I am a reader. I’m always looking for things to inspire, guide, direct, instruct me. Articles written by those who have forged a path and learned lessons I also need to learn. Who have a better idea. Who have found a way through the wilderness. Who have discovered life worth living on the other side. I just read an article in “Readers Digest” that made me cry, and honestly, I don’t often cry. It was a story of a man who visited his grandfather in another country one summer when he was a child. His grandfather lived in the middle of nowhere on a farm far up in the mountains. He was a hard worker, but had little in the way of material goods. But he taught his grandson some important lessons. By spending time WITH him instead of spending money ON him. He taught him to do things for himself, to take pride in the work of his hands, instead of always buying things. One of the interesting things he taught him to do was to make things out of wood. A flute. A boat. And the boat was the central character in this story.
He was proud of the little boat he made and he sailed it at a nearby lake many times during that summer visit. But when it was time to return to the US, his father told him he would have to leave his precious craft behind. There wasn’t room in their bags for even one more item. So he reluctantly took the boat to the lake and hid it in a small hole under a big boulder. This was in the early 30’s. His grandfather died soon thereafter and he didn’t return again until the mid-60’s, when he was accompanied by his own children. One of the first things he did was to search for the boat…and he eventually found it! He told his children the story of the little boat, then returned it to its hiding place before leaving. They made several return trips and each time, he would pull it out and carve the date of his visits in the wood before hiding it again.
And then, he was the grandfather. He took his two teenaged granddaughters to the old remote farm up in the mountains where his grandfather had lived and died so many years before. He retrieved his tiny boat once more and told them the story of his grandfather, the lessons learned by his side, how he made the small craft and what it represented. His granddaughters listened quietly. And finally, the youngest one said, “Grandpa, I will come back and visit your boat. And I will bring my children.”
And so, I wept. Touched by the chain of love this family had created. The links over several lifespans that would continue long after they were gone. The grandfather that started it (or did he?) had been dead for many years before the granddaughters first heard about the boat. They never met their great grandfather. But he lived in the grandson, just as the grandson would live on through his granddaughters and their children. The love would survive. The love was strong and enduring, even though the wood of the toy boat weathered and wore. There was a legacy of love in this family, passed from one generation to the next as children were nurtured and taught and guided. A beautiful legacy of love that spread and thrived as it passed from father to son to daughter to grandson to granddaughter. The flesh grew old and failed. But the love never faltered.
In my own life, I am part of a chain of hate, rejection, abuse, depression, brokenness and destruction. That chain binds me as surely as the chain of love binds that man and his family. I never met my great grandparents. I have no idea what they were like. I have no stories to pass along. But judging from my grandparents lives and the legacy they left behind, I don’t imagine they were given a great deal of unconditional love and attention. And the thing I have noticed, the really frightening thing, is that whatever is passed along tends to intensify through the years. My own father was not cared for by his mother when he was a middle-school child. She suffered a breakdown during a divorce. The divorce was at least partially caused by a father who chased other women. His unfaithfulness nearly destroyed my paternal grandmother and certainly destroyed the marriage. He was also a drunk. My own father didn’t drink often, but he was angry…violently so…and he abused me sexually and physically. So the neglect he experienced became hideous abuse in my life. The kind of abuse that is criminal and does lasting, deep, horrible damage.
My mother had a grandfather who was diagnosed in later life as being a paranoid schizophrenic. My mother was depressed, angry, self-centered, manipulative and felt the world owned her. She, in turn, abused me physically, emotionally and verbally. She was never hit. Her “abuse” was verbal (which is also bad). But again, the bad keeps getting “badder.” And the damage was deeper and more significant.
I don’t know if this holds true for the legacy of love. I don’t know that it either keeps getting better and better or that it fades with time. It seems to remain a steady stream of health and stability. Which is wonderful and beautiful. But it does appear, at least in my experience, that the depravity grows and becomes worse with each generation. When a person is deprived of what they need to become a healthy, whole human being, if the chain is not somehow broken or the pattern isn’t significantly disrupted, the depravity intensifies. Just as those addicted to pornography have to find more intense ways to thrill and stimulate themselves, the abusiveness seems to get worse and worse.
You see, as much as we may not like it, as much as we may fight against it, the hand we are dealt impacts us. It doesn’t totally define us. We can overcome it in some cases with much work and dedication…and maybe luck…or succumb to it. We can fight it, give in to it, love it, hate it, agree with it, get mad about it, but our legacy does leave a mark. A good mark, or a bad one. One that gets passed down through the generations, even if we are able to bypass a lot of the negative fallout. It is our foundation. We may build a big, fancy, wonderful life on that foundation and that house may survive in spite of the cracks and faults of the foundation. But the chances of the house making it through our lifetime increase with the sturdiness and health of the foundation on which it is built. And if the foundation is bad, it tends to get worse with time.
I broke the chain. Fearful of my ability to change the pattern, wary of the damage my own brokenness might cause a child, I remained childless. I will leave no legacy behind because there will be no one to leave it with. It ends here, with me. Yes, I broke the chain, but it cost me. A great deal. And there will be nothing of me going forward in the heart and genes of another human being. Nothing to be remembered, good or bad. When I die, my lineage comes to a screeching halt. The only dates that will be carved will be those on my tombstone. A tombstone that will not be visited by children or grandchildren. But the legacy of pain and abuse will die with me. Laid to rest at last. Safe beneath the boulder where it will remain undisturbed and will soon be forgotten.