My older sister (by ten years) Ellen, who died almost five years ago, is buried, in part, in my back yard, along with (again, in part) her two dogs. She loved her dogs and had saved their cremated remains. Ellen’s request to donate her body to a medical school was honored, and when the University of Connecticut students had completed their study of her, Ellen’s body was cremated and the remains given to my sister Suzi and me. Ellen had instructed me to do whatever I wanted with the remains and so Suzi and I combined them with those of the dogs and used a good part of the mixture to plant a tree in my backyard. Suzi has the rest to plant something on her own property.
When I am working at the desk in my study, as I am right now, I have a clear view of Ellen’s tree. And while it would be fair to say that the sight makes me think of her, a day rarely goes by that I need to be reminded. In fact, it is common for me to begin my day thinking of her, my late mother and father, and a friend from many years ago who died far too young.
But even though I think so often of Ellen, I wasn’t prepared for seeing her doppelgänger recently while I was in a local shopping mall. Well, maybe not a true doppelgänger – while the voice was similar the dialect was quite different, and the hair length was a bit shorter than my sister wore hers – but much more than the sort-of lookalikes we sometimes see. The resemblance was such that I stopped walking for a moment and watched as the woman passed by me. I was, quite frankly, emotionally startled.
Startled enough to break from my planned shopping to sit a while thinking about Ellen, my parents, and my friend. All I did was dwell on pleasant memories for a few minutes, remembering some happier times (a few of which were in a corner of my mind so rarely visited that the memories had dust on them). It proved to be a welcome soul-cleansing break, and I was soon back to my scheduled day.
It would be too easy to have this segue into a “stop-and-smell-the-roses” blog entry, but that isn’t what I’m thinking. I’m thinking of some of my other, long-remanded-to-a-corner-of-my-brain memories and how wonderfully energizing they can be once they’ve been dusted. I am in the process of converting personal videotapes to disc and have enjoyed reminiscing over some times in my life that, too, needed some dusting. As with most parents, the cinematographic opus focuses on my sons, mostly their early years, and covers a predictable gamut of growing-up events: birthday celebrations, holidays, snowman building, graduations, and so forth. Of particular joy for me was in seeing them playing musical instruments at very early ages (Jon on saxophone; Zack on guitar), at church gatherings not quite getting notes and tempos correct, and then seeing them again, playing very well just a few years later. High school jazz band concerts show them effortlessly making their ”joyful noises.”
And how energizing for me to see them growing up again—well, in spurts, anyway—and then remembering what fine young men they have become (all success for that due, of course, to my wife’s influence on them). How better to self-enable than to see how far they came and think of how far they will go. Of course, I also see my wife in these videos and am reminded how in so many ways, she served, and continues to serve, as the gentle giant of our family. And that, of course, is the best part of doing a little dusting: being reminded just how much I treasure my family and how much they inspire me. It isn’t that I need reminding, per se, but it’s nice to have the reminders sans dust.
In some of the videos I see other family members, some of whom are long gone. In particular I see my parents, captured for all time at points in their lives before my father’s body began failing him and my mother succumbed to dementia. Because she lived so far from us, Ellen isn’t in many of these videos. The times I would visit her, I never thought to take the camcorder; why would I? For the most part we don’t think in terms of capturing moments, just in living them. And sometimes we don’t even do that, preferring to go through the motions of the day-to-day. Until, of course, the time comes when we decide to do a little dusting, at which point the memories don’t always hold the accuracy through recollection that is demonstrated by a video file.
Cell phones with cameras and video capability weren’t around when my sons were growing up. Had they been around would I have captured more? And would I have captured more of others than Jon and Zack? Probably not. But people today are capturing much, much more than my generation ever did—it’s so easy, so why not? And with YouTube and similar Web sites, sharing and storing these videos is much easier than ever, with the files being stored long after the people in them, or the people who took them, remember they were ever taken.
And that is exactly why we all need to do a little dusting every now and again.