Sunday, 14 November 2010

On becoming an ancestor

Today in Sunday school, my (single) student and I reached the chapter that introduces the patriarchs of the church, beginning with Abraham.  There's a prompt on one of the students' pages that I like to ask them to respond to:  One day you will be an ancestor.  How do you want your descendants to remember you?

This is the third year I've posed this question to my students, and they've always found it a challenging one to answer.  First off, can be understandably difficult for eleven-year-olds to get their heads around the idea of being mothers and fathers, let alone great-great-grandparents.  If they overcome that hurdle, they then find it difficult to imagine how they want to be remembered as ancestors in faith.  It's easier, and more fun, to imagine their grandchildren finding an old photo of them decades down the line and remembering stories about the quirky things they used to do.  I haven't met a kid yet who volunteered that he or she wanted to be remembered for praying the rosary regularly, reading the Bible to the kids, or hauling the family to church.

My student this year shared the second difficulty with my previous students; she had trouble focusing on the faith aspect, writing in her book that she wanted to be remembered for reducing CO2 emissions.  I didn't have much success at redirecting her, but ultimately, I was more thankful for what she shared with me than frustrated at getting off course.  Uniquely among all the students I've had, this girl has no trouble at all imagining herself as an adult, and judging from the stories she's told me from week to week, and especially yesterday, I think this is probably because she has seen so much vulnerability in the adults that surround her.  Her mother moved to New England from Cape Verde only about 15 years ago.  She still sounds funny when she speaks English, as my student puts it; while she takes English classes at the local community center, her daughters have a perfect command of the language.  This girl has also seen adults close to her laid low by tragic situations:  a cousin, pregnant with twins, who was supposed to be married, but who miscarried the babies and called off the wedding in her depression; a friend of the family lost her daughter when her car was hit by an teenager driving illegally, but can't keep from blaming herself because the girl was unbuckled.  It's heavy stuff for an eleven-year-old, and through it, she's come to see that adults can be just as helpless as children.

We'll return to the patriarchs next week and hopefully cover a little more Old Testament ground than we did this week.  For today, I'll be satisfied that we both recognized the fragility of all people, old and young.

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