We walk hand in hand with the Ancestors in the many generations of our lineage. Our eyebrows are entangled with theirs; we see with the same eyes, hear with the same ears. Isn’t it a wonderful joy?
~ Gateless Barrier, Case 1, commentary
My family has lived in California for six generations, much of that time as farmers and ranchers, and I can’t help but intimately feel the turning seasons in this territory and their connect
ion with ancestral change. We have now entered the deep winter rains, rolling in from the Pacific, inevitably being to be followed by a warming spring and hot summer. With the late summer will come the promise of wildfires. A few days ago, I watched the Netflix documentary, “Fire in Paradise”, a moving account of the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, which became the state’s most destructive.
When my father died a decade ago, my aunt Rosemary, his sister, brought out a battered wooden trunk full of family pictures, some of which were a century old. My grandmother Rose, a schoolteacher, had diligently written on the back of those dozens of antique photos the names, locations and dates of the many friends and relatives pictured. With great care, she was trying to speak to her descendants ~to us~ far into the future. Yet when my brother and sister diligently went through the photos, they still had some difficulty sorting out our connections to those in the pictures. Much of what Grandma Rose was saying, we could not hear.
My brother, our family archivist, moved to Paradise several years ago, and took the trunk of pictures with him. A year later, the Camp Fire swept down the spine of the Paradise Ridge early one November morning, and my brother was able to grab only a few of the pictures before fleeing for his life. All but a handful of family photos were incinerated. Some had been stored digitally, but the notations are lost forever. My grandmother’s voice is now silent.
It is heart-rending to lose historical family records. Even so, in the above commentary, Wumen is telling us that we have inherited from our ancestors something far more valuable: this very moment. And because this is our moment, we walk hand in hand with those who have gone before us. In fact, we are so intimate, that we share their eyebrows, see with their eyes and hear with their ears. It is a wonderful joy, pictures or no pictures.