A close friend of mine has a box in a chest in her house. It is filled with her grandmother’s Christmas Tree ornaments – delicate, hand-picked, beloved pieces. Golden orbs and shining stars, heavy ceramics and light, painted glass. The ornaments have been passed down through her maternal line for generations. She has no idea what to do with them. Her father is Jewish, and she was raised in an interfaith home, going to Hebrew school, and celebrating Christmas with her grandparents. When she married her husband, a Jewish man, she decided to convert; though she considered herself Jewish, she wanted to be accepted as a Jew throughout the Jewish community. She no longer celebrates Christmas, but remains very close to her mother and her grandparents. Recently, she and her husband adopted a beautiful little girl from China, and they are raising her in a Jewish home. She already has my friend’s twinkle in her eye, and her adopted father’s laugh. My friend and her husband also create opportunities for her to connect to her birth country and culture. But they have no idea what to do with that box of ornaments.
What is the legacy that we pass on to our children? How much do we get to decide? And, despite our intentions, how much of that legacy will bring them fulfillment and joy? How much will they have to work hard to reject, to find their own space in the world?
Another friend of mine was telling me about his Vision Quest – a multi-day journey in the wilderness, during which, after many years, he finally shed himself of the fear of failure that his father passed on to him from his father, and from his father before. He is now beginning a new career path, and shared that finally, after many years, no longer has terrible anxiety.
When we raise our own children, is it possible to do so with a heightened awareness of the undercurrents of the patterns and values and traditions that were passed on to us, and which have shaped our own lives? Is it possible to change what we felt was harmful, and accentuate that which brought us joy? Or do the patterns, like the genes we pass on, shining ornaments we wish we could lovingly pick, inadvertently fall from our own trees to delicately hang on the branches of our children? And will those ornaments, some which we so treasure, shine eternally, or, after an ephemeral glow, be stored in a box, opened each year, tears glistening, to remember that which will be left in the wilderness?