Heritage: A Matter of Character Gained and Given

The course of people’s lives are forever changed by both the heritage we receive and impart.

A few years back, the focus of several weeks of my life was split between normal life responsibilities and the planning of a reception for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. The final week was particularly full with the finalization of all the food, decorations, and communications. The event was a great success in many ways. There were the initial, typical visible ways, such as the food and decorations which everyone enjoyed. However, the aspect of lasting impression from the event on my brother, spouse, and myself were the responses of people, expressing their love for the impact my parents had on their lives.

Some people, though elderly and feeble, traveled long distances to be there. Others were involved in leadership of major community events, yet slipped away for a little while because they, too, did not feel it was an option to miss the opportunity to say, “Thank You,” and honor my parents for the way their lives have been forever changed by knowing them. My parents have expended the energy of their lives befriending, comforting, encouraging and carrying others through the good and bad events of life and it showed through people’s amazing responses.

This event is a good example for us of the importance of being aware of the people in our lives who pour into us a lasting, positive impact .  It is a heritage that changes us and then allows us to impart that change to others.

Our lives are changed forever by the small kindnesses that a few, key people stop to impart to our lives.  Similarly, it is often the small kindnesses we choose to do, the type that can so easily be missed opportunities, which change the lives of others.

-The first person to arrive was an elderly widow. She had hand written and framed a letter expressing her love to my parents for the kindness shown to her and her late husband. My dad had visited him repeatedly at their home while the man was dying of cancer. The lady has ceaselessly recalled my dad singing to her husband to bring him comfort in those final days.

-Another person had a letter enclosed in a gift, expressing how my parents had laughed and cried with them during the ups and downs of her life.

-One man traveled from leadership responsibilities at a regional event in a neighboring town just to be with us for a few moments because he did not want to miss the opportunity to express his love for my parents; he told them how his life was a complete wreck before he met them, but now it has been restored.

Person after person expressed thoughts of incredibly deep love and the experiences which developed it. Each one was the type of expression rarely voiced to another person while he or she is still alive; many times, such thoughts are only articulated at one’s eulogy. My parents were blessed to hear first hand the lasting impression they have made on people’s lives, changing the course of those lives and of history by the love and character they have shown.

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A priceless heritage gained is one that must also be given.

Encarta English Dictionary defines “heritage” as character acquired by being born into a particular family; a way of life passed from one generation to the next. My parents have left indelible impressions upon people who now live around the world. Their “persons” are forever changed by the life interaction they had with my parents —  the love, concern, support, etc.  It is no wonder that my brother and myself were naturally drawn into careers which focus on meeting the needs of people, lifting them up, supporting and encouraging them, working to make their lives better in lasting ways. The heritage of loving lives from family member is a gift.  For many other people, it is not family members who imparted a lasting heritage, but a teacher, school counselor, pastor, mentor, or friend of the family.  In either case, we are responsible to impart the heritage we’ve gained from the character of others into the lives of those with whom we come in contact.

The lack of a memorable heritage does not keep you from beginning one.

If you have not had such a heritage poured into you, do not feel that you have nothing to impart. A heritage that changes the masses has to begin somewhere. Be the person who begins a heritage of character, who begins a way of life that is passed on to those around you by forever making their lives better.

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