“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”
This passage, taken from this morning’s daily Mass readings, made me think of what a great opportunity we all have during this strange and ever-evolving containment period we find ourselves in.
I’m not talking about about being on guard, though that certainly applies, but about passing things down to our children. What a wonderful way to take the sour lemons we’ve been handed and press them into a sweet concoction of lemonade, made with family bonding and the sharing of generational history.
I experienced this sharing of generational history recently, and it was eye-opening! You see…
My mother asked me to go home for the weekend and help her and my father determine what to do with all of the old family photographs and documents that filled an entire filing cabinet in my mother’s home office. While going through these, we discovered a treasure trove of information, some of it funny, some surprising, and some fascinating.
For years, my mother has asked me to write a book about the life of her Aunt Helen, known to many as Sister Mary Domitilla of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. And for years, I’ve told my mother that nobody wants to read the biography of a poor boatbuilder’s daughter who left home at sixteen to become a nun. Mom insisted that there is a story in there somewhere. Well, I don’t know that there’s a bestselling novel among her papers, but what we discovered was a collection of newspaper articles, letters, and testimonies by Sister and by those around her, in the community and in the convent, that paint a picture of a modern-day saint.
Over and over, we read passages like this one, “Mary learned a deeper strength as she listened to those in need of…healing…of bread…of sight, of inner peace.” We read that “Mary gained strength from the poor and felt the call of love which is as strong as death, as strong as death on the cross.” We learned that Sister Mary Domitilla collected money for a “woman who had gone blind and hungered for inner peace” and that she used her own money to pay for a toilet for an older couple who had no indoor plumbing.
We saw our beloved aunt through new eyes, and I began to realize that the stories about her went much deeper than your average stories about helping the poor. After I finish scanning all of the documents, I will be sending them to the Bishop in the hopes that he will see what we see.
That same weekend, we plowed through a large folder marked, MacWilliams. In this folder, we found many photos of my father’s family, journals written by distant relatives, genealogies, and letters that brought back voices from the past. For many years, there has been a debate amongst family members as to what the correct surname is. Are we Mcs or Macs? Both names exist within the family. Did we come from Ireland or Scotland? We’re told Ireland, but why is our name MacWilliams, the Scottish form of “son of William”?
According to the family records, my father’s grandfather was a Mc whose family came from Ireland. After he married, James McWilliams changed his name to MacWilliams. There have been many rumors as to why he did this, but whatever the reason, the knowledge sent my father into a tailspin. Are we Irish or Scottish, a Mc or a Mac? Have we always claimed the wrong heritage? Should my brothers change their last name?
On a trip to Scotland a few years ago, I did a bit of research into the origins of the family name, and I was fascinated to find that until the mid-1700s, the MacWilliams Clan was a family of hardy Highlanders and supporters of Scottish independence. The name McWilliams is of Scottish origins, derived from MacWilliams and found in many ancient manuscripts on Scotland. The MacWilliams Clan were recorded as the “MacWilliams of the Highlands,” powerful Gaelic heirs to the throne of Scotland. After one particularly bloody battle, the Clan was banished from Scotland, and the tartan outlawed and lost to time. Some stayed and assimilated into the clans of their relatives, the Guns and MacFarlane Clans, many came to the States, and many fled to Ireland, changing the name to McWilliams. Ah-ha! Surely a piece to the puzzle had been found, but the entire picture was not yet complete.
Fast forward to the year 2020… Among my father’s papers, we discovered a letter from Dad’s great grandfather to Dad’s grandfather. In it, he explained that he had made the decision to change his surname back to MacWilliams in order to preserve the family’s Scottish heritage. Bingo! It was the news my father had been longing to hear, to know why his father had done this. He had the answer right there in his hands all along and didn’t know it.
What does any of this have to do with COVID-19?
I see this as a grand opportunity to pass down some family history. Talk to your kids about your family, your grandparents, your heritage. Teach them songs that your mother used to sing to you and favorite family games that you played. We’ve been enjoying games of pitch every evening, a card game that I remember my grandfather and uncles playing at all of the family get-togethers.
Go on walks together in the fresh air, and tell your children stories about your childhood. Teach them about things they can’t learn in school. Talk about history in relation to your family, make it real and relatable. Tell them how far your family has come or where you’d like your family to go. Inspire them with tales about your family. Is there a claim to the Scottish throne somewhere in your family history?
Use this time of containment to be productive in ways that count. There’s nothing wrong with reorganizing the kitchen or cleaning out closets, but think deeper than that. Think about the things your child doesn’t have any memory of, about the loved ones you’ve lost, about the family stories that have been passed down. What can you do during this time to “not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children”?
Netflix and Disney+ probably can’t hold a candle to the stories your family can tell.
Would you like to read more writings like this?
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What I was writing about a year ago this week: Go to Joseph, or to Dad.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy is available as a complete set for your Kindle and is also available on audio!
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019).