I am fascinated by old cemeteries. I see the tombstones and wonder who the people buried beneath them were and what they were like. Occasionally I encounter one with the name of a famous person and I get excited, but most of the time they are unknown souls. Often their gravesites are overgrown and neglected because the people who knew and cared about them are long gone as well.
It is said that most people will be forgotten somewhere between eighty and one hundred years after death. A time comes when even the descendants of an individual can identify a relation only on the branches of a family tree, if one happens to exist. We are born, we live for a time and then we die. Those who loved us will mourn us and maybe even tell their children and grandchildren about us and then it is likely that we will fade away from memory.
We do not often consider the reality of living and dying. We rush around in our daily lives just attempting to make a living and make a difference at the same time. Occasionally someone creates something that becomes a family heirloom or enters the realm of family stories. Mostly we never quite have enough hours in our days to make a permanent mark somewhere.
I often think beyond my own parents and grandparents to my great grandparents. I only have concrete mementoes of my paternal great grandmother Christena Rowsie Smith. Once of my cousins sent me a photo of her and my grandmother, Minnie Bell, gave me a ceramic pitcher that belonged to her. I know that she had many children and lived the last days of her live in Scott County, Arkansas. I have even found her grave. Standing before it helped me to feel her spirit and make her more real.
I’ve attempted to tell my children and grandchildren about her, but it is difficult for them to think of her as someone who actually existed and should mean something to them based only on a photo and an old pitcher. I worry that once I am gone, she will be forever forgotten unless someone else takes an interest in genealogy like I have. It is sad to think of how forgotten most of the people who once walked the earth become.
I often hope that my writings will somehow be handed down from generation to generation making me more tangible, easier to know and understand because of my words. In today’s world even the most average and ordinary person has photos and videos of themselves. My father was heavily featured in old films that belonged to one of my aunts. They were the kind with no sound, but it was easy to glean a great deal about him by noting his smile and the easy way that he laughed. Sadly all of those memories were lost when my aunt’s home burned down. Since my children and grandchildren never met him he only stays alive through the stories that I tell them, stories that are based on the memories of an eight year old child. They call him great Grandpa Jack and wish that they might have met him, but in some ways he is only a name.
I suppose that it is a dreary thing to think about one day being dust. We’d like to think that we have contributed enough to the betterment of the world that we will somehow be remembered, but we know deep down that at some point we will be only a name on a long ago census. That’s why we each should do our best to live our lives well.
I suppose that the idea of a good life will be somewhat different for everyone. For me it means using my talents to help others in some way. I think it is important to enjoy the small but special moments of life. I believe in doing my part to preserve and protect the environment so that future generations will have a world as lovely as the one I have found. I hope to spread love and be remembered for kindness. While I would like to achieve some level of success in my endeavors, fame and fortune have never been driving forces for me.
I reach back into the past and I know that I have agrarian roots. My people worked the land in the United States, Ireland, Scotland, England and what is now Slovakia. My ancient ancestors had Viking names and they sailed across the North Sea from Norway to set down roots in England. They laid claim to political power in Normandy and then in England. They had funny monikers, some of the unpronounceable. Their stories can only be implied. I imagine them toiling from day to day, falling in love, creating families. Some like my great grandmother, Marion died giving birth to my grandfather. No records exist to even prove that she once walked on this earth. How many other souls are there who lived and breathed and had wishes and dreams but will forever remain unknown to us? Who loved them? Who celebrated when they were born? Who grieved when they died? We will never know.
Embrace life while you can. Leave an imprint on someone’s heart. Be so good that you become a vividly pleasant memory for another person. Stand for something. Be respected for your honor. Life is short but we each have an opportunity to do something special with the talents and skills that we have. Get started writing a forget me not with your life.