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The words are piling up again. They tend to do that, even when I type and type to set some of them free. But usually the only words that end up spilling out of my fingertips are meaningless, useless; just like the words I spoke to you.

What can I say? Should I say anything?

I saw you today. It was from a distance but not so far that I couldn’t have walked a bit faster or thrown your name into the wind to catch up to you. I was with my friend, so maybe that’s why I stayed quiet. Probably not. I wondered if you would remember me, after all these years, after all those other faces with names. I found that just watching you cross the street made me thoughtful, made me appreciate the world and the people in it. I still want to be like you when I grow up, but in my own way, of course. Quiet and loud and wonderful and appreciative and vulgar and thoughtful. I don’t think growing a beard would work on my face, though. But that’s ok. I was never a beard person.

The words keep spilling out. Is this what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it? Maybe. I don’t know.

Lately I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with the people I love. Sometimes I forget how much I appreciate certain people when a lot of time has passed since we last spent time together. And I can’t really say more than that, not in a way that would be meaningful and not cheesy. Maybe: I love you?

Is that it? Is that all? Is there more? Of course there is.

What are you doing right now? What did you do today? I have so many questions. There are so many answers. Slowly, slowly, we will find them. Together or apart. Acquaintances or friends. Words or no words. 

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I don’t have photographs of any of the most beautiful moments of my life. At the time, I either didn’t have a camera or didn’t believe I should take a photo of that moment or both. Now all I have are beautiful memories, beautiful photographs in my head of you looking at sunlight reflecting off a lake or you laughing at me or her and him and me creating a semi-circle of friendship in the middle of a smattering of drunk people at a party. Sometimes I wish I had pictures of those moments. Sometimes I understand why other people want to take pictures of everything, every moment. But there’s only so much storage space on an SD card, only so much room on the walls of your home or bedroom or staircase to hang photographs. Memories blur and fade but they can still be much more powerful than any attempt a camera or photographer can make at recording a moment in time.

And maybe in a year I won’t remember what it was like to watch you watch the sunrise. Maybe I’ll forget what my feet looked like and felt like covered in dirt and sand from Lake Huron after a long day of shoe-less trekking. I’ll forget, and you’ll forget, and my children or great-grandchildren will never see the photograph that I hung only on the walls of my mind.

But so many other moments have been forgotten. Cemeteries are full of those who watched the sun rise and set over the centuries; full of people who didn’t feel the need to snap a picture or open Instagram to capture something they felt was beautiful or important. They just lived it, just watched, just appreciated the moment and let it slip, keeping that photograph in their mind until another moment took its place.

Today is Franz Kafka’s 130th birthday (something I’m sure he’s not excited about, as he’s both dead and a pessimist). Thanks to Google, I know this. (And a lot of other things, but anyway…) tumblr_lkrcs9GJXq1qac37io1_500

I was talking to a friend the other day about remembering the past, including people who have already lived their lives and died. I think it’s important; some don’t. Maybe Kafka disagreed with me, who knows. All I know is that “The Metamorphosis” was one of the first and strangest things I ever read in high school. And we’re still talking about it.

Today is the twelfth day of the twelfth month of twenty-twelve. 12-12-12. The last repeating date for quite some time – the last repeating date you or I will ever see. Today we’ll mark off the hours – especially at 12:12pm. We’ll talk about how cool this date is; we’ll see on the news all the people getting married; we’ll soon hear about the first baby born on this day. People will talk to strangers about it in grocery stores; friends will laugh about it via text message . It’s 12/12/12! A special day. Today maybe people will be happier – they’ll think about the date and smile. It makes us happy, to see patterns in time. To be able to experience things like this, to be able to celebrate it together.

It also makes us sad. It’s 12/12/12. The last repeating date of our lifetime. We won’t make it to see the next one. We’re going to die. We’re going to miss out on all the fun they’ll have 89 or 100 years from now. (In 2101 or 2112!)

It makes us question – where does the time go?

I can remember sitting in my 5th grade classroom, my teacher writing on the chalkboard: 02/02/02. We talked about the pattern in the date, and I can remember thinking about how the next few years would have patterns, too: 5/5/5, 10/10/10, 12/12/12. And now, I think about how I’ve lived all those dates. I’ve seen them, and they have passed. And this day will pass as well. We’ll all talk excitedly about it for a while – until tomorrow. 12/13/12. Not as exciting, eh?

