Make the Most of the Gift of Life
My faith informs my belief that everyone has a purpose, even though,
sadly, many people will never be able to fulfill their destinies.
This belief has been dramatically reinforced as I research my family
history. I have begun to see the larger picture—beyond the fact
that all of my direct ancestors were fertile!
Imagine all the traumas and trials they must have survived or avoided
long enough to produce offspring. They escaped or survived famine and
the Black Death; they endured in the face of typhoid fever, smallpox,
pneumonia, and influenza.
They did not succumb early to heart attacks, strokes, cancer, or any
number of other life-threatening conditions. If they had childhood
diseases, good genes or good fortune saw them through.
My European ancestors obviously survived the ocean voyage to the New
World—all before 1800—and my Cherokee forebears made a much
earlier and longer passage from Asia.
For all I know, previous generations of my family may have lived through
earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, fires, wars, or extreme
temperatures. They did not fall prey to fatal snakebites or attacks by
bears or wolves. They may have survived lightning strikes, wagon and
auto accidents, and falls into wells or from ladders or roofs. My female
ancestors survived the perils of childbirth at least once.
Most of my forebears likely did not die by their own hand or through the
violence of others (although one great-grandfather was murdered on the
street by a religious fanatic in Itasca, Texas, and another took his own
life in Knoxville, Tennessee, despondent over the death of my
One of my great-great-grandfathers was 10 years old when his entire
family was wiped out during an Indian raid in Alabama. If his parents
had lived, he might not have trekked westward to Texas as a young lawyer
and met his future wife, whom he first encountered by chance when she
was a young child lost in the East Texas woods.
As I thought about all the ways my ancestors could have died without
children, I came to a shocking realization when I learned more about
just my grandparents’ generation. I saw the irony that if some
other people had lived, I would not have been born.
At age 17, my mother’s mother was a widow with a child. Only
because her first husband had died in a work accident was it possible
for her to marry my grandfather and bear eight more children.
My father’s father lost his first two wives in childbirth, paving
the way for him to court and marry my grandmother, who was 20 years his
Lives lived long enough, or lives cut short, have made it possible for
me to BE. This truth demands that I make the most of the gift of life I
have been granted.
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