October is a good time for planting trees and shrubs. The heat of late summer is past, and the winter rains will help establish what has recently been planted.
This is also a good time for people to put down our own roots. Children have returned to school, and for many of us, the time for vacations and travel is gone. We settle back into the routines of work, home, and church life, and we’re glad to do so.
Our connection to the natural world is undoubtedly why October is a time that many cultures honor ancestors. What better way to put down roots than to remember and honor those who have come before us? This is of particular spiritual importance in the United States, where the emphasis on individualism and progress pushes us to forget even our recent past.
Many of us know very little about our families just a few generations ago. We may have little understanding of our history, how we got to be WHO we are and HOW we are. I was tickled to learn recently that my grandmother had a tendency to cook with impatience, causing one of my uncles to nickname her “blowtorch.” I have this same tendency, and when my partner now refers to me as “blowtorch,” I smile and think of my grandmother. I like having this connection to my past, and I wish I knew more about earlier generations of my family.
For others, family history can feel like a burden, with memories and expectations that seem better off rejected or forgotten. Many of us spend our whole lives trying to break free of remembering. Honoring ancestors whose actions or inactions may have been harmful may seem repellent.
And yet for others, an unknown family history may be a source of sadness or uncertainty. Some of us don’t know who our parents or grandparents were. Honoring unknown ancestors may feel like rubbing salt in an open wound.
But here’s the thing: whoever our ancestors were and however little or much we know about them, it is because of them that we are here today. It is because of them that we are who we are. And that is worth celebrating.