The power of heritage

Heather - Indianapolis, Indiana
Entered on February 23, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: family, legacy

When asked to introduce myself, my mind skips past the usual labels – woman, wife, librarian, dog-lover, knitter – to my family. A large family means an abundance of support, criticism, love, and talking. Along with those joyous things necessarily come loss and funerals. In my family, these funerals are partly celebration of life and partly mourning of loss. What resonates in my heart and mind are the stories. Sometimes gut-busting hilarious, often told by several people at once, and always bittersweet, these stories are among my fondest memories of relatives and family friends.

At my aunt’s funeral, we were invited to share our stories to honor her memory. This should not have been hard to do – there are so many stories that encapsulate her huge personality and heart. But we were heartbroken and at a loss without her vitality and humor, often the ice-breaker for such moments. It hit home then that she was truly gone. Finally, someone spoke out. One day when my aunt was cashiering at Winn Dixie, a customer realized that she had locked her keys in her car. The woman had a spare key at home, but no way of getting there. It did not matter that she was a stranger – unsuspicious, my aunt offered her the keys to her own car. She did not question the woman’s motives; she simply believed that it was the right thing to do. Although I witnessed many acts demonstrating her faith in God and man, that story stays with me.

I believe in the power of stories to preserve our heritage. It is more than the objects and places left behind; heritage is also the values, traditions, and stories that shape every one of us. Born from nations, cities, neighborhoods, and families, these stories contain our successes, failures, and dreams. They shape how we perceive and react to the world.

I believe in the power of stories to unlock the past and build a better future. Our strength as individuals and as a society lies in knowing what came before us, knowing who we are, and in passing on that knowledge to those who follow. Stories of our heritage need to be valued and actively sustained. We are nothing as individuals. As a family, a culture, a nation, a species, we can progress towards better things. Without such stories, we all fall away to dust.

My grandmother’s gentle resilience in the face of adversity – death, illness, poverty, and sorrow – has not just inspired me, but has fostered gratitude for all that I have. My mother’s sense of self-respect and kindness has led me to become a strong, self-reliant woman. My father’s generosity and loyalty has taught me to value the small, spontaneous acts of love that mean so much. My aunt’s faith has inspired me to open myself to others, even when I am most vulnerable. These stories are my heritage – gentle resilience, self-respect, kindness, generosity, loyalty, courage, and tenacity. This I believe.