Friday, May 13, 2011

Out of Sight, Out of Mind


Every Spring vacation during the 1960's and '70's my parents would take us to see my grandparents on St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. I still recall the smell of the leather seats of their VW  Beetle, the gardener climbing coconut and banana trees for some fresh fruit, and islands surrounded by gorgeous blue water that we could see from the back yard of their "mountain" home.


It was a family thing until it wasn't anymore.


I was really upset when I found out that my dad wasn't coming on our yearly trip to visit my grandparents in the Virgin Islands. My dad, seeing my distress, sent me to get my Raggedy Ann doll for him. He found the heart on her chest and wrote "Daddy" underneath it. That was the best he had to offer. It was something tangible to comfort me as the memory of his face faded over our ten-day vacation. Come to think of it, I don't think I looked at his signature much. I was too busy swimming and exploring,


There's no getting past the fact that when someone passes you miss them. But I'm more concerned with valuing the uniqueness of their life than dwelling on the imposed separation.


Think about all the things we keep around us to keep memories of our loved ones fresh. Tombstones, statues, pictures, scrapbooks, letters, video-recordings, voices on an answering machine, and endless knick-knacks are visited, shared, dusted and sometimes moved from house to house in an effort to remember. None of them replace the person, but all of them trigger treasured feelings associated with specific memories.


I've noticed a shift in a lot if not most of my older friends and relatives. There comes a time when the old photos get dragged out and perused regularly. The stories from the pictures are repeated for anyone within earshot. And the enthusiasm and wistfulness is contagious. It's as if they're hanging on to memories as they feel them slipping away, knowing that someone will be looking at them in those photos someday, too. It's like a lesson in how to respect the memory of someone without using any words. But, we all get it.


When all is said and done, as they say, all of us get a sense of our mortality and feel gratitude for those who've shared our lives with us. Maybe we wonder how we'll be remembered. Like my father we leave our signatures on hearts all over the place. And we hope that we've made an impression there.


That's why I'm drawn to those who've lived, but, like all mortals, have died. Their influence lives on, waiting to be uncovered again by those who mattered and continue to matter to them. I believe that deeply. I feel deep joy and satisfaction when I see hearts opened, shared, and valued.


The only way to keep them on our minds is to figuratively "take them on our trips" with us. For me, the past, present, and future intersect and weave together all the time. I believe that our ancestors influence can be felt IF we take the time and make an effort to "see" them. That influence is written on our hearts and can grow stronger when we slow down and allow it into our busy lives.


So, they may not live in a place I can visit, but the tangible evidence I have of them in the form of a picture, a family tree displayed purposefully in my home, an heirloom passed down with its story, or the blond hair and blue eyes of my Norwegian ancestors that some of my children have 'til they're 5, keep my ancestors close to my heart.


Let's help our children become more familiar with their ancestors by telling more stories, pointing out more similarities, hanging more pictures or planning more reunions for the living.  Simple statements like,"I remember when Grandpa used to do that!" or "Remember what a good gardener Aunt So and So was?" plant seeds that will knit hearts closer together over time.


Just because they're out of sight, doesn't mean they have to be out of mind.


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