Walking Backwards Into The Future

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Walking backwards into the future. A strange turn of phrase. A concept unusual and foreign to much of modern society, but this is something that the Maori culture of New Zealand embrace. It is central to many of the foundational values that surround the importance of family and history and culture within Maori.

And it is something that I value and believe, and one of the things I love about having Maori blood running in my veins.

I was taught this by my grandmother as she was taught it by her grandmother. We grew up with the stories of our ancestors. We knew them through the memories of those who came after them. And this is something I wish to pass on to my children, in a world where individualism and self-interest are hotly pursued, and I believe at the expense of valuing the past, remembering our histories and loving the people who have lived before us and who have given us so much.

Yesterday, we went up to Auckland to go to the funeral of the last of my husband's Lees uncles at St Mary's-In-Holy-Trinity in Parnell, part of the Cathedral. Rob has two elderly aunties still alive, and well into their 90's, but Uncle Ted was the last of his father's brothers.

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When you enter a church so majestic and incredibly beautiful in it's wooden framework high above our heads, and stained-glass windows, soft lighting and row upon row of solemn pews, there is a real sense of awe and, funnily-enough, a deep emotion of thankfulness.

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Here we all were to celebrate the life of a wonderful and much-loved man, a son and brother of a wonderful and much-loved old generation of family who have nearly all gone now, and yet their heritage lives on in their many descendants. My husband's family is large in number, and it is lovely to belong to a large and wonderful extended family.

As I sat in the seat between my sister-in-law and husband and behind my son and another brother and sister-in-law, and as I looked out over the heads of the people in front of me, and recognised many, many faces of my dear in-law family I began to feel such an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness.

Looking up at the ceiling of that beautiful church as we listened to the wonderful tributes I couldn't help but think of how this is what New Zealand is, this is what our country was founded on - tradition and family. These two things are what make our little country great.

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These beautiful old churches, built by the God-fearing pioneers of our country who bought with them the values and traditions that our families and our nation were built upon. And how that is slowly being whittled away, how those same values and traditions are now mocked and belittled in the pursuit of self-belief and self-importance, in the modern credence that man is god. Or even in the subtle devaluing of the importance of family ties, beliefs and connections, and taking it all for granted.

And the tragedy it will become  if it all disappears, this old New Zealand, taking so much treasure and heritage with it. The buildings will still be there, but the soul will have gone from them.

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And it reminds me again of my Maori heritage and the importance of walking backwards into the future. Of remembering those important people in our past who lived so that we might live. Of valuing the heritage that they have left us in this country and in the faces of our family who surround our lives.
Friends and acquaintances may come and go, and they do, but family never does. As I said to my son while we were driving up to Auckland, these people have known you since you were born. They have known your father since he was born, and they will know and love you all your life until you die and even then, they won't stop loving you. Death shouldn't be the ending of that. They are a constant presence in your life, no matter where you go and what you do.

It is why I felt it was important to take my son to this family funeral.

I want him to hear the stories of his old uncles and aunties and to know his cousins and his second-cousins. As he grows older I want him to be aware of the family that he comes from, to have a sense of belonging and identity in the history of this country and the history of his extended family. This is what I believe to be important. Not forgetting what has gone before us, but building upon the lessons and love and traditions of those much-loved people, talking about them, remembering them, loving them and their children, and in doing so passing it on to the next generation.

Walking backwards into the future indeed.

photo credit: Carol Green via photopin cc
photo credit: tarboxje via photopin cc
photo credit: Bert Kaufmann via photopin cc
photo credit: Light Knight via photopin cc
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