|photo courtesy Kerry N Barlow,|
all rights reserved
I hide myself within my flower,
That fading from your Vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me —
Almost a loneliness.
~ Emily Dickinson
When we absent our insights from the people and world around us, what is left is the ghost of a fading flower that was briefly seen. Perhaps I’ve been plucked from my nourishing garden to die more quickly in your vase as an object of curiosity, a thing to glance at even as I fade away and you wonder in a hidden corner of your mind where I went to. This is mere reflection of how we feel but don’t suspect when people die who haven’t left their stories behind except in snippets of someone else’s distorted memory.
When I do not offer my story, and my body grows frail toward a fast-approaching death (relative to the vast expanse of time), you wonder where this vague uneasiness and loneliness comes from as a part of you remains forever curious about my life, my thoughts and feelings. “What?” you ask. “What was your life inside the walls around your heart?” As my soul pulls away from our relationship and the material world, my fading energy is unrecognized, obscured, fleeting.
Even if we don’t have the whole picture, we can immortalize particular moments. In my novels, there are parts of people I’ve known; I’m less lonely for them and others will see them, too, see glimpses of a life that made a difference … as we all do. However, I imagine how marvelous it would be if every person wrote at least one memoir of a pivotal transition or transformation in their life. This flower would be fresh forever, unfading.
A photograph doesn’t reveal soul or share story; after a generation or two passes, the photos tossed loose in the aging maple chest lined with cedar strips mean nothing. But dig through and pull up from below a sheaf of letters, a journal, a slim volume of preserved memory and the person is fresh, telling a tale of insight, of passage through the past.
Unless and until the reciting of oral history returns, books are best, paper is tried-and-true in its longevity. The books survive hundreds of years, maybe even longer now — they provide an opportunity to speak to an unknown great-great-grandchild or stranger who would be unsuspectingly lonely without having met your legacy. Maybe the paper will fade like the flower, though more slowly, your story rooted in the pages-once-living … like you were. Your body decays in the earth or your ashes are scattered, but your story means someone is less lonely for having known you beyond your death. Your descendants don’t have to access you through an archive or require electricity to read you digitally. All they need to do is open the cover, turn a page, and there you are — speaking to them, showing instead of hiding yourself, revealing the flower of your life in what may be a single petal through which they can, hopefully, hear your voice and know the essence of who you were.
And the world is a little less lonely.
More programs are being developed every day that preserve personal stories for generations to come. From StoryCorps to hospice programs to personal historians, writers and storytellers are attempting to make more voices heard; a particularly good article is “The Beneficial Effects of Life Story and Legacy Activities” by Pat McNees.
Side Note: I often use the poems of Emily Dickinson as a portal into reflection and/or writing. Because I’m not trying to understand her meaning when writing it, the poem can become something unique to what is already simmering in my mind (whether conscious or subconscious) — kind of like dreamwork. There’s a lovely, and different, interpretation of this poem at The Prowling Bee.