I have a large collage of pictures hanging on the wall in our family room, and I love to show it off to guests. It’s full of black-and-white photographs of my dad’s side of the family, going back four generations to the couple who made their way across the Atlantic in the 1890s to start a new life in this country.
The pictures came from my grandma’s photo albums, which passed from her possession to my uncle and my dad after she died. My brother spent a summer scanning the photos, a few at a time, so everyone could have copies. I made prints of them and hung several in this frame to remind my kids and myself where we came from. They also remind me about some of the gifts I was born with.
One picture shows the immigrant couple, in feathered hat and handlebar mustache, looking soberly toward the camera. Because a few decades of life in the United States is all I’ve ever known, I can’t fully appreciate how their bold journey made a difference for me. I don’t know what hardships they endured or how many times they wondered whether they had made the right choice. I do know their leap of faith made me who I am, an American, and I wish they could have known how much I would admire their courage.
In one picture, my grandma sits on the front porch of her farmhouse, in the process of shucking 10 ears of corn. At the bottom of the photo is written, “1934 corn crop.” Yes, those 10 ears were their entire crop that year, at the height of the Dust Bowl. Grandma and Grandpa took pictures of each other with the pathetic harvest, both smiling. They easily could have chosen a different response to their trouble. How did their choice to smile that fall make a difference for me?
In another photo, a young and strong farmer, my grandpa, holds his infant son in his arms and protectively shields him from the sun. I know it made all the difference in the world for me that this young man, who I barely remember as a frail old man, chose to be a good father to my dad.
Another shows a congregation standing outside the country church my great-great-grandfather built—the same church where both of my grandparents were memorialized. The same church where I was publicly dedicated to the Lord as a baby, before a congregation that promised to nurture me in the faith my family had embraced for generations.
The frame includes three wedding pictures. In the very center is a photo of my mom & dad about to cut their wedding cake together, suspended for a moment, each with a hand on the knife, posing for the photographer. Who knows what dreams they shared for their life together. At that moment, were they thinking about the children they would have someday? Probably not, but the way they chose to go into life together has affected every day of my life.
Every moment of these precious lives—some big and some small, a few documented on film and most never seen—had an impact on who I am. And in turn, they indirectly influence the people I influence. As our world grows smaller, the potential impact of those choices grows larger, with the power to ripple out to everyone I interact with today, everyone who reads this post, everyone who feels the impact of a choice I make.
I think a lot about my children, but not much about the people who will come after them, and the ones after them. I’m sobered to realize that the choices I make now will bless or curse generations of descendants and the people they influence. How small the world might become, and how many might eventually feel the ripples of my attitude today. How thoughtlessly I act in the small moments! I want that collage to remind me that who I am will matter a lot to people I’ll never meet.
© 2012 Amy Simpson.