I will always remember the words my mother used to open her eulogy for her father, Ray Anderson. “He was called by many names: son, brother, husband, father, uncle, friend, grandfather – even great grandfather. He was known as President, CEO, Chairman, trusted advisor, mentor, teacher, visionary, servant leader, champion of the earth, and the world’s greenest CEO, but to me and my sister, Harriet, he was Daddy, and to our children, he was Daddy Ray.” Her tribute touched me then, just as it touches me now. Remarkably, it will be ten years this August since she spoke those words from the pulpit at Northside United Methodist Church.
I read an article recently that reminded me of my mother’s eulogy. I’ll get to the article in a moment, but in my reflection, I kept coming back to the idea that we are so many different people in the lives of others. In so many ways, it is other people who make us who we are. For instance, Mary Anne and Harriet are who made Ray a father. My siblings, cousins and I are who made Ray a grandfather. It was in our relationships with him that such aspects of his identity were formed. It’s just the same with each of us – so much of our identity is forged in the nature of our relationships with others.
In my life, I’m markedly different today than I was when Ray passed away, primarily because I have become a husband and a father. In clear and wonderful ways, Chantel, J.R. and Cecilia have influenced who I am. Some of that comes from what they have taught me, but just as much comes from the simple act of living my relationships with them. I’m reminded of the image of two trees that have grown so close together that they intertwine – they don’t change each other so much as simply grow together.
We should stay mindful of the importance of the varied relationships in our lives, especially those that might otherwise be forgotten or overlooked. For instance, how often have you considered that you are a descendant? More importantly, how often have you considered that you are an ancestor?
That question was at the heart of the article I saw on Grist called “A resolution for 2021: Be a better ancestor.” In it, the author reviews a recent book by Roman Krznaric called The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking. It sounds like an incredible book, and the review by Grist is tremendous. It really gets you thinking about the future, and the people who will inherit what we leave to them.
I often hear the call for corporations to adopt long-term thinking, and it’s a call in which I join. But we also need everyday people, you and me, to think the same way. When you imagine yourself as an ancestor, it’s an invitation to remember a relationship that is often forgotten – the family of our future. Whether you are aware of it or not, right now you are living a relationship with your descendants. What kind of relationship is it? One of love, or one of apathy? That is your choice, and what you choose is reflected in how you live. I hope we all choose love.