Saturday, May 9, 2015

Finding Wisdom Among the Dead

There is a fine balance to exploring your family history or collective story (some would call it ancestry, or genealogy work but that seems so un-exciting). 

On one side it's quite thrilling to realize you have a "Captain" in your family from the 1700's. Amusement is endless that one family member had the name Ebenezer. Or how about Deliverance? But to a history lover like me, it's thrilling to just know your family lived in Connecticut while it was still a Colony! Yet I am stymied by the fact that so many of my family lived in New York. For. So. Long. How unromantic and thrilling is that. It's not. That's my point. At this point in my family's narrative I would think I'd be in the thick of Europe. But no, it's late 1600's and "we're still living out East in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York (I did mention that already, right?). 

When my Grandpa died over a decade ago, one of my cousins and I went exploring in the old farmhouse attic. Perhaps I read too many Nancy Drew books growing up to peak my interest. And how glad I am that my curiosity turned to courage. What we found was similar to a novel coming to life - and it was awe-inspiring! 

To our astonishment we found over a dozen old family journals, and a hundred plus of family pictures that go back so far it makes your head spin to process. It's taken me a few years to dig in. But that I have. And I am amazed. 

I am reminded of the truth that you cannot look for the living among the dead. How foolish of me to get so drawn in to staring at my family's past instead of investing in its future. 

But on the positive side, it has great benefit. You see, I live in a generation and culture that has great disregard for history, an accurate narrative of our nation's founding, or how older generations made their success. Their commitment to hard work, individual responsibility, and the personal fellowship of community, should be our quest as well. The older I get, the call for wisdom that I've spent my life reading in Proverbs is fermenting and coming alive in me. Wisdom asks that I appreciate its value, and seek for it like a precious jewel. And in response, it makes sense that I look "back" so I can appreciate where I came from, and I have a sense of what to carry into the future. 

Looking back gives context. And while everything from the early 1900's for example was not perfect, it reminds me that I have family that lived through the Roaring 20's, or World War II heroes that went to serve our nation, and survivors of the depression. I am not to let their heaviness burden my own soul as God gives grace to those who walk through it, when they walk through it. But because it's my family it gives me a nudge to have greater appreciation for these moments. Admit it. It makes history come alive. 

Men and women who worked hard to have a good life. Journals telling of the simple things that brought joy like Aunt and Uncle who came to visit a Great Grandma, and how at 11 years of age she had to journal about its significance. And a people who loved America that they fought to make it survive and thrive. 

I must remember that in the dead is not my hope, and it is not my life. However, it is a piece of my story. And why not understand your past so you can make better sense of "the rest of the story" ... aka my story and its future. 

So it's okay that family lived in New York for all those years and not all exploring the great out west (well, I still have a lot to discover in the research so who knows). On one hand I could be mad at them all that the foundation building all the ancestors did (or lack thereof) resulted in a mess my generation has to deal with. Like voting Franklin D. Roosevelt into office who made big government explode. 

But instead I have to dilute my judgment and believe the best (of which I will) - perhaps they are some who laid the foundation for freedom, stood against tyranny, and saw a bright tomorrow for our nation. And - well - that is a noble cause. I hope that I can follow well in their footsteps. 

Let the exploring - and the living - continue! The best is yet to come. 

- ajh