We buried my mother last week. She was 100 years old when she died and was the last remaining relative of her generation. At the luncheon after the funeral, someone asked the “older cousins” to pose for a picture. As we stood there - me and my brother, my two sisters and our four cousins – I realized that we are now the elders of our Soika-Rulli family. While we were waiting for pictures to be snapped, I asked our group “is this the official passing of the torch?” The response was a sober yes. Up until that moment, no one had thought about this new dynamic. Who we are as a family is a result of the legacy of all those relatives who have come before us. This legacy was demonstrated by the more than 100 friends and family who showed up for my mom’s wake and funeral; a surprise given that all of her friends and peers have passed on and she moved away from her home town 17 years ago. It is also demonstrated by how often I was hugged and asked if I was OK, or was told how much I was loved or how much my mom and our family were loved. The sense of love, family and friends was a warm blanket wrapped around this difficult task of saying good bye. That is the true legacy of my mom and her generation.
We are now the matriarchs and patriarchs of this family. Where we go will be a result of the actions we take; of the examples we set and how diligently we work to keep the family close and connected. It will be based on how we live out the value of love and family.
There is another transition being thrust upon us as a country. We are on the cusp of a new president and a new governing administration in America. As this change is upon us, we are forced to ask who we are as a people; what do we cherish and what are our values. What we sometimes forget is that we get the government we deserve. We get the government that we will tolerate. We get the policies and budget expenditures that we allow our representatives to administer. Sometimes, we forget that the country is us and not the politicians we “hire” to make our government work for us. The legacy of our country rests on our shoulders and not on the machinations of a group of elected officials.
I owe it to my family to ensure that we remain close and that all feel loved, respected and connected. I owe it to my country to ensure that the values of inclusion and of support for the common good are born out in the budgets and policies enacted by our government.
The transition of responsibility is upon us. If we accept that responsibility, then we must lead. Our families and our country require it.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.