On a visit home to see family and friends after many years away, I sat bewildered at the dinner table, vainly trying to work out who was related to whom. After an extensive bombardment of such discussion one night, my uncle could see my efforts to understand family history were all in vain. "Don't worry," he said, "I've got it all written down in the family tree - see you're even here too!" I looked carefully to see that I was indeed listed down the bottom of the third page.
What I also noticed was that from two people married in 1806 came some 300 or more people, including myself, who were caught up in the web of their destiny almost 200 years later. Amongst their descendants were soldiers, engineers, aviators, housewives, teachers, shopkeepers, and others who had made their mark, mostly in modest ways, upon several far-flung corners of the world. The original couple were not particularly notable, yet their decision to marry and pursue quiet but honest lives has had a vast influence. Not only did many of their children follow careers closely akin to that of their father (in this case an agricultural engineer), but most, with the occasional outstanding exception, were God-fearing solid citizens in the mold of their ancestors.
Gazing upon the family tree proved to me how the small decisions of life both good and bad can have far-reaching effects. I'm sure it would be the same if you look at your own family tree. The quality of existence of two people living ordinary, verging on "dull," lives 200 years ago has affected hundreds of then-unborn people. How important then are our decisions and the quality of our family life for the future. Such ponder-ings bring to mind the intimate intertwining of individual, family, national, and even global karma, and stress the sacred trust of family life and the karmic responsibilities of parenthood, no matter how unspectacular our circumstances seem. Any family tree brings home how decisions here and now can ripple outwards to affect the lives of family, and even of nations, for ages hence.
(From Sunrise magazine, October/November 2003; copyright © 2003 Theosophical University Press)