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Legacy Writing on Courage

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The ethical will is often described as a legacy of values -- differentiated from a legacy of valuables, which refers to the gifts of our material wealth. Courage, a value that we've seen practiced and heard much about at home and around the world in 2011, is what we'll concentrate on in our legacy writing this month.

Hold these questions as you read my reflections and suggestions for your legacy writing about courage:

  • How were your ancestors courageous in their lives?
  • When's a time you were personally courageous?
  • What are the risks you face when a situation asks you to be courageous?
  • What are the costs to acting courageously?
  • What do you want unborn generations to know about courage in our times?

Consider the courage required of all of us in our daily lives, whether it's returning to the field after striking out in a baseball game; apologizing to someone we've hurt; continuing to apply after losing a job; undertaking the painful daily regimen of rehab or recovery; rebuilding life after the loss of a precious person; or speaking up when we witness bias, bullying, or disrespect.

My first memory of being asked to be courageous was when I was in the fourth grade. I'd come home from school crying after a classmate called me a "dirty Jew" on the playground. My mother told me to return to school and to be especially nice to this girl, to "show her" that I was not. Amazingly, the girl and I became best of friends for the rest of our elementary school days. The positive result of my effort is not what makes me remember this story and want to pass it on to my grandchildren; no, it was the courageous stance my mother recommended. Although she never spoke the word, she encouraged it in me, teaching me the value of standing tall and proud in who I was, and being kind, rather than harbor hurt or hatred, or becoming a powerless victim.

Imagine your ancestors' courageous choices: to immigrate; to learn English and to navigate a strange culture; to endure the hardships of isolation, weather and backbreaking work homesteading, farming and building railroads; to live in crowded in tenements, working in deplorable conditions in factories to feed families and educate children, sacrificing their lives for the future of their children. We wonder whether we'd have had the courage in such situations.

Think of the chaos and unremitting stress of the unknown when assumptions and beliefs you built your life on disappear in the flash of a second: being critically injured in an accident; receiving a dreaded diagnosis; becoming suddenly widowed. Think of the courage it takes to get up and face each difficult day, to function for the sake of others who need us and to remain positive when there are setbacks.

Recently I had the opportunity to mentor a woman who is writing her story for her children and grandchildren. Born in 1936, her young childhood in Germany was made safe and even innocently joyful because of the courage of her mother -- left, as most, because the men were away at war. Her memories of her mother's courage -- a legacy she received -- is now a legacy to pass on to the future generations in her family.

Multiply individual courage by 10 million -- by 80 million -- this very year, 2011, in North Africa and the Middle East. We're witnessing the world changing by the elegance of non-violent civil disobedience, as a matured tool in the hands of young people. As they demand an end to the corrupt and entrenched dictators with their songs and chants, flags and posters, patience and persistence, the energy vibrates around the planet, both the trepidation and the optimistic hopes for a new and better future and the courage to have a hand and a voice in crafting freedom for the future of their country.

And finally, there is the courage to love -- our selves, each other and the Divine -- when we're plagued with fear of rejection, the pain of old losses and have protected our hearts.

'Tis better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all.

-- Alfred Lord Tennyson

Suggestions for Action:

  1. Write a list of experiences and memories you are aware of in yourself, family members, ancestors, friends and community that are examples of courage.
  2. Choose three from your list to explore further. Reflect and journal about each, focusing on your memories of the event or circumstance, your feelings and your learning. Be sure to choose one from your list that is about your courage in a specific situation.
  3. Put the writing away for a few days. Continue to reflect on courage. When you come back to it, write a paragraph for each that focuses on how the courage was either a legacy you received or a legacy you want to preserve and communicate to the future.
  4. Finally, choose one from the three you've been working on, and write a legacy letter to someone who may need courage at this time in their life or someone you can gift with your thoughts. Share the examples of courage you reflected on and what you learned about courage doing this exploration. Consider addressing and mailing your letter to yourself, as well as someone today or unborn generations.

May your courage be blended with love and compassion.

May you and your loved ones, present and future, grow in courage.


Rachael Freed has several published works, including "Women's Lives, Women's Legacies: Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations" and "Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient." She is currently working on "Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Inter-generational Legacy Guide for Seniors and Their Families." A Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant.

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