Sometimes in the course of living, we forget how important our lives are in the whole scheme of things.
This past week we celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of one of my cousins. A really beautiful couple, beautiful kids, beautiful grandkids, everyone did well. This was kind of a mini family reunion so it was good laughs, food and cheer.
I have one cousin who has been working on this ancestry project for years. When she saw me she whispered that she had something for me. I said no problem, we will talk later.
With the advent of the internet, it has become amazing easy to trace your family history in a way that would be unbelievable years ago. I started a project a few years back but got so busy that I basically dropped it. I promised myself that one day, I would be revisit and pick up where I left off.
Later that evening, I had a chance to sit down with her and within a few minutes my life changed. Not only did she do extensive research but she went back through 4 generations.
We look at our lives and complain about the challenges, stress and all the other things that we complain about. All I can say is that we have no right to ever complain. To see that your ancestors were advertised and sold as property was an eye opener. Not only that but to see the names of people that you heard your grandmother speak about brought it into full focus.
They were describe as cooks, handyman, kennel worker, house maid etc. My grandparents mother and father all there in records from that era. It was surreal reading through the documentation. I shared all of that information with my kids with the mantra that you never forget this.
I thought of the opportunities that we all have regardless of how we feel about our current situation. Your situation is nothing compared to what our ancestors have to go through. They had no career; they had no social security or 401K. They had no job title or hope for a promotion. No sick days, no NOTHING. Yet they survived and we all should carry on that legacy for our families.
I went to a private art show a few years back and I bought one picture titled “On Their Shoulders We Stand” by Lloyd Burns. It shows what appears to be a hot day with people in a cotton field picking cotton. Backs bent over in the amazing heat, working in intolerable conditions.
That picture has always been my altar. This is the spot that I go to when I have “those” days. That picture always brings about a sense of reality. It tell me how bless I am and that each person in that photo was responsible in some way for my success.
That following day I was in a reflective mood from that experience and it made me think of my time at Martha Stewart Living where I served as VP of Human Resources. When I decided to leave, the word got around to people especially the cleaning staff. I always went out of my way to befriend each and everyone of them and let them know that I care about them.
On my last day, I got in around7amwhich was normal for me. I noticed that the cleaning lady who was for the most part gone around this time was still there. She stuck her head in an asked if she could come into speak to me for a minute.
I welcomed her in. She seemed nervous so I broke the ice asking her how she was and inquired about her family.
Then she began. She said that she heard that I was leaving and waited till I came in to say goodbye. She then became a little emotional in telling me how proud she was of me. She said that from the first time we met I was always kind and would always ask about her family. She told me that she told all the ladies at her beauty salon about me and how I always seemed to care about all the cleaning staff.
She said you always took time to talk and it meant a lot to her. She said in her job she was seen as invisible, people would walk past, look her directly in the eye and look away. “You were always different, even though you had one of the top jobs at the company”, she said.
I thanked her and we hugged both with tears running down our faces. That encounter taught me a lesson in that someone is always watching. Here was someone who may not have had the same opportunities that I had, someone who did not go to college, however, I treated her with as much respect as I would any peer or officer within the company.
To me she was no different that the person whose office was next to mine. I cared because my mother told me the same story as how she was treated and mistreated by people that she worked for when she worked at cleaning people’s home.
So whether it is our ancestors or any other person that you may feel that is not on an equal footing with you, remember they paid a price for each of us to succeed. They toiled under the hot sun, took punishment that no human being should ever have been exposed to.
In other words they paid the ultimate price for each of you reading this article.
Each day as you head out think of them and make them proud. They deserve it.