STRIVING TO BE A GOOD ANCESTOR
I believe that it is important to strive to be a good ancestor. This realization came to me as I visited my paternal grandfather’s tomb in a rural village of southern China three years ago. It was my first visit to China. Over forty direct descendants of my grandfather made the pilgrimage with me to his unmarked tomb. These aunts, uncles, and cousins – whom I met for the first time during that trip — represented less than half of my grandfather’s 100-plus direct descendants.
To reach the tomb, we trudged through several miles along an unpaved path in sub-tropical heat. When we arrived, the tomb was barely noticeable because my grandfather had died during the throes of the Cultural Revolution. As a member of a disfavored class, his tomb had to be hidden because burial was not permitted.
I never met my paternal grandfather because he lived in a China that was closed off from my boyhood world of Muncie, Indiana. My father rarely talked about him during my childhood. Perhaps it was too painful to recall the over 40 years of separation from a man he loved so dearly and who had shaped his life so integrally.
My grandfather was a business owner, landlord, and community leader who raised seven children through the tumult of civil war, War World II, and the upheavals of Communist rule. He instilled in his five sons and one daughter the values of honesty, industry, community service, and scholarship. He modeled these virtues by serving as a respected mediator in his community and teaching the Chinese classics to my father each evening over the course of four years. My grandfather also established one of the first elementary schools for girls in his village. He empowered my father to emigrate to the United States, where he became a professor of economics.
I believe that a good part of who I am comes from the values my grandfather transmitted. I believe that all lasting achievement is inter-generational and not accomplished in one lifetime. When I read Dickens and Homer to our children, I think of my grandfather teaching the Chinese classics to my father. When I strive to give back to my community through public service or teaching, I feel guided by the example of an ancestor whom I never met.
I believe that Jonas Salk was right when he said that our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors. I strive to become one every day.
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