Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.
We assume we’re lead characters in the drama of life. Our stories are all about us…aren’t they? We look at those around us as support characters, even extras in the scene. We might inadvertently use people to reach our ends or even abuse people we think don’t belong in our story. We look at the relationships and stuff we’ve accumulated and think we’ll find evidence of our worth there. We look in the mirror. We want to know the meaning of our lives, and we already have an idea of the kind of meaning we’re seeking. But what if we’re wrong? What if we’re merely an opening act?
As I watch FINDING YOUR ROOTS on PBS, I’m impressed by how many people who are currently notable in our culture come from a long line of struggle and bravery, sometimes innovation and influence. There’s a theme of iron hope behind them, hope that the future could be better. The celebrities often succumb to tears as they realize the terrible prices their ancestors paid trying to survive—survival that made a luxurious life possible. To me, the most searing stories originate in Native American genocide or on slave ships or pogroms of Jewish settlements. How can people who are treated as refuse keep living? Speaking of Mother’s Day, how can parents who can’t know if their children will survive create insecure families that may include the children of rape and love them as part of the whole? How can the children of families deliberately ripped apart begin anew with the same determined hope that sustained their great grandparents? They managed. We’re here. Sadly, the struggles haven’t disappeared.
We wander through museums that depict the Earth as it was millennia ago, wondering at artifacts from ancient cultures that disappeared. In my backyard, there are plenty of fossils to remind me that our property in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains was once ocean bottom, but I don’t expect big changes in the Earth to continue. I expect my life to plod forward as it has done. All that led to now, didn’t it? We’re settled now. We assume we are the prize after the suffering and deprivation of our ancestors, and we may be. But what if we’re not?
What if the real meaning of your life is as a foundational stone for descendants who will populate a future you can’t imagine? After all, there were certainly ancestors in your past who never worried about you, but they left a path for you, regardless. I know some of my ancestors were very hard workers. Others looked for easy ways out. Some fought for noble causes, but did they do it out of believing in those causes or for less noble reasons? Is my slice of Native American DNA from consensual sex based on love and respect or something else? What aspects of my life represent ancestral legacies? When we speak of legacies, we’re usually distracted by awards, events, or material wealth. But what if the only legacy that matters is how we face our challenges? In other words, what if character is the legacy?
People who delve into genealogy often wonder how they can honor their ancestors, how they can thank them. What should come next? Is telling the stories enough? What do you want to pass along? I can’t pass along any DNA, but I can support the people who do. I can make contributions to the universal character with the way I spend my life, the people I lift. Maybe I play a supporting role in the drama of life, after all.
(Image: a musical theatre performance at Western Michigan University)