Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What we leave behind

Dear Reader,

We've been friends for what now, six years? That's a good stretch of time. You see, I have a couple of unusual hobbies that I typically wait until I get to know someone before divulging them. I did break my rule a couple of months ago in my youth group-- luckily everyone was sharing weird hobbies so I tried to gloss over mine as normal weird hobbies and everyone kind of went along with it.

You see, I like cemeteries. I find them fascinating-- I love wandering through the carefully arranged bleached forest of headstones. Behind each name lies a full and exciting life-- the details of which are tantalizingly just out of reach. The saddest stories call out the loudest-- a mother who outlived her son, a infant child buried without even a name. Happy stories-- like good deeds-- often stay interred with their bones which means that imagination tends to be a substitute for facts.

I also like reading obituaries-- I know, I know, stay with me. I scan the obits for anyone over 90, and then eagerly read what their relatives thought a fit summary of their life. It's a rather doomed interest-- I rarely find an obit that makes me feel like I caught a brief glimpse into at least some approximation of the fullness of their lives. More often than not it ends with frustration-- 100 years of life and all I get is who survived her? I want to know what it was like growing up, how she met her husband, all sorts of stories that rarely are published in an obituary.

While the common tie to my interests seems to be death it's actually a bit more subtle. What I'm really interested are stories, especially the ones we leave behind. Not anything as grandiose as a legacy-- I don't really care about the perhaps massive impact on future generations-- I'm more interested in the mundane. For example, anyone who read the obit of my great-grandmother probably didn't realize that she attended 8th grade twice. High schools were far off, expensive, and for boys, but my great-grandmother loved school so much her parents let her go to 8th grade a second time before she left academia for farm life. There are so many stories like that hidden behind every gravestone, every obit, and sometimes I can be lucky enough to stumble upon them.

If you ever visit a thrift store/antique mall with me and I find a heap of old postcards, you better resign yourself to the better part of an hour spent flipping through them. As you saw in my previous post I love old postcards because they have the rare ability to break down that barrier that death erects, to show me a small, personal glimpse into a life that has long since ended. 1909 seems impossibly in the past and out of reach, until you read a note between friends joking about hunting for the perfect husband and then the past collapses and you see that people back then weren't so different from people today.

But there is one big difference between us and them-- the physical remnants of our lives. In 1909 they didn't text, they sent postcards. Postcards that later their great-grandchildren would throw into a bag and drop off at a thrift store. We take thousands of photos but rarely print out one. Will our entire legacy be online? A hundred years from now, when my great-granddaughter is musing about the inaccessibility of the past, what will she use to reconstruct my life? Facebook certainly won't be around, my text messages will have long since echoed into silence-- maybe I'll print off my blog one day, stick it in an old binder, shove it into the attic for my grandchildren to stumble upon. Maybe that's why I write this blog-- to have a say in telling my own story. From high school, to college, to grad school-- a short time in the grand scheme of things but a massive span to me personally.

Maybe, one day, this will be the story I leave behind.

But until then, dear reader, thanks for listening.

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