I grew up in a family where story was important. My South African, Jewish and Irish ancestors were all about honouring the courage of the previous generations. These were men and women who didn’t just survive but made hard choices and because of them helped their country, themselves or their families towards brighter futures. These accounts were always told with awe, great detail and self-depreciating humour. There were stories of escape, war time bravery, name changing to avoid persecution, self-sacrifice and long journeys across oceans. Each character inspired me …..and as I look at the fabric of my life can see their stories deeply intertwined with who I am today.
So when Lisa-Jo Baker in her blog asked: “How do we moms want our kids to remember us?” it got me thinking about what I remember most about my Mom and what legacy I am leaving my own children?
The greatest bequest my Mom left me was the understanding that relationships were more important than being right, that living a life of forgiving others and loving (in spite of hurts) allows one more freedom. Then there was her courage to try new things, and fail, which was also so evident in the way she did life. These characteristics, coupled with a wonderful ability to tell stories and laugh at herself made her a special friend and a fun person to be around. I long for more of these qualities in myself and hope that somewhere a glimmer of her outlook is passed down beyond me to the next generation.
My kids are old enough for me to ask them what they think the lasting impact my life (so far) will have had on theirs…. and so I sound them out slightly and there are no huge surprises… …They know I am terrible with money, a demented back-seat driver, cannot read instructions, get my left muddled with my right and can drive them crazy with some of my more controlling behaviours. These are the things they laugh about when they are with one another. On a positive note, they say I have taught them to value people and their stories. I have stood up to injustice and moved in a direction not necessarily embraced my family and peers. This they admire as they struggle with their own issues of identity and fitting in. They have found it uncomfortable at times but through my example (and messes) have come to understand that having authentic relationships is worth the journey of open, honest communication and pain. Each one of their lives has, both positively and negatively, been impacted by my journey of church and faith. We don’t talk about this today but I hope that my transparency in wrestling with my faith will be the greatest legacy I leave behind: where our kids understand they have the freedom to question and struggle with the complexities of believing and still have a deep, intimate and personal relationship their heavenly Dad.
Last week we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. We did so quietly with individual thanksgiving and wonder. No one who was at our wedding lives where we do now. No one who witnessed our early days of establishing our marriage was here either. There were a few messages of congratulations from people away but for the most part we enjoyed the day doing what we do every other day of the week. Although, for the first time in a number of years, we gave each other small gifts over our daily ritual of early morning coffee – our evening wasn’t a romantic one but instead was spent at a business dinner (albeit it was with interesting, warm and genuinely lovely people).
When I hear people around me talking about their expectations associated with marriage I could be tempted to feel that in some way our anniversary was a “dead fail”. I am fortunate, however, to be more concerned about all the days that lie between the annual event than the day itself. All the many ways my husband and I enjoy each other and drive one another crazy. The love and companionship enjoyed every day – even in the midst of the annoyances and disappointments.
Our marriage is far from perfect but the sum of our days spent together is fabulous and is so much more than even the best gift or dinner celebration could portray.
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!