When faced with the impending loss of my grandfather and desperate to preserve some of his colorful stories, I embarked on a genealogy project. I first gave him a notebook and recorder and asked him to write down stories of his life. Over the course of two years, until he passed away, I started building my family tree on ancestry.com. The wealth of information my grandparents had in their heads, the information that my own parents, my aunts and uncles have in their heads, is a goldmine for this type of project.
The stories my grandfather wrote were amusing, they made us laugh, but what was noticeably lacking were the stories of hardship that I know he experienced. I am convinced that living through those hardships once was enough for him. He did not want us to live through them nor could we fully comprehend the complexity of his burdens. He shouldered those alone. I tabled my project, mostly from frustration, and years later my father picked it back up and my husband also started researching his own family tree. What they have both discovered is not only interesting, but it is heart wrenching and eye opening at the same time.
Our ancestors (and this applies to you as well) survived being desperately hungry. They probably all, during one generation or another, experienced poverty and hardships brought on by disease or crop failures. At least one of my ancestors somehow survived the Great Famine in Ireland that killed millions. Some of my ancestors somehow managed to get over to America, build a life for themselves and their future descendants. While doing this, they endured bigotry, the Great Depression and two World Wars.
Go back five generations and you likely have people who woke up and lived to simply survive. What were their daily lives like? I, myself, have a hard time imagining it but am so very thankful to them all. I wonder, what would they think about our lives today? Would they say “Thank goodness we worked so hard and you are so healthy, happy and safe?” I think to some degree they would. I do think, however, they would also scold us. They would look at all the free time we have on our hands and tell us to get hopping. They would tell us to not get complacent, to use our free time wisely, leave a mark on our world, and to pass on the gifts they worked so hard to give us to our own descendants.
If you look at life this way, would you live your life differently? Are you living life or are you allowing life to happen to you?
These questions entered my head after a rather enlightening conversation yesterday with my eleven year old. “Mom, how old are you?” Ryan said. “I am 46 Ryan, why?” “Well, half of your life is over, actually more than half because people usually live to be around 90 if you’re lucky, so umm, well, you really should be careful how you live your life with the time you have left.” Typical Ryan advice, I thought. Seeing the expression on my face, my son then said “Never mind mom, you are doing great!” I quickly reassured him and thanked him for his perspective.
All of this has been swirling in my head the last couple of days. I don’t want to write about the pain some of my family members endured, but I would now tell each of them how very grateful I am, and how much respect I have for them. I don’t have that option today, but I can honor them by leaving my mark and not wasting the opportunity I’ve been given.
Some of us don’t have a lot of information on our backgrounds. That doesn’t change the fact that someone, somewhere made those sacrifices so you could live a better life. Do you know anything about your ancestors? I’d love to hear about it. If you prefer not to leave a comment here, then let’s offer a silent prayer of thanks to them. Regardless of their story, they still live in us today.