I attended a family reunion with a couple dozen relatives from three generations. It was important to the two older generations to impart to the younger one the stories, names and memories of those who were gone. There were photos of my grandmother's generation, my mother's and mine. Uncle Tom (87,) could identify the folks from his mother’s generation (our Nana).
The value of a family history, to share, not only DNA, but culture, language, stories and personalities of those who went before can be easily dismissed by young ones. That is how it was for me at 20, 30, even 40 years old. It became more important after I had children and watched them grow. So as my Uncle Tom and several of us boomers offered our stories of Nana’s foibles and her wisdom, we directed it almost desperately toward the millennials, who seemed genuinely interested and moved, but I wondered if they could see and hear the ghosts. You see, while only twenty-six of us could attend, many family members haunted the Lost Pines resort.
“Seventh generation” is a principle commonly understood as the impetus for action that will sustain our resources for the next seven generations. Today, a friend shared a slightly different perspective on this concept: that we are most connected to and responsible for the three generations that precede us and the three generations who come after us. Kin who, given a bit of tribal longevity and proximity, may have directly cared for us, and younger ones whom we could personally care for, essentially making us the meat in the seven-generation sandwich. It is our responsibility to remember folks, grand folks and great grand folks, to pass on their wisdom, knowledge and idiosyncrasies, preserve the good stuff, and offer solutions to epigenetic problems that help the clan bond and thrive.
So often we euro-Abrahamic Americans let self-consciousness eclipse any desire for self-awareness. We leave the past and the future at the periphery of our stories and focus on our immediate problems and gratification. We tend our nuclear families, colleagues, local communities, even our Facebook friends before considering the impact of our ancestry and our own impact on our children, nieces, nephews and their children and so on.
My Nana had many grand and great grandchildren. She hand wrote cards to each of us fairly regularly. I suspect that this sensory-based communication, spelling the names on the letters and envelopes and licking the stamps helped her to remember our names and our stories, which she shared with her tribe. This was important to her. So, it was really a treat to be in a room where I could learn the names of those I did not know well or never met, along with their hopes and fears. All of us got why we were there. After a tough year of feeling the sting of isolating divisiveness, something that transcended political and age differences had brought us together. It was a love fest that put us on our best behavior without being phony or uncomfortable. We simply had other things to talk about; memories, secrets, joys and concerns only family could truly appreciate.
I was very grateful for this and enjoyed every minute of it. But, it has taken the week to really process the profound meaning it has leant to the term sustainability. Today, on earth day, I chose to sit and write this rather than join the "march for science." While love and science are my religion, I know these concepts and practices have both good and ill effects. So, I try to practice vigilant discernment and equanimity. Because while we can’t always choose what legacy we inherit, we can turn it into understanding and wisdom for the next generations.