How to Live a Lasting Legacy

Brownislawa Koenig (third from right) and 12 other women working in a sugar beet field

The word history signifies the entirety of past events that are associated with someone or something. As women, sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends we are writing history on the pages of our memoir each and every day.

The last chapter of my life can be summed up by one word: transition. My husband and I added a baby, moved across the country, and left all the comforts of the familiarity of home. Life seems to always find us in some variety of transition, from student to teacher, dating to married, one child to four, joy to loss, a new job, a different city, and ever changing circumstances.

As we get caught up adapting to and absorbing these transitions, life passes by. Hours become days, which turn in to weeks that slip into years. In the blink of an eye, so much time has passed by that our children have grown, our marriages have transformed into something beautiful or tragic, and we have been stretched thin to keep up with the expectations of the world around us. Perhaps this is a little dramatic, but it is also entirely true.

I have found myself in an interesting position this March as Women’s History Month rolled around. For the first time since college I have stepped out of the competitive job market and have given myself permission to slow down and concentrate on only what is directly in front of me, my husband, my children, and me. This is not to say that I won’t continue contributing to causes that I am well invested in—as we all know there are many trails left to blaze—however it does mean that I am committed to being the best version of me that I can be in this moment. I am focusing on myself as nurturer, teacher, comforter, lover and protector.

Looking at the mainstream media I find myself rejecting many of the proposals for how I can assert myself as a progressive woman today. The theme seems to capitalize on adding more. In a day and age where we are constantly plugged in, I’m planning to make history by symbolically “unplugging” in order to be more present in the roles that I already hold rather than by adding more. I’m unplugging myself from the pressure that I have felt to excel at both career and family, from the allure of being the “pinterest mom,” and from the unattainable goal of having it all put together.

While Women’s History Month has been acknowledged in the United States for three decades, when I look at my own family history it is evident that women have played a pivotal role in perpetuity. My great grandmothers shared in common that at times they worked exhausting hours farming and equally long hours making their house a home (with 6 and 12 children respectively). When their memories are recalled they reflect women of character, determination and inner beauty.

Norma E. Byrd Irwin age 17

My Granny Norma is remembered as always being there for her children, while she held her kids accountable at home she was unafraid to stand up for them to the principal at school when they were being treated poorly in a day where that was uncommon. She defended them and thereby instilled confidence in them. Granny cared for my grandmother when she was sick with migraines and knew her daughter well enough to let her sleep in as the other children were woken up to prepare for school because sleep was her refuge. She raised her children to be strong and self-reliant. She worked hard but she loved harder. She left a legacy that has echoed into the future producing generations of women who hold positions of power and prowess.

Bronislawa Koenig

My Great Oma is remembered as a woman with a beautiful voice. Although she was never formally educated she taught herself to read and to speak five languages. When she was only 7 years old her father tragically died and she was sent to live with another family where she worked essentially as a servant. Her tasks were menial and as she washed dishes every night she prayed that the Lord would give her her very own dishes to do one day. She did not wish ill will on others even when her circumstance was miserable and she was blessed with twelve children and a place of her own. She immigrated with her family from war-torn Europe to Canada where she courageously started over. She leaves a heritage that endures of faith, love and perseverance.

Although the chronicles of my great grandmothers are modest on the surface, their lives were rich with unsung achievement. As we acknowledge the accomplishments of crucial women in politics, science, medicine and law let us also recognize those that toil tirelessly to raise the men and women of tomorrow. Each woman has the ability to change the world by her interactions with those within her sphere of influence; this is done day in and day out by doing small things with great care.

As we celebrate all that we have gained as women this month and the legacies of those that have come before us,to fight for equality, let us unabashedly take credit for all the ways that we contribute to our communities on a daily basis. Women are living lasting legacies today by running the boardroom and by rocking the cradle. Let us be gracious, let us be passionate, let us be present. The future depends on it.

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