“I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed. I felled the black serpent. A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!”King Theoden, dying on the battlefield of Pelennor in The Lord of the Rings
Imagine if after dying you joined all of your forebears in Valhalla, or Hades, or heaven. Suspend any disbelief you have. Pretend for a moment that you *will* meet these men.
Will you be proud or ashamed? Will they welcome you as an equal?
It can be a frightening thing to study family history. You either find out that your forebears were worse than you – a bad beginning – or worse, you find out that they are better than you.
We all have ancestors who dealt with a much harder and more uncertain world. We all have ancestors whose courage was put to the test more often, in greater ways. And we all have ancestors who managed to have and keep children. In this way, many of our ancestors already put us to shame.
But some of us have it even worse. We are the great-great-great-grandchildren of people who were truly great. Go far enough back and many, many of us have ancestors who were hunters, warriors, sailors, explorers, and settlers of new lands. And when we realize that, we have to face up to the possibility that we aren’t anywhere near as good as that person. It’s easy to imagine being passed by in Valhalla, or even barred from entrance.
This high bar is a blessing if you welcome it. If you live your whole life knowing that you must equal or exceed a line of nobility, courage, and greatness, you may not succeed – but you will try hard to be the best you can be.