In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage-to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness.
A bible, bound in black leather, and trimmed in gold, sat on my grandmother’s sofa table for years. I assumed it was like any other bible; plain text in black, Christ’s words in red, nothing remarkable. For a multitude of years I ignored its presence. Then one day out of boredom, I picked the bible up. I leafed thru the pages with expectancy for the norm and I found something extraordinary instead.
In the very front of the bible, my grandmother’s family tree had took root. It’s limbs and branches were sprayed across the pages in a flurry of handwritten names under the headings; birth, marriage, and death. Within those pages our lives had been stripped of all the details, traits, and accomplishments that make each and every one of us different and unique. Our lives were naked and bared to those three life changing transformations, reminding me of how much I had in common with every person recorded in my grandmother’s bible. Someday, like the rest, my life will only be remembered in a series of dates.
I became enchanted by the bible. It cast a deep spell on me, as if I had been pricked by it’s pages, binding my blood to its fibers. It had stirred a thirst for knowledge deep inside me that I had never experienced before. I longed to know more about the branches of grandmother’s family tree. I needed faces to go with names. I needed wedding gowns and vows to go with marriage dates. I needed how’s and why’s to go with dates of death, but most of all, I needed to know, that their live’s really did consist of more than a bunch of dates, scribbled in ink.
Over the next couple of years, my grandmother began to weave bits and pieces of life stories together for me, a small offering to a beloved granddaughter. She spoke of her son Bobby, who felt the sharp knife of a short life; with tears in her eyes, a pain to great to revisit often. She told me about babies born without breath, with no birth recorded, just date of death. She set the stage for many wedding ceremonies, from the mediocre to the elaborate, to those that lasted and those that did not. We spoke of my grandfather who died in October, forever leaving Autumn with a particular sadness that can not be described, only felt.
We bonded over the pages of her family bible, as she gave life with words, to those who have long been gone. My grandmother will be 91 years old this September. She’s been on top of the mountain and down in the valley. She’s loved, she’s lost, and she’s still hanging on, but her memory now fails her. She no longer has the family bible, my mother does, and I imagine it will continue to pass thru our lineage. I pray that someday one of my great-great-grandchildren will trace their fingers along the dates of my birth, my marriage, and my death. I pray that the life I am living right now, will speak so much louder, than the way and the day that I died. I pray that I leave a legacy that can be remembered with more than a date in time, and out lives my death by far.