A photo collage of my father as a boy and his mom and dad (my grandparents) in the 1950s. My dad converted all the black and white photos to color, so it's almost like they were taken yesterday! Pretty cool.
Today at church I was blessed to be able to sneak away from the children for a bit to attend the weekly women's class in Relief Society. The topic for today was the Spirit of Elijah:
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." - Malachi 4:5-6
In the LDS Church, we typically think of the Spirit of Elijah as being connected to family history work, the idea of "the fathers" being our ancestors and us being the children. As they reach out to us, so must we give them respect and honor by reaching out to them through researching our family history and making it possible for those who have passed on before us to receive what we believe to be vital holy ordinances that are essential to their salvation.
As we discussed these ideas today, I started thinking about family history work, and in a way I often feel like there's just not much for me to do in the way of geneaology. My mother has worked tirelessly for years to research our family, and she has done a tremendous job. She has even created a beautiful book for each of her children with photos and stories of our ancestors. Then my thoughts turned to a conversation I had with my son in the car. I don't remember how the subject came up, but we started discussing my grandfather, who died when I was very young. I don't have many memories of him, but the few I do have are of a man who was kind, loving, and playful- everything a grandpa should be. I started telling my son the stories of things I remembered doing with him, and my son just kept saying, "What else, Mommy? What else do you remember about your grandpa?" Sadly, after only a few stories, I was out of memories. Here was my son, eager to hear the stories of his great-grandfather, and I had come up dry.
So I was sitting in Relief Society as many good sisters were telling these amazing stories of discovering their long-lost relatives, and I realized that sometimes we're so busy trying to assemble a family tree that we forget the stories of those just a generation or two behind us. How heartbreaking to lose the lives and stories of those we knew in the flesh!
Also this past week I got this wonderful e-mail from my dad. It was one of those silly questionnaires about "Do You Remember When You Were in High School...?" and it listed a series of questions like, "What kind of car did you drive?" Most of these types of questionnaires get filled out by twenty-somethings like myself, for whom high school was hardly more than a decade away. But when I began to read my dad's answers (a man who is now in his mid-sixties), I couldn't help but smile as I began to learn things about him that I had never known, like a crush he had on one of his teachers, and how he went to Prom with one girl, but met another girl there whom he ended up dating instead! It just made his past so real to me, and it was absolutely a treasure to read things about him that I may never have known otherwise.
My parents are getting older. All of my grandparents have passed away, and my parents are my only link to their lives and their stories. I can't bear to think that my children might someday struggle to come up with memories of my parents- their grandparents. For me, the Spirit of Elijah means cherishing the lives of our loved ones, and recording our stories for the generations to come. It is literally turning our hearts to our fathers, and asking them to tell us the stories of our lives; it is making a record of special times and giving each person's life meaning through sharing their individual experiences. For me, it is keeping a journal so that someday my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will know who I was and what I believed and how my life turned out the way it did. Family is a gift from God; it is a powerful connection, our roots, and it shapes us more than we realize. We have an opportunity to learn from one another, and to see the past not as history, but as a prologue for our own lives.
May we each catch the Spirit of Elijah and truly turn our hearts to our fathers, that they might turn their hearts, lives, and wisdom to us. May we not allow their stories to simply slip away quietly into the night, lost in a haze of forgotten memories, but rather hold up their experiences as a beacon for us and the generations to follow. May we record and cherish those memories and live our lives in such a way that we honor the lifetimes of those who have gone before.