I'm often intrigued by the pieces we leave behind.
I moved a few months ago. As I hurried to get everything packed, I knew I'd leave some stuff behind that would end up in a dumpster. I was moving to a much smaller place and knew that my future places would probably be smaller, as well. I still took too much stuff. Even so, I got rid of a lot and left some behind.
At the last minute, I grabbed a painting off the wall depicting a wooded area with a small stream running through it. It always reminded me of the scene behind the neighborhood I lived in for the first eight years of my life.
The painting was my mom’s. She picked it up at a local furniture store many years ago. I stored it in my garage until recently, when I took the time to hang it on one of my walls. When I mentioned it to my mom, she said her great-grandmother painted it.
"What? I thought you said you got it at a furniture store?"
"No, she painted it."
I took a closer look at the signature and read her the name.
"That's her. I don't know much about her, though."
I started running the numbers in my head. My mom's grandmother died maybe fifteen years ago at the age of 98. If her mother painted this when her child was in her teens, then this painting would be somewhere around 100 years old.
"That sounds about right," Mom said.
"And you don't know anything more about her?"
"Not a lot. She had mental health issues and took her own life. That's all I know."
I cringed when I thought that I nearly allowed my great-grandmother's creation to be tossed into a dumpster. I would've been kicking myself forever. But I guess I would've never known anything about it.
In the house I moved from, someone had carved the initials L.B. into the windowsill in the kitchen. I always wondered who might have done that. The house is 103 years old and has had numerous families live in it over the years. Was L.B. a kid who wanted to leave his mark on the house he grew up in as he moved away to college? Was L.B. an elderly person who was dying and wanted to leave a piece of herself behind? Was L.B. a lonely middle-aged man who feared being forgotten to the point that he felt compelled to carve his initials into the windowsill?
I'll never know the answers to any of these questions, but it's hard not to think that whoever left the carving wanted to be remembered. The truth is, most of us won't be. I wrote an essay about this in Higher Grounds: When God Steps Into the Here and Now.
Here's what I wrote:
"I had lunch with a group of friends a while back, during which we discussed the timeline of Genesis. One of the guys did a little studying and came back the next week, saying only one-hundred and twenty years had passed between the flood and the Tower of Babel—making the 'how quickly humans forget' point.
"It reminded me of a three-hour conversation I had with my niece and her boyfriend about how quickly generations in our own families are forgotten. Not only do we not know the sacrifices they made, the lessons they learned, or the triumphs they celebrated, but we don’t even know their names."
That last point is proven by the fact that I've never even heard the name on my great-grandmother's painting, let alone know her story.
But now I have a piece of her, and I’m grateful for that. I just need to figure out what happens to it after I’m gone.