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Reflections on One Life

Two common themes that nearly always arise during discussions among historians are change and continuity. There is an ever-present tendency for things to change with time. But there is also something in mankind that strives to keep things as they have been.

Change implies vision, hope, forward thinking, improvement, betterment, advancement, movement. Change can be good, offering the very improvement that so many people yearn for. But it can sometimes be bad if it does not result in real improvement. In fact, it can sometimes produce the exact opposite than what is hoped for.

Continuity, on the other hand, implies stability, security, predictability, solidity, dependability. It’s what young children unknowingly want in their family lives. It’s what businesses want of employees. It’s what employees want of their jobs. It’s what peoples want and expect from their government and its leaders. The desire for continuity is what causes us to resist change.

These two yearnings–for change and yet for continuity–are in constant tension.

As I’ve reflected over the last few days of my Aunt Annie (shown on the left in the accompanying photo with her sister Jean) and the memories I have of her, I’ve realized that each of us who is part of the Summers clan remembers different things about her. And even if some of us remember some of the same things, we recall them differently.

But looking at general memories rather than specific details, I see above all else continuity in Aunt Annie’s life. I remember Nannie’s once recounting the number of different places she and Paw had lived–I think it was a dozen or more different “removes.” Yet, when I think of Annie and Ed, I recall only one house that they called home–the house on Depot Street in Heiskell, Tennessee. And I think that was generally true for most of her siblings. Dillon–the house by the railroad trestle. Mother–the house on Fort Sumter Road. Roscoe–the house on Tillery Road (I think that was the road). That’s continuity.

When I read Annie’s obituary, I was struck by the fact that she had been a member of the same church for 67 years. That’s unheard of today. Most people don’t even have what they can truly call a “church home.” Those who do usually have been in that church ten years or less. Sixty-seven years–that’s continuity!

Different generations and even different individuals within the same family can be so–well, different. Some are loud and outgoing. Others are quieter and more withdrawn. Shirley and I discussed this in an e-mail conversation a while back, we two tending to be among the quieter members of the clan. Like change and continuity, neither is necessarily good or bad. As a kid, I saw definite advantages in keeping quiet. But I now wish I had asked the adult relatives more questions about our family history.

There’s a lot to be said in favor of change, but I think that an important lesson we can learn and strive to emulate from Aunt Annie’s legacy is the stability of continuity. At least that’s my take on this microcosm of history.

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