Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Comfort In The Past

I love old things. I'm fascinated by antiques and old photos but mostly I love the stories that go with them. My house isn't full of antiques. I do, however, have a few items that I consider priceless. One is a tea set that is pretty unique. It isn't the usual white with a floral pattern or gold trim. These particular cups and saucers are each colored basic green, yellow, orange, and blue. I love to get them out for decorations in springtime. What I love most is that they belonged to my great grandfather's grandmother. That means they've been in my family for six generations. My great grandpa (Poppee) was born in 1905. He died in 1985 when I was 8 years old. I love imagining his grandmother with that quirky little tea set in her home. I have no idea whether she inherited it or bought it. There is certainly nothing fancy about it but I find it so interesting.

About 4 years ago I started researching my family history. I had always been interested in it but that year I decided to jump in with both feet. I spent countless hours on the phone with my grandmothers and any other relative who would talk to me about it. I filled up legal pads with questions and any information I could gather. I did tons of research online and used a program to organize and keep track of all my findings. It was such an interesting time and I loved that several of my relatives got excited about it along with me. My mom and sister hung on every word when I would call to reveal some connection or new story they hadn't heard. My grandmothers helped me fill in the blanks where some old census record was too hard to read or didn't make sense. Over the next few months we planned several trips to old family cemeteries in Louisiana. My family hit the road with me with notebooks, pencils, and bug spray, and we were often saddened by the overgrown and neglected state of the small country cemeteries.

Of course some of the most wonderful treasures have been old photographs. Few things have made me more excited than those times when an elderly relative has offered to share an old box of photos or an old family album. Thanks to modern technology I've been able to scan and store dozens of priceless photographs that I never knew existed until recently.

I've done some thinking about what started this whole thing for me. In 2004 we were in our third year of this long nightmare with recurrent miscarriage. We'd had 3 losses and had just begun seeing a specialist. Month after month went by with no answers for us. It came to a point where I felt terrified to spend any time thinking about what the future held. How long would this take? How many more devastating losses would we have to endure? Would we ever be able to have children? Genealogy research was like a form of therapy for me. It was a huge project that I could spend hours working on. It quickly became one of my favorite activities and it was the perfect companion for my other favorite hobby of scrapbooking.

I think what happened was this: thinking about the future was too hard. Even dwelling on the present had become too much to bear. Several weeks ago while reading The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, I froze when I came across the perfect description of the feelings I had. While I can't exactly compare my situation to the public shame and humiliation of Hester Prynne, I can definitely relate in some way to her feelings about the present and future:

"She could no longer borrow from the future to help her through the present grief. Tomorrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the next day, and so would the next; each its own trial, and yet the very same that was now so unutterably grievous to be borne. The days of the far-off future would toil onward, still with the same burden for her to take up, and bear along with her, but never to fling down..."

Perhaps that sounds pretty hopeless. But I've felt that way before. As a Christian I'm never completely without hope but I still get overwhelmed about my future. Hester Prynne wore the scarlet letter of her adultery and there are times when I feel that I wear a symbol of my barrenness for everyone to see. It's not a punishment for something I've chosen but I bear the burden of it every day. Even if I do someday have children, it cannot completely erase the pain of loss I have felt from recurrent miscarriage.

I can now fondly remember a time when even though the present was too hard and the future was too scary, I found some comfort in looking back.

*To see photos that go along with this post, click here.


Kevin and Beth Tanner said...

This was such an AMAZING post, God is really speaking and moving and it encourages my heart so much!!!!

Anonymous said...

Stacey, I also collect old photo's I just love them and can't bare it when people throw them away!