There was a time in my life when I didn’t value the generations that came before me. In fact I suppose that was true of most of my life. Until recently. My thirties have brought with them an awareness of my own life lessons and I suppose a respect for what other’s have learned as well. More and more lately I find myself wanting to soak up another woman’s life stories.
I go to work and listen to my friends there, friends my mother’s age tell me stories of sorority life on university campus in the 60s. Another woman recalls a near death experience as a child. There is a woman just shy of a decade older than me who, 10 years ago I may have written off as too unhip to be worthy of my ear and now I find her stories alive with color and interest.
One of my favorite things about being the oldest of an oldest and marrying an oldest of an oldest is that when we gather at extended family dinners I am privy to the most beautiful collection of women in our aunts. As we sit around the remains of dinner served, forking away at a chocolate cake that sits at the center of the table, we commune. We laugh and we listen and sometimes we cry. I find myself unusually quiet in these moments. Is it because there is something almost holy about them, these amazing women who’ve graced the span of my life? I suppose that is part of it. But I also find myself humbled by the richness of their lives. It is a richness that is built year upon year, not unlike the sumptuous layer upon layer of cake we devour together as we chat.
I love to sit at my grandmother’s side as she tells stories of marrying my grandfather at seventeen because she and he were employed by the same farmer. My maternal grandpa has been in Glory for 26 years now. Grams has been remarried for 8 of those years. There’s a lot of story in that.
My dad’s dad has stories of an entirely different nature. He recalls his time as a POW guard in Italy at the end of World War II. The sounds of captured German soldiers singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” still ring in his ears. He is not a man given to much grace, but somehow he found it for those incarcerated men of war. He understood what they could not because he realized they had been given little choice.
Looking back on my own, in comparison, short years on the planet, I realize how many mistakes I’ve made. Most often I’ve learned more from the bad than the good, if I’m being honest. And I suppose that’s okay. Perhaps one day my nieces will share the remains of a chocolate cake at my table and suddenly realize how important my stories are. Maybe not. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far into my thirties, it’s this; Much has been lived and much learned in the hearing of another person’s story. And the choice is up to me. I can listen. Or I can simply walk away. But to choose the latter is to neglect one of life’s greatest gifts; the richness of life not only lived, but shared. Shared across the span of generations. This is the art of legacy.