Memories, Legacies, and a Song of Mom go back to Thoughts page
"If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?" Isak Dinesen from Out of Africa.
What does it mean, “to know a song of” something or someone? In the context of societal evolution, it means to commit to memory, or to have a thing in one’s memory. Think of times long ago, before the printing press, when literacy was limited to royal or religious circles. The role of the wandering bard was very important to every community, because that was how news was spread throughout a land, and how stories of important feats by local heroes were remembered. And all of those stories were captured in poetry, or song, because rhythm and rhyme are very helpful in committing something to memory.
The definition of memory is: The faculty of remembering. Mindful of. The power, act, or process of remembering. The total of what one remembers. Memory denotes the power or faculty by which our minds reproduce past impressions, as well as the impressions themselves as they occur in our thoughts. And the definition of legacy is: A bequest. Property or money given by last will or testament. Hence, anything handed down from, or as from, a predecessor or ancestor. Legacies are the things which we give to others intentionally when we have finished with them. These are typically thought of as material objects one receives as an inheritance; in larger context they can also can be thought of as intangible things such as a body of knowledge that a person imparts to society.
Memories and Legacies. Not something we think about very often in the course of our everyday lives. But today I ask you to consider, for what do you want to be remembered? Will others know a song of you someday? And of what will they sing?
One circumstance that brings this topic of memories and legacies to the forefront of everyone’s mind is a reunion. I am fortunate in that my extended family is pretty close. Every other summer, my family has a Big Reunion, at which a genealogy chart is displayed. And when young cousins don’t know each other very well, they can sidle up to the chart and see exactly how they are related, and it is wonderful to hear them share the stories they have heard about the great-grandpa they have in common. I love to overhear those “songs.” But it just wouldn’t be a Johnson-Stranahan family reunion if one of my relatives didn’t recite a song of me from my childhood…and usually, whatever song they know of me is a little embarrassing. Like the song that was sung of me at about the age of three: how I interrupted my aunt’s wedding after everyone began to recite the Lord’s Prayer, and I demanded that they start over because I had just learned the Lord’s Prayer but did not know it well enough to join in the middle. Another song of me that all of my relatives know is of me as a toddler sharing my ice cream cone with my grandmother’s dog and then admonishing him, “Blosco, don’t eat my belly buckle!” And so, my family knows a song of me as a precocious toddler; that’s kind of cool. I don’t mind being remembered for that.
But there is another kind of reunion that brings the topics of Memories and Legacies to an even stronger state of awareness for many of us: our high school reunions. Now I really have little direct experience on which to call when it comes to talking about high school reunions. I have been to only one: my thirtieth, a few years ago. It really was quite natural for me to not attend regularly, as my family had moved from my high school hometown during my freshman year of college, and I lost touch with everyone for about 30 years.
Until Facebook. Like many people I know, I had resisted joining Facebook for a long time. When I finally joined, I connected with just one of my girlfriends from high school. And this is where the story gets really interesting. My friend was floored by the synchronicity of my friend request. After 30 years of no contact with me - none at all - she had just that day told someone the story of us “running from the law in a parking lot during halftime at a high school football game,” and later that same evening, out of the blue, she heard from me. She also informed me that a mutual friend of ours had - just the day before - posted on his Facebook wall a photo of us at prom, and the caption read: “Where is Joanne Franchina?” And yet another mutual friend had just posted on his Facebook wall several photos from our high school yearbook, and among them was my senior picture! And there were several comments posted about that picture from people, asking if anyone knew what had ever happened to me. Andd my friend commented, “She’s on Facebook!” And so the deluge of contacts began.
Apparently, I had still been remembered, after 30 years of complete and utter absence. I was surprised by that these friends would remember me so well because the passage of time affects our memories. But time is not the most critical factor: I believe the impact of an encounter is the key factor in what we remember, how well we remember it, and for how long we remember it (more about impact shortly).
For what was I remembered? I’m not so sure I want to go there…. Running from the law? Perhaps not such a good thing, although in fact, it really was. We had been having so much fun together as only silly high school girls can, and then we had such a fright, screaming and running through a parking lot, and then, the encounter with the law. What a great learning experience, especially because we all could all laugh about it later. So, my high school friends know a song of me "running from the law."
