Even fragments of human stories engage us deeply. We don’t need to see the finished story. We only need to share enough to engage the imagination of others and draw the humanity out in our consideration of life.
A Fragment of a Richer Story
Browsing the poetry section of a second-hand bookstore in regional Victoria, I came across a volume of the poetry of Matthew Arnold, the 19th century poet, bound in dark green leather with gold leaf. The spine showed the volume had been well read.
Opening the book I found a dedication which stopped me, brought a rush of emotions and made me reflect on the story of those who had handled the book before.
Just over a century ago, as the world descended into the Great War, Ralph received this gift and the love of Doris. We don’t know their story or their relationship. The author of this dedication might well have been be a mother, a sister, a friend or a lover. What happened to Ralph and Doris is currently a mystery to us but the inscription and that date soon after the start of WWI engages our imagination, our emotions and our concern.
From the short fragment of Arnold’s poem Immortality we gain a brief insight into the mind of the author of the inscription. This fragment of a message 100 years later engages us in the rich challenges of human life. It confronts us to reflect on a world torn with strife, obligations of honour and duty, the need for effort and for faith, the love between two people and the real fears of mortality that confronted them. This message transmitted through the inside cover of a book engages us in the turmoil of the Great War and asks us to reflect on the human fears and costs that surrounded it.
Create & Share Human Stories
Perhaps another hint to us lies in the line immediately before the text chosen for inscription in Arnold’s poem:
“…the energy of life may be
Kept on after the grave, but not begun;”
We can start, we can take on challenges and we can share our rich human stories in our one life, but only then. We often forget to reflect on this human detail.
Abstractions like life, success, history, war and work are comprised of these individual human stories, can be aggregated to a level where the humanity is lost in numbers, events and outcomes. We must remember as we deal with the abstractions to make an effort to bring forward the fragments of human stories and consider them each in their unique light.
Our stories engage others deeply, even as uncompleted fragments. They speak to our time, our place, our relationships, our conflicts and our challenges. As an experience that is real and tangible, stories like these help us to reflect and to learn. These are needed skills when we are learning what it is to be human struggling with the challenges of our unique moment in time.
We may never know more of the story. However encountering a fragment of a story like this makes it harder to forget the human efforts & sacrifice of others.
Lest we forget.