I was sewing with my mother years ago, when she stopped me cold with a sharp question. I had just cut out…something…and opened the scissors slightly to run my fingers along the blade (safely!) to wipe off the lint left from the fabric. I nearly cut myself when she commanded, “Where did you learn how to do that?” It took me a moment to figure out she was referring to me wiping the blades. “Um…I don’t know. You, maybe?” She shook her head. “No, but my mother used to do that all the time.” Unwitting continuity. I never knew my grandmother, but somewhere, buried in my genes, was that simple gesture. Continuity with the past. I wonder how many other ancestors made that little move without thinking? It got me thinking, that’s for sure!
Watching the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II recently, I was struck how the pageantry and rituals are the same as those of decades, or even centuries, ago. Sure, some new things get added in, as individuals choose to introduce new steps, new styles, new technology into the old patterns. The red coats trimmed in gold, the bearskin hats, the gun carriage. Well, all right, that last one was brought in by Queen Victoria. But some people think she also brought in the use of black clothing for funerals. Not so! That was the Romans. And it still persists today for many. Personally, I want red and purple and lime green at my funeral. Party colors. Break the tradition, as it were.
Many things showing continuity are so obvious, and so often commented on, that we hardly pay much attention. Red hair that runs through the generations. The artistic abilities that show up like a thread of silver through children, grandchildren, even cousins. Eye color, freckles, an extra long big toe, hairy ears…the list could go on and on.
But some things are like little tricksters that pop up and make us take notice. For a long while, I looked like my dad. Same hazel eyes that belonged to him and his siblings and parents, same brunette hair, same complexion. However, a cousin meeting me after a goodly span of years remarked, “Wow! You look just like your mother!” I had to check out the nearest mirror! Sure enough, there was my mother’s white hair, the shape of my mother’s face, the spray of faint freckles. The same hazel eyes were still there, but much less prominent than my dad’s were. Good Lord, I’ve turned into my mother! (And that’s not a bad thing, really.)
The weather, of course, provides us with continuity, though it may not exactly be comforting for some to see the warmth turn brisk and the sun skim lower on the horizon. For me, one of the pleasant surprises is the appearance of Mount Michigan to the east of Milwaukee. Now, we don’t really have mountains in southeastern Wisconsin, nor does the part of Michigan directly across the Great Lake have mountains. However, on those early mornings, when the nights have been cold, but the sun is coming up, look east, and suddenly, white mountains! Lake Michigan is offering up great billowing clouds of water evaporating into the morning air. I swear it looks like Colorado’s snow-covered peaks. It happens every fall, but I wonder how many people cruising east along the freeways on the way to work even notice our “mountain range.” Like Brigadoon, it appears only on certain days, and is likely to be gone like a will-o-wisp.
Like the woman who sliced off the top of the Easter ham before baking it, sometimes we don’t even catch the craziness. She did it because her grandmother did the same. One Easter, a great-granddaughter asks, “Why do you do that?” and gets the usual answer: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Then granny speaks up and announces, “I cut off the top because otherwise it wouldn’t fit in my pan in the oven.” Yikes! How funny!
Continuity can provide us with a handle to the past, a stable link with something, or someone, that came before. But sometimes the meaning behind things can be lost. Why ring bells from the church steeples? People have clocks and watches now, and don’t need that kind of a reminder. Why send snail mail cards when many people have email and phones? Because they give us a sense of connection with the larger world outside of ourselves. So, keep an eye out for those annual meteor showers, mark the birthdays on the calendar, listen for the bells.
In short, celebrate the continuing threads that tie us all together!