Family Tree

These photographs were taken with my iPhone at Emmanuel Cemetery, about halfway between Galva and Moundridge, Kansas. Several were run through some kind of filter (to improve lighting and detail, or just because I like the effect). The others stand alone.

I spent an hour or so walking among the graves and looking out across the fields that surround the plots. My grandfather Leon, grandmother Ruth, baby uncle Merlyn, and most of my grandfather’s extended family (including four infant brothers and sisters) are buried here. He had 9 brothers and sisters besides those babies. His father Henry and mother Eva are there. One might say there’s not much else—save earth and sky, a lightning-struck tree or two and several morphing cacti patch.

I continue to wonder at the peace I sense in graveyards. And the connection to these people, most of whom I’ve never met. I spoke an Orthodox prayer for the departed— “Remember, O Lord, the souls of Thy departed servants…and all my kindred according to the flesh; and forgive them all transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, granting them the kingdom and a portion of Thine eternal good things, and the delight of Thine endless and blessed life.” I hope someone prays these prayers for me one day, not that I deserve them. Not that deserts has anything to do with it.

I suppose it has something to do with the body, those bones in the ground. I recently finished re-reading Graham Greene’s End of the AffairThe mind and the body’s reaction to love—and in turn, faith—is a central theme, for the character Sarah in particular. She abandons herself to love wherever she can find it until she’s spent. In a moment of desperation and poverty she bargains with God for the life of her lover: “When you are hopeless enough…you can pray for miracles. They happen, don’t they, to the poor, and I was poor.”

She wrestles her way to faith from there. In an attempt to escape the rain, one day she ducks into a dark church and sees “the bodies standing around me on all the altars—the hideous plaster statues with their complacent faces, and I remembered that they believed in the resurrection of the body, the body I wanted destroyed for ever. I had done so much injury with this body. How could I want to preserve any of it for eternity?…If I were to invent a doctrine it would be that the body was never born again, that it rotted with last year’s vermin.”

But then she thinks about her lover’s body instead of her own.

I thought of certain lines life had put on his face as personal as a line of his writing: I thought of a new scar on his shoulder that wouldn’t have been there if once he hadn’t tried to protect another man’s body from a falling wall…That scar was part of his character as much as his jealousy. And so I thought, do I want that body to be vapor (mine yes, but his?), and I knew I wanted that scar to exist through all eternity. But could my vapour love that scar? Then I began to want my body that I hated, but only because it could love that scar. We can love with our minds, but can we love only with our minds? Love extends itself all the time, so that we can even love with our senseless nails: we love even with our clothes, so that a sleeve can feel a sleeve.

I suppose that’s why, somehow, I love these bones.

One thought on “Family Tree

  1. Jennifer, what an eye you have! Beautiful photos.
    I really enjoyed Greene’s novel, and, in retrospect, tried to pick out the pieces that most resonated with me so that I could write something about the novel. But alas, any attempts to pull away something concrete seemed wanting and I abandoned the post. You, on the other hand, have good insights. By your words I am reminded of the beauty of the incarnation.
    And I like this format. I hope to see more photos…

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