Wednesday, March 11, 2009

But a Moment

It is remarkable to me how little effort it takes to love the people who came before us. The promise of Elijah—that our hearts will turn to our fathers—it is so close. So strangely close, and so captivating once grasped.

I do graveyard research. As an archaeologist it’s kind of a pet hobby of mine—something I wish I could turn into my thesis or dissertation, but there are very few people in the world to whom I could defend my research.

Anyway. Right now I am building a database of certain monuments found in a quiet sea-side churchyard in southern Wales. It’s tailored to the focus of my research, but when I’ve done with that I am going to add in all the detail I can to my tables of names and relationships, and then I am going to post it online for genealogists to use. It’s the least I can do.

There are far, far worse places to spend the quiet sleep of waiting.

It is startling, though, to realize how very alive these people were. And how the joy and sorrow and pain and hope they felt can come welling up from the past with so very little effort on our parts.

This stone isn’t much to look at. But if you read it carefully, you’ll see that the mother died at 34 after seeing first her 12 year old eldest son die at sea—and then losing her next son at 15, also into the depths of the ocean. This happened all the time. Ships went down, people were lost—children died of fevers and people had to move on—somehow.

It wasn’t until I read the final entry on the stone, cramped into the very bottom space as it was that the full import of this monument hit me. The husband—who called his wife “beloved” and who had buried two sons and that same wife had lived to be 80. Somehow, he had survived the travails of ocean and mortality to die at an old age, while the people he obviously loved so much were long, long gone.

I find myself weeping for this man—long since dust. Someone who may not even have spoken my language—but someone who shares the beautiful, blinding humanity that is our greatest blessing and our greatest handicap.

I don’t know if these people have any living relations or if their family died with those two loved sons. But they are as real and precious to me as my own blood, and I feel responsibility—reaching over a century of time and six thousand miles of ocean.

After all, he was someone’s father.