Last week, as life decided to pile up on us, mom, Anna, and I thought it high time we shirked our responsibilities and went out for a mid-afternoon Starbucks.
We’re really not lazy, I promise. (Well, actually, I might be, but that’s a different subject.) But this time of year is our book business’s busiest season, and with four huge sales within the next few weeks looming over her head (among other things), my mother was having a very bad day.
Starbucks makes everything better, right?
*ignores the glowering health books*
So we went and had a drive, just us girls, and got drinks. On our way out of the Starbucks parking lot, mom, for whatever reason, turned onto the wrong road. This wasn’t terribly shocking, considering that my mother is the kind of person who regularly forgets what she’s doing as she does it, let alone how to find her way home in a town she’s lived in her entire life. Neither Anna or I would put it past her to turn the wrong way and continue going the wrong way for at least ten minutes before realizing she wasn’t getting anywhere.
But as Anna tentatively broached the subject of us possibly heading in the wrong direction, mom only hunched down over the steering wheel and muttered something to the effect of, “I can go where I want.”
(Did I mention she was having a bad day?)
Surprisingly though, she actually did know where she was going—despite the fact that it wasn’t in the remote vicinity of home. A few moments down the road, and we were turning again—right into a graveyard.
Because obviously, that’s where you go when you want to cheer up.
I’m still not quite sure why we ended up there, or what purpose my dear mother was trying to serve. But hey, since we were there, I figured I might as well put the experience to good use and steal some names while I had the chance. Which I promptly set about doing. This is why I’m a writer, guys. Only writers can get away with completely strange and slightly morbid things (like naming characters after the deceased) without society looking down on them.
And in case you want to know which poor hapless victim took the spot of honor in my list of potential character names…
There is a person who’s last name is Skeggs.
Or at least, there used to be.
I feel like I should probably end this line of discussion before someone from a 19th century novel scolds me for speaking ill of the dead.
ANYWAY. We drove around the cemetery for a bit, reading the names and trying to find the oldest grave (1883, y’all), and random stuff like that. We live in a small town, and a lot of the family names go waaay back. More than one grave belonged to a Watkins or a Day or an Unglesbee, and more than one grave dated as far back to the 1800s. Mom somehow managed to find all her old teachers from her highschool days, and there was much reminiscing and history lessoning as she related all the quirks and crazy things that went on back in her childhood.
And you know what? Despite my somewhat callous theft of names, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness while driving through that field brimming with buried lives. In another hundred years, I’ll probably be the same way. No one will remember me. No one will care. Everything I worked for will be reduced to letters on a tombstone, everything I lived for rotting away with me in the ground. As the Bible so aptly puts it…
3 What profit has a man from all his labor
In which he toils under the sun?
4 One generation passes away, and another generation comes;
But the earth abides forever.
Those people in that graveyard, the things they did… they’re gone. Done. Finished. Their lives are over and forgotten, a crumbling tombstone the only reminder that they ever existed. People strive so hard to “conquer life.” But in the long run, what does it get us? Every one of those souls conquered life in their own way. The only problem is, there’s no one left to remember it. Everything they achieved in life—what is it now?
A name. A dash between two years. A heap of moldering, mossy rock.
Vanity of vanities.
And that’s when I saw it.
It wasn’t a huge grave—not like some of those whoop-de-doo monuments people have, with their faces etched into it and everything. It wasn’t huge, and it wasn’t flashy. But it was… different.
This girl only lived to be five years old. But despite the fact that she died almost thirty years ago, people still put flowers on her grave. See the toy car? See the little white shell? Things she must have liked. This little girl touched the people around so much, they still come to her grave and put nice things on it—things that tell a story the letters on her tombstone can only hope to achieve.
Love. Family. Childlike joy. Dancing, playing, seashells picked up on the beach.
God’s special gift.
Our lives are not defined by what we do or accomplish. You know, “There’s nothing new under the sun…” and all that stuff. In another hundred years, no one’s going to care whether we won that contest or saved up for that car or bought a house at eighteen or got a promotion at work. We’re gonna be dead, and it’s not going to matter.
Our lives are defined by the people we touch. By the service we do in God’s name, by the spiritual treasure that we are setting aside in Heaven. Despite popular belief, death is not the end of the road for us—only our worldly lives. And when I think about the people around me, I know that when they pass, I’m not going to remember the things they accomplished. I’m going to remember who they were, and how they touched me and the world.
My grandmother, always making me grilled cheeses and taking me to craft shops so we can find artsy stuff and paint rocks together.
My grandfather, driving me to and fro from co-op, telling me stories of the old days and giving me Ritz crackers.
My father’s parents, surviving the Nazi invasion of Poland and immigrating to America, not only making it possible for my parents to meet, but for me to be born, period.
My parents, and their untiring, unceasing drive to serve Jesus, and impart that desire in their children. My dad, and his seventy-two hats and thirty-two popcorn poppers that he swears he’s going to sell on Ebay some day. My mom, and her crazed cackle and wacky delight in the strangest things.
These people have coated my life so thoroughly with their fingerprints, it will be impossible for me to forget them. It will be impossible for my children to forget them, because by golly, I’ll be telling stories of them until I’m ninety-five. They affected the world—not by what they accomplished and achieved, but by who they are, and how they touched those around them.
That will last far longer than letters on a gravestone.
So yup. There’s my 1,200 words of the day. Starts out silly, ends up surprisingly deep. You never know what an average post around here is going to entail. Happy Thursday, guys, and may your life be…
Full of glitter.
Yeah, I’m going.