in which I speak of
my late Grandmother
cold rainy mornings
days long past
friends and influence
Naturally, when you walk around in a graveyard, you think profound thoughts, so that’s what I did that grey morning. Mr. Byler died in the 1830’s, so we always headed to the old sections of the graveyard when we arrived. After searching at several cemeteries, we finally found his grave—tombstone barely legible—in a forgotten corner of an Amish graveyard. Now the genealogies can go on.
As we drove away, I questioned what my influence will be after being absent over a century and a half. John Byler was not related to me as far as I know, so naturally I don’t know anything of his story—how he lived, how he worked, who his friends were. But even my own ancestors I scarcely know anything about. What were they, and why? We imagine that nothing they did matters to us. We don’t have to state it, we live it by not thinking about them, because, we protest, we didn’t know them.
My own Grandmother recently passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I can still remember how she used to be, but that has been years ago now, and the memory fades. I went to her funeral and it was like stepping into a different world, a world very different than the one I live in.
My Grandmother shaped me, even if I don’t know all the ways, can never know them all. She grew up, never thinking about me. She married, had children, lived and struggled. She poured effort into broken situations and made the best of life. All the while, she had no idea she was shaping my life, well at least not until I was born. But even after that, the first thing on her mind every morning was not grandson number 21, or whichever one I was. And yet, she shaped me.
Those who went before us left a vast sphere of influence in their wake. Why is it so hard for us to see? The influence of our ancestors permeates our being, our physical, spiritual, and mental composition. The past colors everything I do or am. My ancestors are linked to me, yet I presume to boldly face the world with what I perceive as a blank slate, an unlimited future. I live as though the past has no impact on who I am.
The things we cannot change are not nearly as frightening as the thing we can still form—the future. We are as gods. The terrible potential of our influence should take our breath away. What will our children be? Will they remember us five generations from now. Will one of my great, great grandsons stumble across this writing, scan over it and say “Hmmm, I wonder what kind of man he was”?