And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it. Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. – Rainer Maria Rilke
This quotation of Rilke’s came to my mind while I was reading Dr. Bradley Birzer’s beautiful tribute to his grandmother titled, “A Brilliant Death: My Grandmother, 2003.”
Here’s an excerpt:
In addition to her profound and deep faith in the Church, Julitta also kept a cedar chest of treasures her whole life. That chest, a hand-made gift from her father, always rested at the foot of her bed. In it, she kept photos, scarves from dances (which she would drop in front of a boy, if she wanted to dance with him), prayer cards, and a number of other wonders. Whether I simply didn’t care that much about the chest as a child or whether my grandmother kept it private, never thinking to show me its secrets, I’m not sure.
I do clearly remember finally getting to look through it all when she was a year or so away from death. Every thing in the chest came with a story, and I’ll never forget that day with her, exploring the parts of her life I had never known. Every person should have at least one such day in his or her life. It was one of the best days in my life, and I’m pretty sure she felt the same. In that chest weren’t knick-knacks or odds-and-ends, they were precious items, each with its own essence and its own teleology. Taken together, they told the story of a life well lived and never taken for granted.
Such is the power of memories and mementos. This is a good reminder to be receptive to hearing the stories connected to ancestral objects – the meaning of which we are highly unlikely to come to know all by ourselves.