Fading Away

father-and-daughter-sepia-photo-1800sI spent the last four days cleaning out a downstairs room in my mother’s house that was crammed with a lifetime’s worth of my dad’s stuff. He died four years ago and had been a pack-rat extraordinaire. A big percentage of what I sifted through was family history, which I will organize in the very near future.

As I turned the pages of an old photo album, long-gone relatives, youthful and smiling, stared back at me. Many of the photos were from the 1800s and it struck me how their lives back then were just as vibrant and alive as our lives are today. Yet their sepia-toned world doesn’t quite seem real; it’s hard to imagine a time when people dressed and looked like that. Unfortunately, I can’t truly connect to that world because the vast majority of photos are not labeled and we have no idea who these people are. The years flew by and now these “sepia people” who I owe my very existence to have faded away into the mists of the past, almost as if they had never been.

My mother is seventy-seven. My sister, single and childless, is fifty-three, a year older than me. My daughter Erin, my only child, will be thirty in a few weeks; she’s getting married in a month and plans on having children. So there’s hope that there will be generations to come who we can pass the family archives to. But right now, it’s just the four of us, plus Kate, Erin’s mom, another dedicated keeper of the flame of our family’s history. All these precious family artifacts—photos, birth certificates, marriage documents, graduation announcements, countless letters—are tremendously important to us but meaningless to anyone else.

It’s an eerie feeling, but some day a yet-unborn descendent may look at my photos, shrug, and toss them in the trash along with the letters I wrote, the letters that reveal my character, my heart, my dreams. And the world won’t even blink, it will just keep on moving. And that’s okay. Because the part of me that’s really important will live on in my daughter, my daughter’s children, and my daughter’s children’s children. And the good that I put out into the world will live on in the people whose lives I touched in a meaningful way; any positive changes I inspired them to make will live on in their descendants as well.

Just as the life that pulses in our bodies goes back to the beginnings of the Earth, so too does that same heartbeat carry the pulse of those that come after. By the power of our imagination, we can sense the future generations breathing with the rhythm of our own breath or feel them hovering like a cloud of witnesses. . . . Sometimes I fancy that if I were able  to turn my head suddenly, I would glimpse them over my shoulder.
Joanna Macy

And that’s the point. It’s not about me. It’s about being a force for good in the world and helping each generation be a little more positive, a little more loving, a little more peaceful then the one that came before it. These last few days have been humbling and liberating. They have also heightened my sense of urgency—the hourglass has only so much sand and there is work yet to be done.

Travelers, it is late. Life’s sun is going to set. During these brief days that you have strength, be quick and spare no effort of your wings.

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12 Responses to “Fading Away”

  1. cirklagirl Says:

    Yep. Or one gigantic electromagnetic pulse could wipe out your entire blog. Great article… I MUST say, I never would have pegged you to be a day over 40. Wow.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, cirklagirl! Here’s a post I wrote on how to stay young and healthy:


  3. Judy Dunn Says:

    My sentiments, exactly. The important stuff lives on in our children. And yet I look at old photos and yearn to know these people who had great grandchildren who became my parents. I see photos with no descriptions and I feel sad. I want to know who they were and what they thought about and what was important to them.

    My mom, 18 months dead now, was the storyteller of the family. I have written about some of her life in the memoir I am working on right now. I know her stories because she told them over and over again. Perhaps because I am a writer, these stories are so important to me.

    A very touching and thoughtful post. Thanks for writing it.

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Well said, Judy. I feel the same way. I’m glad you’re writing down your mother’s stories. Some day they will be appreciated by people you haven’t yet met and perhaps never will.

  5. Jason Says:

    Excellent article! It has motivated me to write, photograph, and video more. Thank You!

  6. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Jason!

  7. KymAli Pichon Says:

    What a wonderful post. I am so blessed to have known my great grandparents, and have learned their history. My kids have met my great grandfather,and our family photos, and things are proudly displayed in shadowboxes and photo albums within their everyday reach. They don’t yet realize how rich the history is that they have been given. A real treasure.

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    That’s wonderful, KymAli! Yes, rare is the kid who appreciates the richness of their heritage at a young age!

  9. Patricia - Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker Says:

    My husband and I are the family genealogy collectors. Like you, he has some pictures with no idea of who they are. Some he has been able to find out who they are from other family members. Others are lost forever. He is very strict about writing names and dates on the backs of our pictures. That worked well until we had two young children running around the house making more work than I could possibly keep up with. Boy do I miss those days. Those children are 33 and 31 today. Thanks for sharing about your family.

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Patricia. I’m as guilty as anyone of not writing on the back of every photo. After all, I’ll always know who those people are. Fast-forward 100 years, though, and that’s out the window! Perhaps people don’t preserve such details because to do so means confronting their own mortality.

  11. Renee - the book angel Says:

    Aloha Phil,
    My dad came to me after his 80th Birthday party and declared he was going to write a book and asked me to help. My first thought was “OMG what ever will he write about?” No Name Montana Boy is a story of his life and what a story it was. (He passed in 4/07 after selling almost 900 books).

    Dad’s words are short and to the point – from his German heritage. Not a lot of editing happened and it would not win any literary prizes. Interwoven are the stories from friends spanning his 80 years, sharing about my dad and how he impacted their lives. What a tribute to a great man. There was a running theme of peoples lives crossing time and time again over the decades. We were able to put pictures throughout the book and it truly is a historical piece. (My mom refers to it when she can’t remember some dates and/or a persons name – ha)

    Dad and I would laugh, and cry, and sometime laugh so hard until we cried during the 15 months it took. (I dragged out the time so I could spend more time with him) I feel so blessed to be a part of the process which helped him realize that his life here on earth was a good thing.

    Thanks for your article. Many blessings to you this week.

    PS – Isn’t it fun looking younger than your actual age? I turned 55 this week. (and I remember when I thought 40 was old- ha)

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    That’s a great story, Renee! What a special time to share with your dad. Capturing memories like that will be appreciated by future generations as well!

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