Monday, October 19, 2009

The Weight Of Legacy

The last few days I've been thinking about the people who have contributed to my life.

And on many levels, that means friends, mentors, educators, parents and siblings. But I have been thinking about my grandparents, and specifically my Grandpa Jack.
My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. The concentration camps didn't only take away his family and friends, but it stole his opportunity for education, the health of a family coffee business, and the community in which the Azous name had existed since Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.

It would've been easier to die, you know. He watched his mother, his sister, his niece and his nephew forced into the gas chambers. He risked his life by stealing potato peels, eating them so he could stay strong enough to live. And when he was finally liberated by Allied Forces, he returned to a nation that immediately sent him to fight in a civil war.

Grandpa Jack left Greece for the United States as soon as he could, and overcame language barriers, a failed marriage and the challenges facing a single father in 1960s America. He built a business, a family, and a new life. My grandfather's home was a place of joy and food and tradition, where he taught his grandkids by story-telling and through a life well-lived. His smile and laughter filled the space and the hearts of those who spent time there... and when he died the echoes still reverberated.

And while the ending of Grandpa Jack's story seems to show us that all the hardship was worthwhile, he couldn't know that in the concentration camps. He couldn't know that when he looked down at his three young daughters and had to figure out a way to raise them alone. He couldn't know that everything was going to work out when he thought he'd lost one daughter forever.

When I think about my own life, I think about the people who fought so hard to live and create meaning and provide opportunities for me. And I think about the privilege and burden of these legacies, how they force me to live a life of meaning to honor the sacrifices made just so I could exist.

Who has sacrificed for you? And how do you honor the legacy left to you?


Dave said...

Well...that places life in perspective. Thank you for writing this...

canamgirl said...

Christina, what a beautiful post! I wish your grandfather was someone I could have met; but I think I have a good idea what he was like since I am privileged to call you "friend." :)

I would have to say my mother, for the same reasons you listed! I can only pray that I am half the woman she was!

Michaela said...

What a touching post! Your grandfather sounds like he was a great man!
I would say my grandmother - she has faced many obstacles and hardships in her life, but has never let it get her down.

Kiki said...

Dang, you almost made me cry! Y'know, I have never made it back to Bikur Holim.

Anonymous said...

Gosh...I can't even imagine.