11.23.2010

The Past That Lingers

I've been struck by fading realities over the last few weeks. Not personal esoteric fading realities...but the signs and symptoms that remind us that all realities fade.

I noticed this sign last week while I was driving to work.




My first question was, of course:

Can I enter now? Now that the sign is mostly obscured by rust?

Much like I wondered last year, when I approached this sign:



Can I just go ahead and use a rolling-stop here? Since the force of the command is clearly mitigated by the fading red....?

The thing I love about signs like this is that they help us remember how pretend everything is. We go around stopping at stop signs like we really *believe* in stop signs. Like they're natural or inevitable or deeply true.

And then a sign that's rusting or fading suddenly reminds us how cultural, temporary and particular every social institution, game, ambition, role and rule actually is. They're all going to fade and rust and so the hold that they have over us? Is maybe a little ridiculous.

But this past Sunday I spent the day wandering around the Erle Farm -- the hundreds of acres where Lynn, my partner grew up. I love to roam aimlessly here. I love to have my camera on-hand, and, as of late, I love finding old fading signs of the life that used to be here.

While she was growing up, hog-farming on a family farm was a thriving, legitimate enterprise. It was not only a viable way of life, but it was a good living. Shifts in the global flow of food, shifts in government policy and shifts toward markets of scale have made the farm only a nostalgic museum for days gone by. The death of Lynn's father, Garry, now two years ago makes the whole place feel like his ghost is hovering near. He inhabited this farm, wrangled its equipment, animals and crops with such clarity, presence and humor, that almost everything still reminds me of him.

I was particularly taken with all the photo opportunities I found that alluded to strength, power and other vaguely masculine attributes that have served the advertising industry in our culture....and the irony that slowly develops in these words as they age.






The day before we came to Coshocton we attended the funeral of our friend Linda's father. His death was sudden and unexpected, and while we had only known him a little, at the funeral we had the opportunity to hear many of the "snapshot" stories (as my friend Marcia calls them) of people who had known him.

He was a lawyer who practiced locally and quietly, meaningfully invested in his clients, his neighbors, his profession, his church, and the poor of the community. In some ways he seemed the opposite of my father-in-law. While Garry was all bluster and fire and explosions, Linda's dad seemed to prefer a quiet conversation about the history of the civil war. While Garry made it his goal to travel to as much of the world as he could, taking ridiculous chances with his road trips and antics, Linda's dad drove her family to the Grand Canyon, but then stayed in the car because of his fear of heights.

What moved me most, though was the way that these two men were alike. Both had regularly and generously given themselves: their gifts, their abilities, their resources -- to the people around them.

While these plowheads and trailers and battery chargers seem like they are fading in the same way that Garry's strength on the farm is fading, the small investments people make in each other -- investments that aren't about institutional bonds or expectations -- these are the ghosts, the past that lingers.






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