It is a common Native American practice to consider the impact of our actions on seven generations. Seven. It’s hard for us to conceive that kind of time, especially if we are the descendants of immigrants. “A long time ago” in the US is just the blink of an eye in cultures where people can trace their family roots back thousands of years.
There is a story in my family that helps me see this idea more clearly.
My great-great grandfather Conrad Dietz was a farmer and businessman who emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in the mid-1800’s presumably to escape religious persecution. He was a Dunkard, one of a conservative religious sect that believed in full immersion Baptism, resisting military service, and living simply. He eventually settled on a farm near Des Moines, Iowa. He and his wife, Susan, had a large family. One of the daughters, Susan Alice, was my beloved Grandpa Fred’s mother.
The Dietz Farm was still in my family when I was growing up in the 1960’s. Grandpa rented it out to farmers. As Des Moines grew, the area around the farm started sprouting housing developments. Grandpa held on, despite many lucrative offers. He loved the farm so much that he still owned the place when he died in 1997 at the age of 96.
After his death, my cousin purchased the farm from the estate. Because it had increased in value as the area around it developed, each of Grandpa Fred’s children received a share of the proceeds. My mother is one of them.
She is now 91 years old, living in a beautiful senior living complex in the Minnesota town where she has lived for 60 years. She has good friends there, both residents and staff, and will tell anyone who will listen what a great place it is. Though her body is slow moving, her mind is sharp – sharp enough to beat me at Scrabble now and again.
She is able to afford the place because of Conrad’s farm, her father’s good sense to hold onto it, and my cousin’s willingness to invest in it. Between the farm and some other investments from her mother’s family, my mother is able to live out her days in a place that suits her. Conrad had no idea that his decision to purchase that piece of land would enable his nonagenarian great-granddaughter to live well.
Which brings me to this question. I wonder what I am creating in my life now that will be of benefit to the people coming after me in the way that Conrad’s farm is supporting my mother’s life? I don’t have my own children, but my nieces and nephews do. What will the great-grandchildren of my nieces and nephews reap from my life? What is my “farm?”
I hope my descendants find something useful and nourishing in what I’ve created in this life, even though the world will be wildly different than the one I inhabit now. It will be as unimaginable as my world would be to Conrad.
In the meantime, I want to thank Conrad for taking such beautiful care of my mother.