Sunday, September 2, 2007

Setting things right

A short while ago, while visiting the graves of my ancestors, I noted that the grave of my mother's father had no gravestone of any type on it. Since I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to be identified and remembered in some way when they have passed, my wife and I decided to right what we believed to be a wrong and proceeded to have a gravestone prepared for my grandfather.

In conferring with church staff and family members, imagine our surprise when we discovered that his remains were not the only ones contained within the grave. We discovered that in addition to my grandfather, the following other remains were present in the same grave:

• a son of my grandfather, a young boy who had died at the age of two weeks from pneumonia
• unnamed twins, also children of my grandfather, who had been stillborn
• an unknown child who had been placed in the grave during the dark of night at some point between when my grandfather's son and the unnamed twins were buried.

As we prepared to create a headstone for the now five souls instead of one, the unknown child sparked a discussion within the family. Should we identify the unknown child or let the child go unnoticed, limiting the identification on the headstone to the four members of our family? Since I believe that everyone, family or not, should have the respect of being remembered and given that my intuition was telling me I must do this, I insisted that the unknown child be identified as "an unknown child" and the family agreed. I reached out to the local church and asked for a Mass to be said for the five souls and that a blessing be conferred on the newly marked grave.

Having believed I had done "the right thing", imagine my surprise about two weeks later when I received an unsigned letter with no return address. In the letter, the anonymous writer tells a story of shame, of pain, of guilt, of deep sorrow and loss. She (the writer is clearly the mother) identifies when her child would have been buried there and the reasons why. Since I didn't identify to anyone when the child would have been placed there (it was just identified as "an unknown child"), the fact that this woman knew the date tells me the letter is authentic.

It was clear that bringing knowledge of this child to the public drew out the mother who had carried this terrible load for almost 60 years. In writing her letter, she thanked me for doing what she called "the proper Christian thing", by recognizing a child that was not related to the family. She indicated that the Mass brought closure to a painful event in her life and was the one thing that prevented her from going to her own grave with a clear heart and conscience. This small act on our part had brought her release from the pain she had been burdened with for most of her adult life.

This got me to thinking about opportunities we all have at different times to "set things right". It could be an opportunity at work to give credit where credit is due or to laud someone's performance, even if it means that the person being praised gets promoted above us. Perhaps it means reaching out to a long lost friend or a family member to heal a rift over things whose reasons are long since forgotten. It could be taking long overdue action to right some wrong either committed by you or perhaps simply witnessed by you. It could be, as was in this case, something that seemed innocent enough and simply the right thing to do but which turned out to be a powerful act as perceived by someone else.

Whatever the reason, there seems to be opportunity for everyone at some point to either right a wrong committed in the past or to stop and think before acting or speaking, to prevent a wrong from being created. The result could be a powerful release of negative baggage that we or others carry around and by releasing this negative baggage, we are empowered to be more effective as leaders, peers, associates, friends and family members moving forward.

Something to think about!

Take care and create a great day!