The time just keeps going by, doesn’t it? Another day, another holiday – soon another new year.

People always say that time flies. Looking back, it seems like that day in 5th grade was not so long ago – but it was – ten years. Ten years. Time flew by.

Only, time didn’t fly by. No, time always passes at the same rate. Me sitting in that classroom happened ten years ago – and so much has happened to me since. Every day in between had its own moments. We just forget them.

Take summer vacation, for example. When you’re in school, you look forward to summer vacation all year. And then it hits, and you’re happy with doing nothing – for about two weeks. And then, it begins. The everyday loll… the passing of time, with nothing in particular to do in order to fill up those hours. The months stretch out in front of you – the next school year seems forever away.

Then, the first day of school comes, and everyone exclaims – Summer vacation is over, already? It went by so quickly! Really, it didn’t. Neither did these past ten years. We just forget all of the everyday  things we’ve done, all the little experiences we’ve had: the smiles, the tears, the learning of who we are.

Time passes. That’s just what it does. So we celebrate it. We celebrate being alive. It’s 12/12/12! Soon, sooner than you think, it’ll be 11/12/13. Should we start planning our party now? Or, what about 12/13/14? I can already tell that’ll be a good day! Those dates will arrive, and we’ll celebrate them together.

It will feel like time has flown by, but remember: every day is something to celebrate. Remember to watch out for those little moments.

Oh, and happy 12/12/12! Doing anything special to celebrate?

I stood underneath the lip of the yellow and white striped tent, in shock and in awe of all that loomed around me. Auctioneers hollered out their fast-lipped spiel as old men flashed their buyer number cards, fingers, and nodded their heads to bid again and again on a huge assortment of items. Old cars, buggies, plows, shovels, rusty chains, farm equipment odds and ends, car parts, toys, baby strollers, furniture – all collectibles. The man who had amassed this collection had died, and now it was all up for sale.

“Auction! One hundred, one-fifty. We’ve got one hundred, now one-fifty. We done? Who’s buyin’? One-fifty, One-fifty. One hundred goin’ once. One hundred goin’ twice. You? No. One hundred. One hundred. Sold! One hundred dollars. Buyer number… 413!”

Two auctioneers worked at once, yelling into megaphones that were attached to speakers. People grouped around the action, not only to buy, but also to watch. As I stood in the clearing between the two masses of people, the noise was overwhelming. There was so much to see, so much to hear.

I was in Port Hope, Michigan. If you haven’t heard of it – it’s in the top of the thumb area of our mitten-shaped state. It’s a very beautiful place.

I hadn’t really wanted to go to the auction. Port Hope is about a three-hour drive from my city, and, on top of that, I don’t really like rusty old bits and pieces. I like to think of myself as a minimalist: Who needs all that stuff? I agreed to go, anyway. Why not? I like to view every opportunity that you don’t really want to take as an opportunity for adventure.

I am so glad I went. It turned out to be quite the experience.

Going to a estate auction is similar to going shopping at a thrift store – you don’t really know what sort of people you will find there, and you don’t really know what you’ll find there for sale. That’s what makes them both so exciting, right? Sure.

So, yes, the auction was huge. There was just so much stuff. And it was interesting stuff – not like those little angel figurines you find at your local Goodwill. Old Ford vans. Piles of what use to be cars from the ’30s. Shovels, rakes, other strange farming implements – all made of rust. Tents full of collectible children’s toys. Percussion instruments. Trailers, tractors, washing basins, mirrors, stools, chairs, baby buggies, horse carriages, hundreds of bicycles. So much stuff.

Oh, and there were Mennonites.

Now, maybe you’re more familiar with Mennonites than I am. That wouldn’t really be a difficult thing – I know basically nothing about them – or anyway, I knew nothing about them then. Like I said, you never know who you’ll run into at an auction. It was a very interesting sight to see: Old, farmer guys, young kids, people from the country, people from the city, cowboys and their little cow-children, and Mennonites, and me. The Mennonites stuck out because of the way they looked. It wasn’t just their homemade clothing (very cool – where can I get me a Mennonite-made shirt?), but their bodies, their hairstyles, their hands, even their language.

