One of my favorite Disney movies I watched growing up was Mulan. A scene I love is when Mushu awakens and then calls up all the ancestors for an important meeting about their progeny. It was crazy to see how aware of their family they were even though they were not among the living. Even more entertaining to me was the fact that they were quirky, argued, and had lively personalities to make the movie even more enjoyable.
There is an important principle for happy families that can be gleaned from the relationship we see between ancestors and descendants in Mulan.
Connectedness leads to healthy, happy families
While the scene I am referring to isn’t all butterflies and rainbows, there is an obvious concern for Mulan. Concern indicates care, which demonstrates love. And where there is love, there is happiness. The more families feel connected, the greater the love and happiness therein. That isn’t to say there aren’t difficulties and struggles, but overall, the power of the happy moments will outweigh the bad.
Now some of you may have found a catch in my last paragraph . . . Mulan’s ancestors are deceased! How in the world could Mulan ever feel their concern for her? Maybe if you subscribe to a belief that you can feel your loved ones after they have passed on, then you have your answer. Putting personal beliefs aside, what’s important is that Mulan feels connected to her ancestors, and that makes a difference in her life in the ‘here and now’. She never talks to or sees any of her ancestors, but they still influence the way she lives her life. Again, her concern to not displease her ancestors is evidence of her connectedness to them.
Mulan is not the only one who believes in this connection with her ancestors. Her mom, dad, and grandmother all feel a closeness to them. This shared belief pulls her immediate family close together and increases the love they feel. In fact, the whole reason we have a movie named ‘Mulan’ is because Mulan loves her father. She was willing to leave her home and go to war rather than see her father get hurt.
Stories can Connect Us to our Ancestors
A large portion of those that read this article will not share the same beliefs as Mulan; however, we can still feel connected to our ancestors, and in turn our own families. Have you ever had a story told in your family about a relative who has passed on? Did you feel any sort of love, or fondness for that individual, though they are gone? I myself have many fond memories of stories being told about my paternal grandfather who passed away before my birth. I feel close and connected to him even though I have never met him.
A story that is dear to me is one I have named “The Cellar”. As I have heard the story told to me, my grandfather had a dream in which something terrible had happened and he was unable to feed his family. He watched them starve in front of him. He woke with a start and proceeded to wake every one of his sons (he had 5), took them to the backyard, gave them a shovel, and told them to start digging. That summer, my dad and his brothers dug a cellar that they then used to store food for the family.
Hearing that story growing up endeared me to my grandfather. I saw in him a concerned father who loved his family so much that he would immediately get to work. I saw that he valued hard work and passed that on to his sons. I saw that value reflected in my father and hoped to earn it as well. It made me love him, my father, and my family name. It makes me want to be like him. That’s why my son shares his great-grandfather’s name.
My grandfather was also very musical. He played the trombone, guitar, and drums as well as sang. This love of music is alive and well in me, it even led me to find my dear wife. I have loved music since I was little, and I like to think that I got it from my grandpa. In fact, I often play the guitar that once belonged to him. I have felt many times, playing or singing music (especially on that guitar), my grandfather looking down on me. It is a connection that I feel is as real as anything else I have experienced. I feel that he knows me, is interested in me, and cares about the decisions I make. It changes the way I live my life.
From stories like “The Cellar” and personal connections like musicality and grandpa’s guitar, I gained an appreciation of where I am from, who I am, and who I can become—even though I have never met him in the flesh.
I’m confident that most, if not all, of us, have a sense of identity gained from stories of our loved ones that have passed. In fact, a presentation given by Dr. Timothy Rarick (also the author of the Family Good Things blog) shows the scientific research behind children’s identity related to connectedness to ancestors. This sense of identity and confidence in children leads to greater connectedness in our current families and leads to more open and healthy relationships at home.
I found great happiness in my family growing up through this connectedness, just like Mulan. Make this a part of your family by telling stories. Maybe start at the dinner table. Tell a story about your grandpa, or maybe even a sibling. It can be funny, inspiring, instructive—whatever you decide just do it! As you do so, you will see your family connectedness begin to grow. If you really want to see it take off then write down the stories you share. It will become a gem for your family.
Another great way to get connected with your ancestors is by doing genealogy. You would be surprised at who you are related to when you start following your line. This is also something that kids and teenagers will love as it will involve the computer. Go to sites like familysearch.org or ancestry.com to start looking up your ancestors. It is a great shared family activity that can bring you all together and be a lot of fun.
Start this today. Get a computer, tell a story, or call your parents and get a good story. The love and closeness that it will bring will have far-reaching positive effects on your family.