My mother’s family was enamoured of photography from its early days. Somewhere in the family archives is a photograph of my great-grandmother standing with her grandfather and a pony. She was just a little girl, maybe eight years old. I imagine that the photograph was taken before 1900.
You may be curious to see this photo, but I don’t have it. Probably one of my sisters or my uncle has it. I don’t keep many photos. We have a box of them taken by my husband’s family, and a few of my own children, but I don’t keep photos. I don’t feel a need to document my life.
There’s nothing important about my family. I have no interest in Ancestry.com. I have a geneology one of my sisters compiled, but I think it is inaccurate. But I don’t much care. Our ancestors were ordinary people, nothing to boast of. I’m not interested anymore in being related to this famous person, or that royal antecedent. What good does that do me now?
People in past ages, unless they were really rich, couldn’t afford to keep likenesses of themselves or their loved ones. They just remembered. They told stories, repeating them often over the evening fire or during long hours of work. How accurate were they? I don’t know. Often they were probably very accurate; they had practice at remembering and retelling. These stories told the younger gneration how to live, what to believe, what to keep as important. Pictures weren’t common. I wonder if our ancestors, pre-printing, even understood visual representations. Uneducated people almost never saw art except in the church, and church art of the medieval and earlier eras seems distorted and strange to us, not likenesses.
I think as modern people we are more concerned with being remembered as persons than as people who did things. We objectify ourselves in photographs scrapbooks, memorials. People don’t tell stories about us; we create our own stories and put some spin on them.
Our names are written in heaven; the Lord remembers us even when the world has forgotten us. Mother Teresa, in Calcutta, ministered to the dying nameless, people unclaimed by friends or relatives, who came to her door for final comfort. She often didn’t know their names or anything about them, yet she took them in, her sisters cared for them, and they died with love and peace. Only God knew their names and histories. Are they any less important than us, well-documented as we are?
Maybe my children and grandchildren and even my great-grandchildren will know my name, have some photos of me, have some stories to tell. I hope they remember the good ones, if they remember at all. But that’s not important. I belong to Christ, not this world. He will never forget my name. I can slip into forgotten time, buried anonymously or be nothing more than an indistinct mark on an old granite marker. I will be home where there is no forgetting true love.