You could tell these people were hard workers. Their back and arm muscles were much bigger than the “modern” men’s that surrounded them. Their hands were big, and callused, from lifetimes of hard farm labor. One older man was missing his index finger. My mom guessed he lost it in a farming accident. Another had an (actual) wooden leg that made it difficult for him to walk. All the men sported beards, bowl-cut hair, and suspenders; all the women donned bonnets, aprons, and long dresses. I even spotted a little three-year-old Mennonite boy (so cute!), walking through the crowds with his father, wearing the same getup as the older men.

As for their language, yes, even that was different. I’ve no idea what it was – Wikipedia suggests some sort of German, or Dutch – but I will admit to scooting closer to two older gentlemen as they were conversing in an attempt to listen in. Little good it did me!

It was an amazing thing to watch: Mennonites and men and families and teenagers and city-slickers all bunched together, all mingled, all enjoying their auction visit together.

(I wish I had had my camera. Ugh! Don’t you hate when you don’t have your camera?!)

(Yes, ok, also, I eyed the Mennonite guys from afar. You would’ve too, ok!)

No shame.

Honestly, standing there in the dirt with those suspender-clad men, I felt sort of worthless. I don’t do hard labor to support myself. I spend a lot of time on the internet. I don’t make my own clothes (with pants with double-pockets!), I buy them from mass-producing companies. I don’t raise all of my own food – I buy it from huge chain grocery stores for way too much money!

Should I be like the Mennonites? Should we all be like the Mennonites?

Maybe a little.

Let’s consider it. We’d all look more attractive, anyway.

After that day, I was left wondering that. I was also left with the mental image of the modern people and the Mennonites together. It was like the old generation of Americans had stepped from the past into the estate auction. It was, to be descriptive, really neat.

Always do the things you don’t really want to do – you might have a good time, or learn something, or both!

Also, there was pie. Mennonite pie.

When I was very small, about 4 years old, my grandmother died. She had cancer. I don’t remember her very well, but I still love her to this day. My grandfather, her ex-husband, died almost a year later. They were buried side-by-side in a cemetery in their hometown. These were my dad’s parents. After my grandma died, we moved into her house, and lived there for about 6 years until we moved again. I spent a lot of my crucial growing-up time in that house, in that neighborhood, in that city. I still feel very close to that area, and so does my family.

Before we moved away from my grandmothers’ house, we used to visit the cemetery (which is right across the road from our old neighborhood) about once a month. After our move, though, we stopped visiting so frequently. Before today, in fact, we hadn’t been to that cemetery since 2008. (I know this because that is when my great-grandmother died. She was 99 years old! My grandmother was her daughter.)

Today, though, my family and I found ourselves driving through our old stomping grounds. As the familiar sights filled my eyes, I said, “Let’s go to the cemetery!” So we did.

I may have written this here before, but I am fascinated by cemeteries. I love to wander through them and examine the gravestones, reading names and dates and the quotes that loved ones chose to represent their family members. It’s the recorded-in-marble history of our people, and the people that loved them. Anyway, graveyards are interesting places all ’round.

I know I just said that the last time we visited the cemetery was back in ’08, but I think it must’ve been many more years than that since we visited my grandparents’ graves. I think I must have been 10 or 12 the last time we went together as a family, so at least 10 years had passed.

The reason I think this must be so is because today I read my grandmother’s headstone, and what it  said seemed like new information to me. Like today was the first time I had ever really seen it. I hadn’t remembered it saying anything other than her name.

It read the following: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” 21:4

Of course I realized this was a bible verse, which surprised me since I hadn’t thought she had believed in god.

Me: “Was she religious?”

Dad: “No, your uncle was.”

Then, I stepped to the right and read my grandfather’s stone.

“The most generous and loving father that ever walked on this Earth.”

Yep, that one got me.

I remember my grandpa just enough to know he was that. I’ve heard the stories from my dad and my two uncles, and I remember him bringing us kids grapes and cinnamon gum and reese’s peanut butter cups all the time.

I blinked away the tears that wanted to run free and knelt down at his stone to tear up the grass that had begun to grow over the corners. When the job was done I got up and brushed the dirt and grass from my knees and wandered over to read the headstones that belonged to my grandparents’ “neighbors”. As I walked, I noticed many of the stones were covered by grass as my grandpa’s had been. These dead had been left here. These expensive marble sheets were being retaken by the earth.

Before we left, I suggested we visit my great-grandmothers’ stone, as we had never been to visit her since her funeral. Her site was across the cemetery, in a much older section.

