Share this article

print logo

Marlene Wessel: We are the product of our heritage

There is something to be said for heritage and the need to reflect, from our perspective, on the past.

Heritage. To some a nebulous loss, it is what has brought us to this point. It has shaped our personalities, temperaments, modes of living, bodies, minds and hearts.

To ignore it is almost criminal. Why? Because of the moments in which we live, and because of our ancestors’ and descendants’ lives.

Permit me to synopsize my own maternal history.

To the best of my knowledge, I came from an “illegitimate” Dutch/German grandmother who married an English engineer and had four children. One died in infancy. My grandmother had a violent temper. Later, my grandfather left her when my mother, the youngest, was 2. He took their two older sons, 7 and 9, never to return, never to be found.

To survive, and to search for her family, Grandma became a migrant worker and carted my mother with her.

My mother, singularly, became the object of her terrifyingly desperate love and hair-raising temperament. She fumbled, but persevered amidst a large family comprised of hard-working but poor Italian immigrants, with completely different lifestyles and backgrounds.

My father was a gambler. Imagine the impact of these lives on their children, raised in America’s “Golden Age.” For those who understand, I was the lost child.

Imagine the impact on the lives of their descendents, raised in the fast-forward of the 1980s through the present. I’m sure you can. Your heritage, no doubt, is as richly storied.

We are born into a world that is constantly changing. Rife with heartache, trauma, struggle, triumphs and enrichment, a choice persists – to survive or succumb to our darkest fears and temptations.

For me, it comes to this: herein lies the clue to survival, if for nothing else than to honor and recognize all of those singular lives before us. They were all real people with full lives. Their struggles to survive landed us here. They mattered. We matter.

We all have stories of the past, both wondrous and horrifying. They make us who we are. To surrender to our fears, our shallow limitations, our blindness to the many lives lived before us and to the lives imminently in and around us is a failure.

If we can think of no other reason for existence, choose this one – to learn from the hundreds of lives that preceeded us. Those lives have made us who we are as individuals.

We have no right to any other option than to honor their imperfect lives and those of our descendents, as well as our own, by choosing to survive and live. To choose anything else is a slight, a self-centeredness that needs to expand its scope and understanding.

The effort is ours now to flesh out and integrate the past, present and future. It is both our duty and our bequest whether we fail or succeed.

We can begin by embracing our full heritage to the extent that we know it and to our attempts to understand it. Only then can we begin to understand ourselves and to a fuller extent, our humanity. In my view, that is our heritage.

There are no comments - be the first to comment