More and more, I’ve been thinking about the legacy that my parents have given me. They are people of compassion – people who reach out to others all the time, even at cost to themselves. They are people who care deeply about nature, about the world around us, and about the people of this world. They are deeply spiritual folks who see God in all things but mostly not in anything for they know of God’s transcendence. They have given me this way of seeing the world, too.
Today, as I was reading about Bill McKibben and realizing how much I want to live the life of an activist writer, I also realized that this desire comes directly from my parents who taught me to speak plainly about what I saw. They also helped me read people who did the same – Farley Mowat, Barry Lopez. And when we rarely watched TV when I was a kid, we watched shows like Grizzly Adams. We camped for our vacations, and John Denver was often on the record player. All of these things made me crave a life of simplicity and harmony, a lifestyle that left me with the time to reach out to other people. A life I am trying to pursue actively now. They have given me a good legacy.
I see my students talking about their parents’ legacies to them as well. Right now, many of them are writing about why they will or will not vote. For those who are not planning to vote on November 4th, most say that part of their reason is that their parents never voted so why should they? Their parents don’t believe voting makes a difference, so why would they? Their parents are cynical about politics, so they are, too. Here, again, is legacy in action – and in my mind, this legacy is not one of promise or hope – it’s of apathy.
Some of my students have been given poor legacies in other ways. Some of them have never read a book in their lives until they come into one of my classes; I have to imagine that’s because no one has ever modeled reading for them. (I do know that some of them do not have parents to model such things and that some of them, despite a lack of such models, do read out of their own initiative). I can’t even imagine living in a house where books were/are not a daily feature, something left laying on the counter to be picked up why I wait for the water to boil. These students have been failed in their legacy.
So I try to step in here, to give them a legacy of reading that – if they don’t take it on for themselves – they might pass down to their children. I try, but I am not their parent, and I may be too late. But still I try because that’s another legacy my parents have left me – neverending hope and idealism. There is always possibility.
– “A Burst of Autumn Orange” by D L Ennis