One of the classic themes of literature is the “sins of the parent visiting the child” and how we respond to the indiscretions of those who went before us. Biblically speaking we see this in the story Exodus 34.
Moses has destroyed the tablets when he returns to deliver the Ten Commandments to his people. He sees that the Israelites have created a golden idol (calf) to honor God. The First commandment is already broken. In a fit of anger and frustration, he destroys the tablets God has given him. He gathers his wits and has a conversation with the Lord. God is a forgiving God and establishes a New Covenant with them, directing Moses to return to the top of the mountain to re-write the covenant. Start again.
The human condition is fraught with perils of ignorance. We are all on a course to better ourselves and rise above our shortcomings through experience. We don’t always see the pitfalls that stand in our way. We’re works in progress and learning from those who went before us. Unfortunately, we forget that those who’ve gone before us are made of clay feet just like us.
It is imperative that an individual be aware that our predecessors were working through and attempting to understand life as they saw it in their time and the context of history. We see it daily in life. Has that person not learned the lesson of her mother or father? How can they make the same mistake? Well, we only know what we know. The act of self-awareness is critical in helping us move on and break the cycle.
I recently read a tremendous novel that clarifies this theme and deftly illustrates the consequences of not learning the lessons. Pulitzer Prize winning writer Connie Schultz’s novel “The Daughters of Erietown” is a gripping bildungsroman of women in a fictional town in Northeastern Ohio.
It tells the story of Brick and Ellie as they fight through adolescence to find their way in this world. It is a Springsteenesque working-class tale that champions the workers who build lives through the adversities of life with an eye on making a better life for their children from the Fifties through the Nineties.
Married and working as a master electrician at the local plant, Brick’s libido gets the better of him when he encounters a beautiful barmaid in town. Brick is born to a hard-nosed father, who is merciless in making the boy into a man and undermining his potential.
Schultz has a keen eye for identifying those situations that make people who they are and delving into the psychology of characters with earnest compassion and frank dialogue.
She identifies how we complicate our lives when we table our dreams to conquer our challenges and rise above our own insecurities.
She depicts how a family evolves through trials of the times with unconditional love and bearing gently, though painfully, the powerful act of forgiveness. Schultz identifies what happens when one doesn’t have the unit to lean on and one loses herself in the fog of uncertainty and loneliness. Sam, the daughter of Brick and Ellie, attempts to break the cycle.
We’re all climbing the mountain and atoning on the trek. We have no choice but to face who we are and pick up the proverbial pieces of failure. We face our God every day and although we are a “stiff-necked people” we are humbled by the trials that visit as a result of our inequities. Every day is a chance for renewal and deeper understanding if we are self-aware enough to care.
In the story of Exodus Moses comes back even brighter and glowing with the spirit. He is an instrument of light for the people who delivers the law through the Holy Spirit. He veils himself in their presence as the light on his face is too bright, but he reveals the light when facing God, as the light is bearable in the sight of All Glory.