It seemed that everywhere I turned men were articulating and documenting their instructions, values and requests. In August of 2003, it was Aaron Brown introducing a feature on CNN’s NewsNight about the rescued coal miners – with excerpts from letters written a century ago by “doomed miners” to their wives and families, in which they passed on their love, instructions, and burial requests. Then in September on The Charlie Rose Show I heard Ken Burns read a letter from his television series, The Civil War – a letter of values and love written to his wife by a young soldier a week before he was killed in battle.
I’d been introduced to the ethical will in the mid-nineties. While grieving with the nation after 9-11, I wished that all the women and men who’d left for work at the Twin Towers that clear-skied sunny morning had left behind a legacy letter of love, gratitude, blessing for those to whom they would never return. Because we can never know which day is our day to die, I feel an urgency to keep current in my legacy writing, and wish we all would.
My mission, heard as I sat in a class about the ethical will in 1999, came via a voice– that still small voice within with which I was quite unfamiliar. It focused my attention when it said simply, “Turn this into a healing tool for women.” To transform the ethical will into an accessible, contemporary document for women, I first developed a curriculum (I’d been a teacher in my early career) and began facilitating “legacy circles” (I’d been a group therapist in a later period of my life). I worked with women of all faiths and races, young, boomers and aging, mothers and not, married and single, cancer survivors, abused and incarcerated.
It was my privilege to witness women eager to tell their stories and articulate their values, to respond to the urgent needs of our times, to make a contribution beyond their own lives, and to witness their transformation as they gifted those they loved with words expressing what was most important to them.
Legacy comes naturally to women because of our concern and caring for the future. So do circles, where the witnessing of each others’ history, stories, and dreams creates community and respect for self and others.
Out of this work came Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies-Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations: Creating Your Own Spiritual-Ethical Will, a book for women to discover and recover the legacies received from their feminine ancestors, to examine and embrace their own precious lives and deaths, and finally to create a spiritual-ethical will to pass their values, stories, wisdom, and blessings to future generations.
The book informs readers about the history of the ethical will, connects them to their roots and addresses issues of being women in patriarchal cultures. Using reflection, imagery, writing exercises, and examples of other women’s expressions of their history and lives, readers are prepared to document their gift to future generations.
I updated the book in 2013 as a second edition. By then I was completing a totally new book: multi-generational for both genders and all ages. Your Legacy Matters holds much of my learning in the decade between the two books.
This blog entry is a legacy letter of sorts: to my children and grandchildren to understand the process of how their “granny” came to love this work.