We found her headstone easily even though we hadn’t been to see it before. Both she and her first husband are buried together. He died in 1965, and their headstone has since turned the nice green color that bronze tends to turn when it is left out in the weather.

Again, I wandered nearby and examined the names and dates carved in stone. These dates were much older. One nearby read 1880 – 1955. Another, 1905 – 1989. Another: June, 1908 – February, 1991. My birth year.

Then, I spotted another bronze stone, just like my great-grandmas’. However, this one was almost entirely covered by grass. Only the first half of the last name could be seen. Again, I went to my knees and began uncovering. Who were these people? Why hadn’t anyone kept their stone clean? Were they forgotten?

The sod wasn’t easy to tear, but I managed it. Chunk by chunk, I tore it off and uncovered more of the abandoned stone. The woman had died in 1965. Perhaps this grass had grown over their stone since that day. It sure seemed like 50 years of growth to me as I ripped at those roots with my bare hands.

I wish I had had my camera. They had very unusual names, as it turned out, that pair – husband and wife. I believe the woman’s name was Aluna – her husband’s was much longer, and their last name was a gem. It must have been French. I suppose I could go back and find out.

My dad joined in on my digging as I worked on the other half of the stone – the man. When we had uncovered most of it, I pointed out how the original color of the bronze could still be seen where it had been covered in dirt and grass. Their history must have been covered for a long time.

My mom and younger brother stood nearby watching us. I don’t think they understood why we were doing what we were doing. I don’t think I knew why I was doing it, either. It just felt right.

As I headed across the cemetery to wash the dirt from my hands, I spotted another one. Another almost entirely buried plot. I stopped, again, fell to my knees, and began uncovering it. The only thing that could be seen at first was the date of death. It was a baby’s stone. It was small, and round. As I dug, I discovered the stone was actually in the shape of a heart. It belonged to a baby girl who had died after 7 days of life. 1961 was the year. Fifty years had passed, and the grass had grown. No one knew this story. No one visited this stone.

Cemeteries are our history. Our people are there. Our quotes of love and remembrance. Those dashes between the birth years and the death years that signify lives that were lived.

I don’t know why I tore at that grass with my bare hands. I just had to. It was just wrong. All of those people, all of those stories, all of those lives. There were many hundreds more gravestones that were overgrown with weeds and grass. I can’t imagine how many people have been forgotten. How many wonderful lives that are now lost to memory. How many names and dates and quotes that have faded away with time.

This is a picture from 1601 of what our world was thought to look like.

I feel like I could end this post right now and it would be amazing enough for someone to spend their time reading it. I mean, did you see that first sentence?

  1. In 1601, people were drawing pictures of our planet.
  2. In 1601, people were pretty darn close to drawing pictures of our actual planet.
  3. In 1601, there were actual people doing actual things – like, for example, drawing pictures of our planet.

Just look at that map. Look at all those markings of places that, in 1601, were known to exist.

Today in my travels across the world that is the internet, I discovered that there is such a thing as a World Heritage Site. Basically, a world heritage site is a place that is considered to be significant in our world. Think: Pyramids of Giza, St. Petersburg, Russia, Easter Island. Many buildings are also world heritage sites. Even a field of agave in Mexico is on the list!

Since I’m from the US, here’s map of World Heritage Sites near me:

So many! All of these places are important to our culture and history as a planet.

A few of these markers are close to where I live. I could travel to them in less than a day! These things are so close to us. We are literally surrounded by history! But, we don’t care.

We really don’t! And that is so sad to me. We all go about our own lives – whatever they might be. We are all so caught up in the importance of whatever it is we’re doing at the moment, that we forget about the past.

We forget about 1601. We forget that there have been billions of people who have lived on this planet before us. Before any of our living relatives. Before any of our family history occurred.

Ultimately, it is such a small thing to forget about when compared to everything else we ignore on a daily basis. Our neighbors. Our in-laws. Our melting glaciers.

We own this planet. Earth. It’s ours. All of ours. Yours, mine. And it came free to us, however we came to be here. It should be our most cherished possession – not our iphones, not our t-shirts, not our cars. Instead, we ignore it. And in doing so, we ignore ourselves. We ignore everything we are doing now, and everything we have done. We don’t care that there are special places scattered around the planet. We don’t care that we could go to a place where someone else stood in 1601. In 1201. In 801.

Well, I care. I’m going to go visit those places in my life. I’m going to care about our planet, and our history, and our present, and our future. I hope you will, too.