January 4, 2010

A Glance Back Before Moving Forward

Happy New Year, everyone!

Before embarking on the journey that will be the next year and the beginning of a new decade, I felt the need to take a quick glance backward. After all, who really does that much reflection over the holidays? Be honest. I know I don't. I'm too busy visiting and having fun and sampling all the goodies that come with such celebrations. But it's fitting, especially at the end of an entire decade, to take a look behind so we can get a better idea where we're headed.

No, I'm not about to do some huge retrospective. I'll leave that to all the deejays and entertainment media. I'm thinking more close to home, since that's what Blogamixon is all about. And since it's my blog, I'm going to single out just a few things that have been on my mind.

First--because time is of the essence--I'd like to make you all aware that there's a missing dog in our midst. Time is critical because Skippy has already been missing for several days and is an older dog who won't do well exposed to the frigid weather we're now experiencing. Skippy is a blond cocker spaniel, and you'll need to do something visual to get her attention, because she's deaf. She belongs over on Berger Road, so if you see Skippy, please call Sharon at 610-847-5718.

Second, I'd like to remind all our neighbors that we have a true hero in our midst, right in Kintnersville. Her name is Ruth Stonesifer, and she'll be the first to tell you she's no hero. But she is. She's a person who overcame her own significant hardship to help make life a little easier to take for others who are suffering. If that's not a hero, I don't know what is.

After losing her son, Kristofor, 8 years ago when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed on a Pakistani airstrip, Ruth found herself deep in grief. But instead of getting lost inside herself, she turned that grief into action that helps other family members who've lost loved ones in active military duty by joining -- and ultimately becoming president of -- Gold Star Mothers.

Ruth Stonesifer with her son, Kristofor; Ruth's current publicity photo

Ruth runs a website about her son and does a lot of other things, too -- including blogging for the Huffington Post -- but you can check out her website to learn more. And pick up a copy of one of the new Suburban Life magazines to read the story about Ruth written by Brenda Lange for the November issue.

The late Jason Gilligan

Next, I extend my sincere condolences to the family, colleagues and students of Jason Gilligan, who passed away suddenly on November 29. Just 29, Jason taught Driver Ed, Physical Ed and was the head wrestling coach at Palisades High School. It's never easy to lose anyone, but it's always so much harder when the person is at such a young age with a life of such promise ahead. You can read his obituary as long as it stays online.

The thought of these young people's passing is an appropriate lead-in to my final thoughts this evening. On New Year's Day, I needed to get some exercise after a week of holiday lounging and rich holiday food, so I took a walk up the road. I found myself at Ferndale's Union Cemetery, so I decided to spend a little time visiting.

Now, some folks might think this is a strange -- perhaps even a maudlin -- thing to do, especially on a holiday. And I'll admit that at one time, I would have agreed. But I long ago stopped being creeped out by graveyards and started appreciating them for the historical treasures they are. And recently, I've come to also regard them as crucial building blocks of any community.

Historically, cemeteries are highly visible, publicly accessible museums. On display are the records, literally carved in stone, of our shared experiences as community members.

As I walked, I saw a large headstone that carried a woman's name and revealed that she had lived only to the age of 21. On close inspection, I saw that her date of passing was just a week later than that of the birth date listed on a smaller stone for her daughter. The mother had likely died of complications during childbirth. Her little daughter, without her mother, failed to thrive and passed on not much later.

I saw evidence of husbands who had outlived not one, but two or three wives, and vice versa. I tried to straighten the small metal stars and other insignia placed on the graves of those who had served in the military during our country's many wars. It was striking to note that WWI insignia says, simply, "World War." There is no number behind it, because when that symbol was designed, no one ever dreamed that mankind would -- could -- be so foolish as to repeat its aggression just a generation later.

For anyone who cared to notice, there was an abundance of stories, very personal, intimate stories that nevertheless have become part of the shared fabric of our community.

No, cemeteries don't freak me out. I don't see them as scary, spooky or lonely places. In fact, I feel at home among the resting places of those who've gone on before us. These places are more sacred than scary.

They are a repository for our communal memories, vaults for our shared stories. They are reminders of the toil, sweat and sacrifice we as neighbors and friends have made for each other. They symbolize what we've built together for so many, many years. They remind us that our time on earth is short, and that we should make the most of it that we can.

And yes, they wait patiently for the time when perhaps we will join our ancestors beneath their hallowed soil for our own well-deserved sleep. They tell us that there will always be a place for us among our own. There's something quietly comforting to me about that.

Whoever designed Union Cemetery was thinking as much of the future as the present and the past. As I stood on the hill in the sun, with a warm January breeze in my hair, I looked across the wooded valley to where I knew the river flowed on to the ocean. It reminded me that I am part of a sea of humanity that flows forward from the depths of history into the future, always interlinked by blood, sweat and tears.

I looked over the treetops into our neighboring state of New Jersey, marveling at how far I could see, and yet how anchored I feel to this place. I'm not from Nockamixon, but it has become my home. And the designer of this final resting place for so many clearly understood that when the living would come to this place over the years, they would see this same view and be unable to remain impassive to its grandeur and serenity.

So, like those long-ago ancestors of so many of my neighbors, I took in that beautiful vista and felt thankful to my bones that I can call this place home. I appreciated their foresight, and cast my own into a future that, though uncertain, is something I'll continue to share with my friends and neighbors here, making our own history. And that made me smile.

Happy New Year, Nockamixon.