The times when songs and stories are shared most prevalently are when we have experienced the loss of a loved one - when someone we know has crossed over to the spirit side of life. And each of us can relate to that, can we not? As an example let me share a little from my recent experience with the loss of my mother, Jaccolin Franchina, a few weeks ago. Do I know a song of Jaccolin? I know several. One is a long refrain of the gentle love I have known my entire life as her daughter - the encouragement, pride, support, and celebration of each milestone I have reached and several stops along the way. Another is of her devotion to my father - that's a beautiful love song with exactly 50 verses, one for each year of their marriage. Many, many songs about her creativity, artistic talents, and master craftsmanship - in needlecrafts as well as in her unique and beautiful wire-art crystal jewelry. I believe there must be several hundreds of songs celebrating her baking talents alone - all the special birthday cookies, the danish pastries for holidays, the pies and cheesecakes that were fought over at family dinners, oh my! And everyone who met Jaccolin knows a song of her beauty - not only was she known for her physical beauty, but she saw beauty in every thing, and she made life more beautiful for everyone around her. What a legacy.
And our memories: they are certainly not accurate, not exact. We know that several people can witness the same event and come up with as many versions of what happened as there are people interviewed. Why is that? And why is it important? (And I assure you, it IS important). So let’s explore that idea a little bit. It’s important because our legacies are not ours; they belong to the people who hold the memories. The memories are actually created by the people who hold on to them. It does no good whatsoever to become attached to our legacies; to base our current actions on what we presume others might think of us or what they might think of the actions themselves. Because we have absolutely no control over the impacts of our actions, how they are received, how the observer is impressed by the action, how the observer categorizes and stores his or her impressions from the action. The responsibility of the impacts rests with the observers.
My point is that, although each of us would do well to consider the potential results of our actions, we also would do well to recognize that it is worthless to worry about what other people will think of them. Let me give an example. Most parents have worried at one time or another - whether an action they took, or a decision they made, or a response to a question asked of them - most parents have worried that their children might be permanently hurt or scarred by some of those things. And yet, I’ve heard from so many people, and experienced myself, that the things you were so worried about, a year later the child has forgotten that incident completely; instead, they are “scarred” by some other, totally benign action or decision or response that you don’t even remember happening! So, there’s just no accounting for, or predicting of, the impacts of our actions.
This puts a new perspective on what we do as observers in our daily lives. Each of us is responsible for our interpretations of every event in which we participate, or observe, or whatever. When I meet someone for the first time, when I run into an old friend on the street or on the Internet, when I participate in a family get-together, when I take a class, when I attend a meeting at work, it’s my responsibility - it’s entirely up to me - to categorize that event as I see fit. So how do I observe my environment? Do I have a cheerful outlook? Do I give people the benefit of the doubt? Do I look for the good in things? Is the glass half-empty, half-full?
On the other hand, as I alluded to before, each of us is responsible for our personal intentions that accompany our actions. So it is important to consider the well-being of others. And yes, it is a good thing to consider our larger-scale legacies from time to time, to occasionally take inventory, to check in and see how we’re doing in life. Many people feel compelled to make a specific contribution to society, which is quite a strongly driven legacy. That has more to do with our purpose in life, something we came to do, perhaps a “calling” of sorts. That’s about the highest level of intention that any of us has during our lifetimes.
Just as important, though, are the intentions we have about our everyday lives, those run-of-the-mill, mundane tasks. These actions are well governed by meaningful, thoughtful consideration. For example, while watching television, ask yourself a question such as, “Does this activity bring meaning and purpose to my life, or does it bring peace and joy to my heart?” When paying the bills or cooking dinner, ask yourself, “Is the way that I do this task in alignment with who I am?” Or simply, “Is this a good time to begin?”
Finally, most importantly, and summarily, we ought to consider how well our lives reflect who we are at our cores, at a soul level. This idea was very well articulated by Isek Dinesen, whom I again quote from her literary work, Out of Africa. “I would hate to get to the end of my life, to discover I had been living someone else’s idea of what a life should be. Don’t ask that of me. I don’t want to find out I’m at the end of someone else’s life.”
In closing, I would like you to consider the following ideas, and how you might make them your own and apply them in your life. If I know a song of this church, of the candle on the altar, of a hawk flying past the window, of the eager and cheerful faces that greet me each morning when I serve, does the church know a song of me? Will visitors attending for the first time remember how warmly I welcomed them to our community, or the congregants repeat a funny or poignant story that I once told, or my colleagues and dear friends from this church who are now in Spirit look out for me, ready to greet me in celebration when it is my turn to cross over to the other side?
Copyright © 2015 by Joanne Franchina
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