During a recent renovation project at the Lakebay Church, I pulled a painting off the wall. I was surprised to discover an inscription on the back.
“Presented to Lakebay Church Dec. 24, 1944 By ‘Victory Class.’” Underneath were listed 18 names. The importance of the date couldn’t be missed. Christmas 1944, in the heart of World War II. The name “Victory Class” carried multiple meanings in that context.
A few days later my neighbor Dale stopped in. He’s a KP native, born and raised here, so I showed him what I’d found. A smile crept across his face. “Yes,” he said, “I knew all these people. They were a bit older, but I knew them.” He pointed out names on the list: “This one went to the Air Force. This one still lives here. I played with her when we were kids.” Dale knew all of them, and, through him, I heard their stories.
I was reminded of a line from the Book of Hebrews. The author lists men and women who remained committed to their call in spite of turmoil and pain. He calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” who surround us, challenging present readers to run the race faithfully to the end.
It is to our detriment that we have lost a recognition that we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before, and that we are leaving a world to those who come after us. In our pursuit of the Next New Thing, we scorn the past as hopelessly backward. In our pursuit of profit and pleasure, we are creating a frightening legacy for earth’s inhabitants 100 years from now.
In his book “The Moral Imagination,” John Paul Lederach notes that “… meaning, identity, and story are linked through narrative, which connects the remote past of who we are with the remote future of how we will survive in the context of an expansive present where we share space and relationship.”
A healthy identity is grounded in a strong sense of our past, connecting us together as we share this life together, pointing us toward creating something for those who will follow us. Embrace the past to know who you are today. Know that, someday, we will all be the ancestors of future generations. What are we leaving them?
One of my great privileges is sharing breakfast with the old guys at The Homeport. They always have good stories to tell. They talk of the Key Peninsula in the old days, of serving in Vietnam or Korea; they talk about surviving divorces and the death of loved ones. They remind me that people have walked this way before, and survived. They also remind me that I’ll be the old codger someday.
That painting is still in my office. I read the inscription almost every day to remind myself that I am not alone. I share this journey with all humanity –– those long gone, and those yet to come.
I pray that future generations will be thankful for the legacy we leave.