Our Lives Begin Before Our Lives


I love this photo of a darling, smiling 2nd grader. She’s Ruby Mae Foster, my Grandmother, when she was just 8 years old.

My Grandmother died at the beginning of 2018. We called her Memaw, one of the silliest sounding Grandma names in the lexicon of Grandma names — though of course, it was not said with silliness but affection. Thankfully, she lived a long, full life. She was partnered with Jim Foster, my Grandfather (Papaw) for many years, though sadly, he died much sooner. She had two children and four grandchildren, and now, she has four great-grandchildren in the world.

I recently found this photo of Ruby Mae once more, and then, I found myself thinking,

Our lives begin before our lives.

I would not, and I could not exist as the person I am, had this 8 year old also not lived. In part, I come from her. And there is a whole period of her life, a whole historical period, to which I am connected (1933-1982) simply because she lived it before I was born. My life is inextricably linked to these things.

And this is true all the time — yes, in relatives with whom we share DNA, but also, so many others. A whole myriad of humans shape us and continue to shape us.

Our lives always begin before our lives.

I like to wonder sometimes. . .

Who shaped the people who shaped me,
Who mentored the people who mentored me,
Who gave me life in some way before my life ever started, and
How do these people show up in my living?
Perhaps in deeper ways than I am even aware?

Our lives begin before our lives.

And the lives of others are beginning in ours. We’ll meet some of them, but many, we’ll never know about. Individually and collectively, our lives are shaping the particularities that will shape others. It’s not totally deterministic – a good thing, after all, as some particularities are hard. But this is deeply connective. Deeply creative. I think this is a mysterious, marvelous thing.

Renee Roederer


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