The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.Billy Graham
It’s days like today that I am so grateful to have been raised by people who had been guided by their faith for generations. That doesn’t mean I don’t despair, or become uneasy, or even downright scared when faced with life’s inevitable twists and turns and mountains and valleys. I do. But there is a foundation underneath me that always provides a safety net and keeps me from drowning in an ocean of worry, fear, pessimism and self-pity.
My Grandpa Joyce planted what he planted and he raised the animals he raised year after year without fanfare. I’m not sure he ever missed Mass in his whole long life, and not only that, I don’t think he ever missed saying his morning prayers, on his knees at the kitchen table in my grandparents’ farmhouse in the dark before he went out to do his morning chores. I can’t remember him ever having a bad thing to say about anyone.
We always stayed with Grandma and Grandpa Joyce when we’d visit in the summers or for weekends or holidays. I loved the rhythm of our time there. Every morning Grandma would make breakfast for my grandpa and anyone else who happened to stop in. Coffee was always on and most of the time there were warm, fresh cinnamon rolls – my grandmother’s specialty. Grandpa would come in from his morning chores, take off his muddy boots, and wash up in the sink on the back porch. Sometimes when he knew grandkids were visiting, he’d bring in a metal tub with a couple of baby lambs and some bottles for us to feed them.
Most of my uncles and aunts on both my mom and dad’s sides were also farmers. My dad wasn’t a farmer, we were the “city kids.” I saw firsthand that as idyllic as it seemed when I was a kid, it wasn’t an easy life. There wasn’t a lot of rest. There was always something that needed doing, a field that needed work or animals that needed to be tended. Farming didn’t care if it was freezing or sweltering or flooded or dry as a bone. There was always work to be done.
I am not sure how old I was when I realized how much faith in action I had been shown in my life by my grandparents, my uncles, my aunts and my cousins – and, by extension, all of the ancestors that came before us. When was that moment that I realized the gargantuan faith of preparing a field, putting seeds into that field, tending to those seedlings, and painstakingly caring for the crops – knowing that your whole family’s fate depended on an entire set of circumstances that were almost completely out of your control? A farmer could do everything right, the weather could be perfect, the crops could be more beautiful than ever, and then a random hailstorm could strip an entire season’s worth of work bare. A flood, a drought, tornadoes – it could all be taken away in an instant. And yet, year after year, season after season, my family continued to trust that their hard work and faith would be rewarded and their needs would be met – and they were.
Here’s what didn’t happen when misfortune or hard times struck: they didn’t watch the news 24/7 or depend on the news to tell them what they already knew. They didn’t have social media to commiserate with their neighbors or assign blame to someone or something else. They couldn’t concern themselves with anything but what was happening in their own lives. They didn’t have time. There was work to be done. There was recovery to be done, in the case of a storm. There were neighbors to help. There were mouths to feed and animals to tend. There was no time for wallowing or self-pity, or finding fault or wishing things were different. There was work to do.
So maybe that faith is something that’s part of my DNA now. When days like today happen, it’s painful and unsettling – for a little while. But even when the foundation of everything in my life gets shaken, I know I come from stronger stuff. I know whose daughter, granddaughter, niece I am. I know that tomorrow is another day. I know that things might get worse before they get better. But they will get better.
I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.Willa Cather
So tonight, I’m taking a breath. I’m trying not to fixate on what’s happening in the world over which I have no control. I can only control my reaction to the day’s events. Tomorrow is another day, and there is work to be done and life to be lived.