A few days ago I randomly overheard a conversation, that included this well-worn phrase, (and I paraphrase here) “If you’re not familiar with history, you’re destined to repeat it.” Of course, I’ve heard it before, but this time it rang a different bell in my ears. I have grandchildren now, and to their grandchildren I will be the ancestor…..the one who lived a long time ago. This thought made me realize that I have some writing and teaching to do. My descendants need to know who I was, what were my values, what did I embrace or disdain. This is history, our personal history.
I don’t expect, or even want, my descendants to be a carbon copy of me, but I believe we have pieces missing in our culture today. Those pieces are the lives of our grandparents and great-grandparents. A few very lucky people have stayed tightly connected, but it’s much more difficult today. Throughout most of our history, and in much of the world today, elders were respected. They provided life lessons, learned by living alongside the elders, and the youth accepted their wisdom. This was tradition. That’s not so easy today, we live in a different world, but we need not give up. We can still write, or call. Oh, excuse me, I’m showing my age here……we can still “text” our grandchildren.
There are so many ways to inform them about our priorities, i.e. books that we love, movies we’ve enjoyed, video game choices (don’t get me started on that one). Maybe in our conversations with grandchildren we are sometimes too involved only with their lives and what they are doing, which is VERY important, of course. But let’s not leave out our lives, and our priorities. They need to know who we are.
Time is the greatest gift. I know it’s a cliché, but I’m coming around to believing it more and more. I know we live in a material society, and it’s unavoidable on some levels, but when I visit a toy store, I’m overwhelmed. Choices, choices, choices. I had to laugh out loud when I read a description recently of our culture today, “chaotic abundance.” That says it all.
The next time you purchase a toy, pay attention to how it’s made, recycled materials? Does it have family significance? Can you tell a story that goes with it? Use this opportunity and any other that you can find to let them know what’s important to you, what your traditions are, and why it is so special that they are part of your family.
Stories were once the only way that information was passed from one generation to the next, and I believe it still holds a vital place in our culture. In fact, I suppose this idea will make me seem very old-fashioned, but I have serious concerns about the longevity of much of what we write down these days. I’ve often thought about the notes that I found in my grandmother’s dresser when she passed away. They were there after many, many years, a tangible record of friends’ thoughts. I could read them and grasp a bit of the culture of the time, a piece of history, a morsel of the past in my hand.
I don’t believe we will have a lot of that in the future, we read and delete e-mails daily, and we consume newspapers and magazines in the same way. Stories! We need to tell our grandchildren stories, over and over, until they are so familiar that they will pass on, to their children and grandchildren.
Be proud of your traditions, don’t let them slip into anonymity. Let’s take back our position as elders, and close that gap, if we have one, with our grandchildren.
Let’s be sure that our great-great grandchildren will know their ancestors.