01 June, 2009

This is my effort to work out a thought...

I visited my grandmother yesterday. I've always loved going to her house; it is full of the relics of my heritage. There are objects and images that have been protected long enough to let me glimpse the humanity behind the names on the family tree. Since childhood I've been enchanted by these things because of the stories behind them - which are the roots of my own little story - and because they let me go far away from here and now while still remaining myself. I suppose in a way I've often pitied people whose families did not have much interest in their heritage - perhaps it seemed to me that without that, they did not fully know or possess themselves.

Yesterday, though, I was struck by a new thought as I looked at a photograph taken by my grandfather of my sister as a toddler. It was a moment he snatched because he found it meaningful and wanted to remember it. It was part of his definition of Emily. She was too young then to have any memory of it now. This moment is a part of her life, but it is his memory. In a way, he owned that moment of her life. Without memory, how fully do we own our lives? I began to think of how many other such instances there are in each of our lives.
How many people carry memories of me that do not exist in my knowledge of my own self? My infant years belong solely to my parents or those who held me, watched me, heard me. I do not own some of those formative moments; I existed at that age, I was myself at that age, but I do not know myself at that age. For two years my self was only theirs. I can have some secondhand knowledge of the strands of my life that someone chose to record, but even in those instances I am subject to someone else's decision over what deserved to be remembered. All else is a great unknown to me. What a thing to say about my very own life.

So we do not fully own our pasts, do we? I suppose that, similarly, we do not fully own our futures either - I mean, how we will live in others' knowledge when we are gone. Just as I could not choose which moments of my childhood to preserve and be defined by, I will have no control over which of my images, objects, or words will last for my descendants. It is at once an exhilarating and a terrifying thought. How will I live in my descendants' second-hand knowledge of me? In what unpredictable ways will my story contribute to my family's story/culture years after I have gone?

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