I am visiting the land of my ancestors this week. One of America’s earliest settlements, it is now filled with tourists and the industries that serve them.
The tourists take pictures of the 17th century jail where my 10th great-grandfather served time and feast on lobster that was once so common that it was fed to the prisoners there.
Cars fill the same narrow road that the Abenaki walked 400 years ago to attack the town after killing my 9th-great-grandfather in the woods beyond. Families spread blankets on the beach where my 8th great-grandfather was scalped and killed, his wife scalped and left for dead. (She survived, remarried and had five more children).
New homes sprout up near where my 4th-great-grandfather’s house still stands, the one he built after serving in the Revolution, his grave hidden in the woods across the road.
My people lived and loved, farmed and fished in the spaces now filled with shops and galleries and restaurants, today’s visitors unaware of the ones who came, so long ago, for freedom and opportunity to this rocky, piney land. But they came, piling the field stones in neat walls as they cleared fields for a hopeful harvest.
I come, too, back to this place that holds the sites and the stories of my father, back to the place that is mine by history, though not by experience.
Watching the tourists shop and stroll, oblivious to the stories of the past, makes me wonder about history’s place in the culture I inhabit. I am the product of not just a family tree but also of a simple faith; of good news passed down person to person, generation to generation for 2,000 years until a friend revealed the great mystery to me – that there is a God who sees me. A Father who loves me.
My faith is at once both personal to me, and shared by a great cloud of witnesses past, their names unknown to me. And yet, their legacy lives on in me just as surely as my physical ancestors’ blood identifies me as family.
We all carry the legacies, known and unknown, of the ones who came before us. Our place in this world is not random. We are each tied to a people and a culture that both gifts and burdens us as we choose our steps into the future.
What legacy will we leave to our children? To our community? To the ones who watch to see if our faith has meaning for life and death? Let us choose wisely; step carefully; think deeply about our place in this unfolding story.
Let us not be tourists, browsing among the trinkets of this world while all around us are witnesses, visible and invisible, watching how we use this span of years we’ve been given.
Watching us build a legacy.