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Monday, May 30, 2011

New Zealand, place and legacy

I am in New Zealand exploring issues of sustainability in the Bay of Plenty with a group of students. A focus that has come up in conversations with a local Maori group is one of legacy. What is the legacy that we inherit from those that have gone before? And what legacy do we leave for the next generations? These questions are often answered by the amount of an inheritance we leave, but I have been contemplating legacy through several lenses. My grandfather, who I never met, visited the local jail on Sunday mornings. He also quietly financially supported different needs in the community. My father who died just two weeks ago, helped start the mental health facility in my hometown, the headstart program, and the local hospice program, amongst other things. I have been thankful that my father lived near us these last five years of his life because it gave my daughters a chance to know him better and a better chance of passing on the legacy of caring for those who are on the margins of society. One of my daughters went on a mission trip to Nicaragua several years ago. she saw it as a continuation of the legacy of our family--she was the third generation to have a tie to Nicaragua and the people who are struggling there to improve their lives. My other daughter spent a summer working with the homeless in Los Angeles with the Catholic Workers. She saw this as having continuity with my father's legacy, who had spent time working there a decade before with my mother. This is the type of legacy that shapes the way we value places, build places and community, and care for each other beyond the narrow confines of the nuclear family.

I have often thought of legacy as one of landscape as well. I have inherited a Midwestern landscape. My family has inhabited this landscape for at least 5 generations. In late August the larger extended family will gather in southwest Minnesota to bury my father's ashes on the family plot in the midst of this landscape. It is a physical, but also an emotional legacy. The returning to a place of origin within this landscape grounds us and allows us to return to a place where we are drawn to talk about the values that we desire to pass on to the next generation. We walk through the spaces together.

The Maori are restoring forests to New Zealand to be able to have a physical space through which they can walk, use physical and biological features to ground the lessons that aid in the transference of their values to the next generation. But also their space is one of origin that goes back hundreds of years. To know who you are it to connect to a physical place.

My landscape is one of an open prairie landscape with big skies, extensive farmland, and violent storms. Theirs is one of unfolding fern fronds that teach about the unfolding life and its intricacies and interdependencies.

We need landscapes and physical spaces that remind us that legacy is not really about money, but about passing on vision and values.