Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Importance of our Ancestors and Elders

I was reminiscing the other day about my great-grandmother, the mother of my grandfather, who I was fortunate to know and spend years of quality time with into my adulthood. I was sharing stories with my husband of how I felt when I would go visit her when I was growing up. My great-gran was the matriarch of the family, mother of 8 with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Small but strong typified who she was to me then. Now I see her only as wise.
I spent a lot of time visiting my great-grandmother in the summertime. I was the oldest grandchild of her third son. This position of my birth gave me a benefit that I never fully appreciated until I was much older. Going to visit her was like being in another world because she had particular ways and routines that no one else I had ever been around adhered to. I groaned when she woke me up at dawn everyday…remember this is summertime! Before breakfast we would go outside and work in the flower garden. I pulled weeds, watered and whatever else my gran told me to do. Inside the house the duties would include one or more of these tasks, dusting, polishing silver, washing windows, watering house plants, making a proper bed with military corners, proper table setting and more. I had no appreciation for these tasks at all and complained to myself. It seemed unfair that I was spending my summer being a slave to my gran. Gran was a very religious woman and she read her bible everyday, so a bible reading was included in every day. Then there was the night routine! She watched her favorite TV shows which included Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy and the 11pm news every night and following the news the house shut down. Though there were 2 unoccupied rooms out of the 4 total bedrooms, I always slept with gran with a few exceptions; this was not by my choosing. Gran had a habit that she maintained that utterly amazed me: She got down on her knees every night and prayed for about 30 minutes! This meant that I had to do the same…I always wondered what she had to say to God that took so much time. I imagined that she was listing every person that she had ever known with a thanksgiving or request with regard to each of them! Then after the prayer we got in her Queen sized bed on our respective sides. I was not the most conscientious sleeper in those days so my gran suffered many a night from my knees and elbows. At her advanced age, this was not a good thing, but she never kicked me out of her bed. She did however place three pillows between the length of us to absorb my blows. I’m not sure how much the pillows helped, but she didn’t complain much.
One of the other unique things my gran did was call people on birthdays and holidays and read out of the Daily Word. She always took time to share a word of wisdom and positivity with everyone. She also sent every grandchild and great-grandchild a birthday card for their birthday which always contained new crispy dollars. We looked forward to this every year! It wasn’t the amount that mattered but the fact that they were new and crispy that we children loved. Her home was where I nurtured my love of writing. It may have been where the passion began. I remember my first songs and poems written on her front porch swing at the age of 10. Since I always visited alone and there being no other children in the area to play with, I had lots of solitary time to think and explore myself. I also began my true love and connection with animals here as I developed a close sharing with her Weimaraner, Pepper. Pepper was the playmate and confidant that kept me company during these visits.
As I look back I see how much richness and virtue and value my gran taught me by her seemingly strict methods. I learned discipline that has served me well in many areas of my life. I learned the value of hard work, the value of taking care of things that belong to you, of keeping a clean home and entertaining others. These are things that were not only taught to me as a female, but to my other cousins as well and my brother. We each got our turn in our training. At the time, I thought that I was the only one. I learned to think of others as well as myself and to serve in whatever way I can. These are all things that our children need more lessons in today and the messages are not being passed on because we have changed our methods so much. Much of childrearing is self-directed by the child. Parents have few or no expectations and requirements of the child. I remember when I began to see the marked difference in the generations…the lack of discipline and responsibility. Sometimes the wisdom of the elders may seem harsh or unnecessary, but it is their experience that guides them and we need all of that wisdom.
I was listening to the radio this week and heard an interview with a Chinese-American elder who wrote a book about what it is like for an older person to advance in age: I Love a Broad Margin to My Life By Maxine Hong Kingston. She chronicled her thoughts and experiences starting from the age of 65 to 70, her current age. It was profound to listen to her simple wisdom that reached far deeper than any grand philosophy of any professor or leader. She gave a definition of what it means to be an elder and who is an elder that was the most comprehensive definition that I have ever heard. I will attempt to paraphrase: An elder is not a specific age designation…it is the recognition of responsibility to teach others and guide the community and world to make it better…using wisdom earned through experiencing life. Not only was her sharing profound, but the callers, also elders, continued to floor me with their depth and wisdom. See the link at the bottom for more on this wonderful woman.
There is so much lost in our present age when we fail to tap into the wisdom of our elders and stories of our ancestors. Take time to talk with those who are still among us, hear their stories, their wisdom. Record the memories that we are to pass down through generations so that we know who we are, where we come from and have a more solid sense of where we can go.
A 'Warrior Woman' Confronts Mortality, In Verse : NPR
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1 comment:

  1. By the definition given that makes many of us conscious individuals elders, and with that it also makes us responsible for the future enlightenment of our children. We are giving this power over to the wrong people. How do we as the aware of this society give this all important assignment over to the very individuals that seek to keep us unaware of not only our potential but our heritage as well.