The Importance of Heritage

Within each mature tree is a solid core of wood that was formed during the first couple of decades of life. It is, in essence, the pillar upon which the rest of its life is built upon. Although the outer appearance may be ragged and time-worn, or regal and full, the core remains unchanged throughout its existence. You can study the tree from any external perspective, but will never see what lies within its core, within its roots.

We are like this tree. Although our lives may take us to places that are so very far from our roots, our roots remain with us; they are inseparable from us. Without them, we would cease to be ourselves. They hold a certain beauty, a rich patina that deepens by the hand of time. They are also a fundamental part of our heritage.

We hold heritage within ourselves. It is something that is most often discovered later in life, when one has turned their attention inward, away from the distractions of building relationships and families and legacies. Heritage is more than a sense of ourselves and a sense of our place in the world, and it is also an inner knowledge and experience gained from those who lived before us. This knowledge goes beyond how things are today, but includes how it was in the past; it is the explanation for why we are who and what we are in our core, in our roots. Although we can discover some of this on our own, we rely on our parents and aunts and uncles and those senior to us to teach us the rest. Heritage is the gift that we receive from those who lived before us and we pass on to those who will come after us.

One’s heritage is a great jewel box of precious and irreplaceable memories and experiences. It contains stories, epic and mundane, of loved ones who are no longer alive. Beyond being just facts and photos printed on flat sheets of paper, it is also emotion and living history that are shared not only by words, but by body language and facial expressions and tone of voice as one recounts what things were like. It is a vibrant and fragile and powerful link that puts our lives into context. I never met my grandparents; all of them died after long and robust lives, before I had been born. Although I learned of them, they never knew I was to be. But, I have seen glimpses of them in my parents and aunts and uncles. I knew them from what has been told to me, when pressed with the questions, about what they were like, how they dressed, what their favorite things were, how they talked and how they loved. I could read the impressions they left on others from how they were remembered, I could tell if they had been kind or indifferent or affectionate. These fragments, combined, paint a living portrait of them and teaches me about myself. I am enormously grateful for having collected these precious fragments together; they belong to me as part of my own personal heritage. Heritage is a priceless and beautiful gift that we must carefully, and caringly, pass on to the next generation.

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