“Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
The fascinating thing about watching your grandchildren grow, is that you get to see a personality develop. You can study how we learn and develop as humans; how we manipulate things and information to make sense of the world; how we learn about relationships and who we are. But the question about personality goes to an old question: Is it nature or nurture? Which has the most impact on who we are today: What went into our genes, or the influences of our environment as we grew up?
Usually when you are the mother you have no time for such questions. If you happen to have a child who wants to question absolutely everything, you don’t find it cute (as you get ready for work) you find it annoying: “For heaven’s sake stop questioning me!” and get the reply: “What does questioning mean?” For the mother of the child with the indomitable spirit, who sets out to challenge authority as soon as she can clearly say ‘don’t want to’, the question is not what world will she rule, it is how to get her to behave!
And so it is up to the grandparents to find the behavior amusing, or predictive of future greatness, or just plain adorable! But how do you channel inquisitiveness and boldness? How do you tame a wild spirit into acceptable social behavior without cowing them down into a nervous quivering ball of anxieties? The great thing about being a grandparent is that I can ask these questions, but I am not the one who has to come up with the solutions!
But when you think about what goes into the creation of a human being, the only animal with such cognitive powers; such physical abilities; and the ability to communicate and invent and innovate; you have to think about where we are coming from. What do you carry from your ancestors? What unfinished work should you be completing? What talent may you have inherited that you have left undiscovered? We often talk about kids as being ‘old souls’ or having been here before, but we all carry coded information of the lives of our ancestors in our genes. We retain a collective memory, what Carl Jung called the ‘collective unconscious’ that ties us to those who went before.
But there is more physical evidence of our forebears to be seen in our health also, as scientists are now saying that the diet that your grandparents ate has an impact on your health. So if you are making unhealthy choices now, that could not only impact you, but your children’s children also! Something else to guilt you into making better choices!
There are times when we can feel the influence of our immediate forebears. It may be as you look at a photograph and see your mother’s expression in your own face; or hear yourself saying exactly what your father would say. It happens especially when you start to raise your own children, and you start to understand your parents better. There are times at work when I know I directly channel my mother. She had (as those who were taught by her can attest) an impatience for anything less than excellence. She had no time for time wasters and people who were not there to learn the valuable talent of touch typing. So many today are grateful that they took her advice. I had one of her students come up to me once and beg me to have my mother remove the curse she had placed on her. She said my mother told her you will live to regret that you didn’t try to learn to type! To this day the best she can do is peck away at the keyboard!
Some days I wonder which one of my parents will dictate my actions in a tricky situation. Will it be my mother who is likely to tell you what you don’t want to hear, no matter how true? Or is it my father, who may be more measured, may take more time with his words, but may just as easily deliver a harsh truth wrapped in a joke. One which makes you walk away smiling at first but then thinking, hmmm, wait a minute!
I have a cousin who has spent a lot of hours researching her family tree (and thus a part of my own). She has walked through graveyards, trying to read weathered gravestones; she has visited the records halls of old buildings; she has poured over ancient census sheets trying to connect branches of our family going back to the seventeenth century (and no, she has not found any members of the aristocracy – we come from humble blood lines!). Which is no easy task when your family name is Jones – not that unusual! In her searches she discovered a photograph of our great grandmother; it could have been taken at the end of the 19th century. And very weirdly, you can see where I bear a strong resemblance to the woman. I have her picture saved on my laptop screen as a reminder to pay respects to those who went before us.
This morning I hope you do something to honor those who went before, whether centuries ago, or more recently. What are you doing to show how much you value the gift of life? How are you celebrating the sacrifices they made for you to be here today? How are you making the most of the precious DNA that carries the history of your family going all the way back to the first homo sapiens? What is it you are supposed to be doing, to send the message forward through your children and grandchildren?
Have a wonderful weekend Family!