My daughter keeps a picture in her room of me as a child. Eight years old, bowl haircut and a smile with gaps waiting for permanent teeth — I have to say that I was a quite a stunner in elementary school. The 70s, striped, big-collared shirt in the picture caught my eye recently, and I remembered that it was a hand-me-down. The fact that I can remember that suggests that I didn’t much care for wearing my brother’s used clothes.
I’m feeling a bit nostalgic as my son graduates from high school and wondering what I am handing down to him. We all are beneficiaries of hand-me-downs. Clothes, recipes, silverware, and furniture are typically given to us with varying degrees of expectation as to when and how we will use them. But we’re also given values, traditions and perspectives that we get to try on and decide if they fit. Is this me or not? What do I keep, and what do I discard?
We may resent hand-me-downs, but thankfully every generation doesn’t have to start fresh. There are items too important not to share. In fact, it would be irresponsible to not pass them down.
The Hebrew word “shema” (hear) begins the most important prayer in Judaism, one that Jesus echoed as the greatest commandment. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) Jesus also said that the second greatest commandment is “like” the first: love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)
My hope is that my children would see these truths as a bedrock upon which to build their lives. To love God — the mystery, wonder, wisdom, grace and power underneath and within and around all life — and to love their neighbors as they love themselves. These legacies are worth sharing.