me nearly crashing into people coming towards me more than once), I realised there was an analogy to be found in the challenge I faced that day.
Even though I lived in Canada for eight years and had learned to drive on the “other side of the road” it is not natural for me. Instead, I had to keep my attention on the task at hand so that I wouldn’t slip back into more practiced patterns. So it is with my Life in Christ, when I let my focus slip from Him I find after a few minutes I revert to fleshly ways of thinking and old patterns of behaviour.
Before long, and without my noticing, I am an accident waiting to happen…..