Photographs and memories

4 minute read

For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. -James 4.14

This past week marked another death in my family. This one broke the last thread connecting me to the town where I was born. My uncle’s Federal-style brick home in Georgetown, DC was both the heart of our gatherings and the center touchstone for the scattered who remained.

In families like mine funerals oddly resemble weddings. Everyone who’s able to be there attends. Responsibility trumps convenience. In these moments of interrupted time old fights and affections return to the fore. Some drink too much. Some perseverate. And the stories breathe the passions of those who are no more.

1945 1945

The Anacostia cemetery

My people are buried in a Washington cemetery dating to 1869 near Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. The neighborhood’s been through some rocky times. In my first funeral it was decidely unsafe. Stern words warned me not to stray. My wool anklets kept slipping down inside my brown hard leather Buster-Browns, but not before grabbing hold of the sharp, round seed pods scattered under the trees. Black umbrellas, covered heads, windy gusts and a long service I did not understand became the start of memory.

But on this blistering hot and sunny day, I understand too much. A cousin points out his mother’s grave from 1961. Turning slightly, I read Arnold Perper, 1968, and look for the pods. Wrong season.

So many have died early. I carefully scrape dried grass from a half-buried marker, and look for others I remember well: 1985, 1986, 1998, 2009, and from this year, 2015. Just down from the open gravesite, a small granite quietly cries, Larissa Satin, beloved daughter, sister, friend 1/24/76 - 2/26/12.

1979 1979

Death here is thy sting

Those of us who have been touched by God’s miracle of faith have hope interspersed with our loss. We know that those who die as Christians will ever be with the Lord. Not so with those who know not Christ. There is no comfort knowing as we do the state that awaits these loved ones. All people who die in their sins face judgment with neither atonement nor justification. They will bear their punishment unendingly alone.

I listen as survivors comfort themselves with superstition. Just before he passed, his (dead) wife was in the room speaking to him, says one dear soul. He opened his eyes and was listening.

Now the two of them are together in heaven, replies another. But there’s no evidence of these things. These are people who died without faith.

Discretion

Sometimes love and compassion must show themselves in discretion. Or so I tell myself. I speak very little of my faith here. Perhaps it is that old reluctance to bring disharmony. More likely it’s yet another character weakness I must confess and give again to God.

There is so much about this life I do not understand.

History redefined

There’s usually someone who cannot forget what really happened. Who remembers the true history in your family? Are you the black sheep holding the mantle of memory for your clan?

As the kids become the elders, it’s up to you to decide what errors or remembrances need to be corrected or forgotten.

Cousin Jordan Perper

Ten or more years ago I found myself at a military funeral way out on Long Island, New York. Jordan served me my first Manhattan at 13 (horrid drink, by the way) and let me visit him in his Greenwich Village railroad flat when I was far from old enough or experienced enough to know what I was doing. Jordan was the kind of guy who would give you whatever you asked for, if he had it to give. He was funny, liked people, and was the person everyone always wanted at their party or at their table at the bar.

But life wrecked him. He died forgotten and alone. There were about 6 of us at that funeral. I didn’t know any of the others.

Photographs and memories

Now that the house in Georgetown will be closed up and presumably sold, there is the matter of the pictures - thousands of them. Most will be tossed.

I’m neither a picture-taker nor -saver. I’ve always preferred the moment. But I returned home Thursday night with a bag of framed images. And I’m so glad that I did.

Prayer

Thank you my dear God, for the time you gave these loved ones, and for the blessing of family. Please continue to save, and have mercy on those that remain, that they would trust and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus wept. -John 11.35

Originally published at: Comfort for Christians

Comments

So deeply moved and touched by your story. Life is hard and The Lords ways are hard to understand. I hope that there is mercy in that time between life and death and revelation is given. After all the disciples were slow to understand Jesus and they were with Him. Thanks for sharing and your wisdom. Vivien, UK.

For the LORD [is] good; his mercy [is] everlasting...the mercy of the LORD [is] from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him -Psalm 100, 103 For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. -Isaiah 55.9

Arent we all slow to understand. Thank you for your kind words, Vivien.

Im both a picture taker and a picture saver. A collection of photos has passed down and come to me and I hope there is someone to care about them when I go. Its long past time that the people pictured can be identified and the collection almost acts as a mini history of the Merrimack valley in Massachusetts. So we just retain a record of our part in the human comedy. Whos the little girl on the steps waving the American flag? The two old women sitting at the base of a monument? I know its my grandfather in front of that shoe stitching machine. What about the old Wright style biplane. I find something comforting in them all fading back in t the collective and thats a sentiment you might reject and I can understand that but if I were you I would give long consideration to being the one who keeps those photos, sorts them and has a few framed. Might be some of Joran. You cared enough to go to his funeral.

Very well written and evocative. I enjoy Christian funerals. My brother-in-law got a standing ovation. He “slept” through it. “Death, here is your sting.” Exactly. Well done. Saw 90 minutes in Heaven yesterday, Better than (and not what) I thought it would be,

Beautiful post, Alec, thanks. My home is filled with framed pictures of loved ones, here and gone already, almost too many of them, probably, but theyre staying….its a connection to the past and their faces are still loved. They were all believers; I hope to see them again. Particularly my husband, of course.

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