Friday, May 3, 2013

'Consider the generations long past'

Deuteronomy 32:7 (NIV)

Remember the days of old;
   consider the generations long past.
Ask your father and he will tell you,
   your elders, and they will explain to you.
One thing I most certainly want to do when the kids get old enough to understand is make sure they spend time with their grandparents learning about the older generations of our families. We don’t have any especially significant stories or famous relatives, but there are plenty of unique personalities, individual quirks and memorable anecdotes that constitute portions of our particular heritage.

I’m sure I wasn’t always the best at caring about my ancestors. And we’re not even talking about digging through genealogy records — one of my grandmother’s favorite hobbies — I simply mean keeping straight the names and spouses of my grandfather’s seven siblings or any more than essential details about my mom’s parents in their youth. That I know even less about my great grandparents is disappointing, and surely my own fault. I feel worse about it as the oldest child, therefore having the best chance to meet and know the most relatives.

This kind of intergenerational communication is going to be even more important as our society continues to rapidly change. I still get a kick out of my dad’s stories about growing up in rural Northwestern Illinois in the 1950s and 1960s when in-home telephones were a new development, let alone the advent of television and radio. Thinking about all of the amazing technology my kids will consider facts of life and contrasting that with the way of the world when my grandparents were kids in the 1920s and 1930s — it’s simply astounding.

Consider the world I was born into in 1979. It wasn’t really that much different, at least from a “conveniences of home” standpoint, than the one my parents entered in 1952 and 1953. In fact, save for the advent of the home computer and the early days of the Internet and cell phones, the world Jack arrived in back in 2004 seems closer to 1979 than it does to Charlie’s birth in 2011.

Sure, we had a TV in the recovery room after Jack was born. But I’d borrowed a cell phone from the newspaper. No one had a laptop, and if we did it’s not as if the hospital had Internet access for patient rooms. We had a 35mm film camera and an old Polaroid. But fast forward seven years and we were waiting for Charlie, sending text messages and emails to friends and family members, taking digital photos and putting them online immediately, all from the hospital. I’m not sure I took the time to save the newspaper from the day he was born — I can always just download a PDF version, right?

Of course technology isn’t the only thing that changes. It would blow Jack’s mind to hear about how school worked when my dad was in third grade, and even more so the experience for his parents. Charlie was born 111 years after my great-grandmother — a proud, wonderful woman who lived into her early 90s (and my sophomore year in high school). There’s so much my kids will be able to learn about culture, society and family traditions some day just by listening to stories from my parents and their siblings, looking over old family photos as still images come to life with each narrative.

In addition to my duty to make sure my kids learn about their own heritage is my responsibility to take pictures and videos of these boys who one day might be the parents, grandparents or great-grandparents sharing their stories of growing up in the early days of the 21st century, or maybe regaling some young person born in 2079 with tales they heard about people who lived through crucial moments of world history.

We also can pass down our faith traditions, which is something I certainly hope to do as well. My mom and I share a great love of classic hymns, especially those played on a powerful organ while sung by a mighty choir and congregation. That we have a chance to expose the boys to those experiences is a great gift, as is the chance to help them establish their own worship traditions.

I don’t want faith to be something they simply inherit, like a sweet tooth or inability to grow facial hair, because it won’t mean anything to them unless they make it their own. However, if they hear stories about the generations before them who made faith, family, church and worship the center of their lives, maybe they’ll appreciate how a strong belief system is bigger than one person, one tribulation, one relationship. It’s part of the fabric of our history — the core component, in fact.

Consider the generations long past indeed. I try to do so myself, and my life has been richer for the effort.

A prayer for May 3:

Lord, tonight I am thankful for the family members who have come before me, the spectacular series of events over the generations that led to my existence and that of my wonderful wife. I feel so blessed to have not only my own family for which to be grateful but hers as well. I hope our children will one day understand how many loving people are in their world and how lucky they are to have the chance to grow up in this generation and continue the legacy of those gone before. Please help us all to always remember your place at the center of our daily family life. Amen.

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