CAN WE LEARN FROM OUR ANCESTORS?
- Family History can help us develop our understanding of who we are and what we can become.In the true story movie, Amistad, the Mende slave leader defending
himself in order to remain a free man made a significant statement about his ancestors. “We will not be alone…I will call into the past, far back to the beginning of time, and beg them (my ancestors) to come and help me, at the judgment. I will reach back and draw them into me, and they must come, for at this moment I am the whole reason they have existed at all.” – Sinaue
As his words were interpreted by John Quincy Adams (his lawyer): “When a member of the Mende encounters a situation where there appears no hope at all, he invokes his ancestors (tradition). See, the Mende believe that if one can summon the spirit of one’s ancestors, then they have never left, and the wisdom and strength they fathered and inspired will come to his aid.”
Whether or not those were the paraphrased words of the Mende’s leader or the script writer is unimportant because the words have a great deal of truth in them.
Because our ancestors lived, we are! They exist in our genes, we are a culmination of everything they were. The way we walk the way we talk etc. is influenced by what we inherited from them. True, we are more than what we inherited from them because what we do and how we act is also influenced by our environment. The important thing for us to remember is that our ancestors are still a part of us, both physically and mentally and many of our traits and characteristics were their traits and characteristics.
We also need to be reminded that we can learn from their lives in other ways as well. By studying what they did in their lives and how they responded to trials and tribulations may help us to deal with our own.
Heber J. Grant
This story in the life of Heber J. Grant, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is a good example of how we can learn that “practice makes perfect.” He knew the power of persistence. He often quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easy to do; not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that our power to do has increased.” Heber J. Grant, not only believed that maxim but he lived it.
Once we have begun to open the doors of opportunity we usually find roadblocks and challenges in the way toward our desired success. In the face of these obstacles, many give up. They give up on their dreams and settle for much less. Most of us have done this.
The truly successful in any endeavor will press forward.
Heber J. Grant, loved the hymns of Zion. Unfortunately, he was tone deaf. His daughter said of her father, “He had no sense of pitch at all. You could play a note on the piano then play a note four notes higher, and he could not tell if it was higher or lower.”
But he persevered. “He would practice,” she recalled, “just playing a note on the piano with one finger and practice and practice. Of all his accomplishments he was proudest of learning to sing.”
A great proponent of personal development, Heber J. Grant said, “every individual can improve from day to day, from year to year, and have greater capacity to do things as the years come and as the years go.”
He told the following story about a time in his youth when he displayed the quality of persistence:
“When I joined a baseball club, I could not throw the ball from one base to the other; another reason was that I lacked physical strength to run or bat well. When I picked up a ball, the boys would generally shout, ‘Throw it here, sissy!’ I then solemnly vowed that I would play baseball with the team that would win the championship of the Territory of Utah.
“My mother was keeping boarders at the time for a living, and I shined their boots until I saved a dollar, which I invested in a baseball. I spent hours and hours throwing the ball at a neighbor’s barn. Often my arm would ache so that I could scarcely go to sleep at night. But I kept on practicing, and finally played on the team that won the championship of the Territory. Having thus made good my promise to myself, I retired from the baseball arena.”
As a young man, Heber decided that he needed to improve his penmanship (an important skill at the end of the 19th century). He enrolled in a penmanship and bookkeeping class. Once during a class several friends gathered around his desk, and in jest, made slighting remarks about his handwriting. One asked the taunting question, “What is it?” Another said, “It’s hentracks.” Young Heber jumped up, and boldly stated that he would live to write as well and better than the professor of penmanship, and that he would some day be a professor of penmanship at the local university. He achieved both of these prophesies. Note his handwriting example below.
Many of our own ancestors may have told similar stories of their success’ based on perseverence and hard work that may serve to motivate us to emulate them. We should search out these stories that we too might benefit from them. Once we find little tidbits of information that provide insight into their lives it often becomes a tie to them that can be both emotional and faith promoting.