Legacy: Linking The Past & Future Through Story
As storytelling beings, we are captivated by stories, particularly those that are connected to us. Stories we write about our ancestors – their values, and their time in history – enable our children (and theirs) to transcend time and space, to discover or rediscover their history, deepen their roots and provide them with values that can influence their future.
Stories about ancestors can help us understand and experience compassion for those who came before us. Learning the lessons of history may help us not to repeat what went wrong and to admire and emulate what was right. Understanding the context of their lives, the decisions their time required, the trials that beset them, the opportunities they said yes or no to – all that and more can impact the values and behaviors of our children today and in the future.
It follows that if part of our life purpose (and responsibility) is to make an impact on future generations, then we will likely be more successful if we pass on values and love in the format of stories rather than lectures or lists of instructions. (I refer you to Dora K’s vivid memory of visiting her grandfather when she was three years old, and the value she learned on page 48 in Your Legacy Matters.)
“. . . . In life all our stories contain the stories of others and are themselves contained within larger, grander narratives, the histories of our families, or our homelands, or our beliefs.”
― Salman Rushdie, 2015 in The New Yorker
Contemporary communication techniques and platforms, the accessibility of travel (live and virtual) match our almost universal deep passion to connect to our history – to belong to our tribes and cultures - and to pass forward the values and sense of meaning in the stories of our ancestors. A spiritual concept accepted by all faith traditions is that each of us is a link in the chain of eternity. Future generations require understanding of the past for direction and we need children to ensure the survival of our memories and values.
Thanks to Michelle, a 2012 legacy writer, for sharing an excerpt of her poem expressing our connection “…throughout all of history…”
“I write to the souls who are yet to be, wondering how their lives will be touched by me…
My mind grasping to understand how our lives are but a single strand. Woven together in mystery, connected throughout all of history. Never to be left dangling alone but entwined together as one of God’s own…”
- Bring your tea or coffee cup and your favorite pen and paper to your story corner to write. Set your timer, reflecting and writing each time for no more than 15 minutes.
“…every grain of sand brushing against my hands represents a story, an experience, and a block for me to build upon for the next generation.” ― Raquel Cepeda
- Name all the ancestors that you know (knew as a child).
- Reflect on your favorite stories about them, preferably from a time when you were a child or adolescent.
- Choose one and write that story in one paragraph.
- Then write a paragraph about what you learned from this story (some value, some strength you admire, some understanding the story provides you about your ancestor – his/her life, times, challenges).
- Repeat paragraphs 4 and 5 for as many ancestors as you want to remember, immortalize, and share with family members younger than you.
- All of us will one day be ancestors; consider and write the stories that clarify the values that you will want to have told about you and remembered by future generations.
- To turn your stories into legacy letters, refer to a four-paragraph template that roughly follows this format:
May your ancestor stories link you to them and to your children, and may all of you experience the belonging deepened by these connections,
– Rachael Freed
Rachael Freed, LICSW, senior fellow, Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing, University of Minnesota, is the author of Your Legacy Matters, Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs & Blessings to Future Generations and Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient. Rachael can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.life-legacies.com.