Giving What’s Best

Toward the end of the previous piece in this “Heirloom” series, I posed the question, “What do I have to offer that would be of greatest value to those who will come after me?” It’s a question that invites one to perform an act of love to enhance the experience of future generations.

What “best” means, in that sense, is what will be experienced as of greatest value by the future generations to whom the gift is given.

Another question, for one who takes up the invitation to be an Heirloom Creator, could be: “How do I want to be remembered?”

In that sense, what would be the “best” Heirloom would be one that best achieves the creator’s goal of being remembered in the way of his or her choosing. (The idea of “being remembered” shows how Heirlooms deal constructively with both of our significant problems with death —i.e. losing loved ones, and facing our own mortality.*)

All of which can be motivation for our leaving our very best behind.

It is fortunate that those two questions – the first focusing on the needs of the Descendent and the second on the desire of the Ancestor – point to much the same answer. Because “what will be experienced as of most value” is pretty much the same as “what will be most appreciated.”

So, for either purpose, the creative challenge of creating an Heirloom could begin with identifying what’s “best” in what they have to offer, and seeking to design some means of conveying that “best” into the future.  

The forms that “best” might take are countless. To name a few examples:

  • Pieces of excellent pottery distributed as gifts around in the family.
  • A collection of the family stories, made more durable a part of the family in the future by being put in writing.
  • A statement of the important things one has come to believe.
  • A prayer for all the blessings one hopes one’s descendants will enjoy.
  • An account of one’s experiences that — for whatever reason — seem worth telling and hearing.
  • A description of one’s efforts to provide a better future for one’s descendants.
  • A finely crafted cabinet.

In my own case, though I wasn’t looking to create an Heirloom, I recently stumbled into having made something that struck me as worth passing along—maybe my “best.”

For a purpose having nothing to do with my heirs and descendants, I had written an account – running some 150 pages — of the mission I’ve pursued for the past half century. It was part ideas, part life-story.

It didn’t portray all of me, but when I looked it over I felt it conveyed the best of me. It was the most favorable honest portrait of who I’ve been and what my life has been about.

“The best of me”– which meant that it was a way I’d like to be remembered.  I wondered: Was it also the best thing I could give to my descendants?

It might be. Because, as I will argue, we humans by nature want to feel – we are fulfilled and fortified by feeling — that we have Valued Ancestors. (Like those portraits of heroic ancestors hanging from the walls of the mansions of British aristocrats.)

That Value (of a Valued Ancestor) can take many forms:

  • The loved one who expresses real love toward the descendants
  • The master craftsman
  • The story-teller
  • The person-of-integrity
  • The hero who showed courage under fire
  • The decent human being.

If having Valued Ancestors is, indeed, a deep (and natural) need in our descendants’ hearts, then it seemed likely this “best of me” portrait” might be “something of value” to them.

Which leads to a vital point:

The Heirloom is a gift. And what’s most important about gifts most fundamentally is less the gift itself than the relationship the gift expresses.

  • Creating the Heirloom is an act of love, or at least of real caring for the generations to come—otherwise, why work to give them a gift?
  • The Receivers of the Heirloom cement the positive bond by returning love and gratitude for the love the ancestor has shown.
  • And, in those instances where the Heirloom is some kind of performance – a “best” that demonstrated its creator’s very best talents – the descendants can also build that positive bond by appreciating and respecting the ancestral creator’s achievement.

Positive bonds all the way around.

Most Valuable and most Valued Ancestor—pretty much the same.

They overlap so much because they are both ways of serving the power of “what’s best” in the family.

  • The Creator fortifies the power of what’s best by expressing his or her best.
  • The Future Recipient also fortifies it by honoring and appreciating the Creator’s gift, and perhaps by emulating the virtues and abilities the Heirloom displays.

Giving more power to “what’s best” helps knit the human world together into a more whole place.

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NOTE: Heirlooms help with both our major problems with mortality, i.e. help both in looking backward in time to those we lost (by keeping them “alive,” as was the point of the first installment in this series); and in offering a way – looking forward to the future – by which we can “live on” in the way our descendants remember us through the “legacy” we leave behind.

Such a “legacy” is as good “immortality” we’re going to get, given the enduring and fundamental truth that “all men are mortal.”

Rather than looking at ourselves – and our own generation – in our mortality, as a box on a conveyor belt that sees the drop-off coming (which is scary), the Heirloom encourages us to perceiving ourselves as instead as a bridge over which the human family – as the generations follow one another — moves through time.

It is that system —passed to us by our ancestors and passed by us to our descendants – which alone endures. And being part of something enduring is less scary than oblivion.

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