November 22, 2004

The Afghan Tradition of the Key-Holder

A remarkable story by James Robbins called National Treasures recounts how the Afghan treasures are reappearing, despite the Taliban's destruction of the Kabal Museum, thanks to the Afghan tradition of the talwildar, the key-holder.

    The story of the survival of the artifacts begins with the Afghan tradition of the talwildar, the key-holder, a person who assumes responsibility to safeguard valuables. The key-holder would secure precious items in a box and seal it with a piece of paper, which he and witnesses would sign. Afterwards only the key-holder could break the seal, and he was responsible for the contents. Museum employees regularly assumed this role; in the years before the Soviet invasion the museum's valuables would be locked up nightly following the time-honored practice. In 1979, the museum's curators, knowing that their society was about to enter a dark age, and understanding the implications of that moment, carefully wrapped the artifacts in their care and sealed them in metal boxes. They signed the slips of paper, as they always had, and then scattered the treasures, hiding them in walls, beneath floors, burying them, placing them in barns or attics. Many of the original key-holders and witnesses subsequently died or disappeared, but their relatives assumed the responsibility. Any box of these art treasures would have brought a fortune if smuggled out to the west; yet through war, poverty, chaos and oppression the key-holders and their successors discharged their duties to their country and their honor, waiting for a time when they felt it was safe enough for the boxes to reemerge. And this year, with Afghanistan free of Taliban rule, with the country being reconstructed and on the road to democracy and stability, the key-holders brought forth their priceless consignments to be opened. The seals were broken, the artifacts unwrapped, and Afghan history reborn.

    Those who are reflexively pessimistic about the chances for civil society being reestablished in Afghanistan should ponder the implications of this story. The people who preserved these artifacts represent the best elements of Afghan society, and were motivated by the finest instincts — not only the preservation of the past for the benefit of future generations, but upholding their personal responsibility and venerating the honor which they had been given. Under the circumstances they had to live through, it is astonishing.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:13 AM | Permalink

Help Build a Library

I am a fan of Strengthen the Good, the hub of a network of bloggers "committed to raising awareness for small charities around the world" by highlighting a microcharity every few weeks where $1 can make a difference. Their mission "Using the power of weblogs for open-source charity. Don't just fight evil. Strengthen the Good".

I've also been a huge fan of libraries all my life. In 1833, the first tax-supported public library in the world opened its doors in Peterborough New Hampshire after a town meeting vote. A uniquely American invention, free public libraries soon spread in New England and took root in cities and towns where people were eager to educated and improve themselves. Andrew Carnegie can be credited with the spread of free public libraries across the English-speaking world. Beginning in 1888, he spent some $56 million to build libraries if the city or town agreed to tax themselves for the books and the maintenance. The town-scapes of New England bear witness to history - the churches of the 17th century, the town halls of the 18th century and the libraries of the 19th century.

I see libraries as public sanctuaries where anyone, if they want, can read and borrow what they want, what interests them, what strikes their fancy. Libraries are where we go to commune with other minds, across space and time. I use libraries all the time - for books, CDs, and books on tape. There is no way I could afford to buy all the books I'd like to read or look at or listen to.

Which is why I am especially pleased to promote the building of an English library for teenagers in Bratislava, Slovakia. Douglas Dart is teaching English which his students call "the language of freedom." The school has no books and very little money. Dart has a list of books he'd like for the library, but any English books will do. Here's more info.

Think of a book that's had a great impact on your life. It will probably have a similar impact on a teen-ager in Bratislava. What a wonderful way to share something that you loved and leave a small footprint half a world away.

It will cost about $5 to ship a pound's worth of books. Send a book or two to
Douglas Dart
C.S. Lewis Bilingual High School
Benadicka 38
Bratislava 85106
Slovak Republic

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:53 AM | Permalink

November 20, 2004

Deathbed Confession of Murder

Being a huge fan of mystery stories, I've toyed from time to time with ideas for writing my own. To plot a murder, you have to figure out the means - I've always favored poison - and a way of disposing of the body - far more difficult. Somehow I never could figure out the body disposal part.

Neither could Geraldine Kelly after shooting her husband in the head. Thirteen years ago, she killed her husband in Ventura, California, and stored his body in a freezer sealed in duct tape. Seven years later, when she decided to move back home, she had Allied Van Lines pick up the freezer with the body inside and move it across the country to another local storage facility in Somerville, MA. On her deathbed, she confessed to her daughter before dying on November 12 of breast cancer.

This gruesome deathbed confession opened up even more secrets. John Kelly had fled to California with his wife to escape indictment for murder after a brawl at a family wedding reception in 1981. Their children were estranged from both parents because of their incessant fighting and violence. Geraldine apparently killed her husband after such an episode. She told her children and his family that he had died in an auto accident. Massachusetts police have tentatively identified the mummified body based on tattoos of a panther, a Kewpie doll, and a skull.

She was described as tough as nails and often scared guests to the California motel she managed because she liked to drape a snake around her neck. Imagine her last conversation with her daughter. How could she find the words. How could Geraldine Kelly, God rest her soul, keep paying those storage bills month after month.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:49 AM | Permalink

"These fragments I have shored against my ruins."

Just released is Tarnation by Jonathan Caoutte, a documentary about living with his schizophrenic mother. It was made for $218 on a MacIntosh computer and edited with the iMovie software that came free with the computer. Roger Ebert says

    It is a remarkable film, immediate, urgent, angry, poetic and stubbornly hopeful. It has been constructed from the materials of a lifetime: Old home movies, answering machine tapes, letters and telegrams, photographs, clippings, new video footage, recent interviews and printed titles that summarize and explain Jonathan's life. "These fragments I have shored against my ruins," T.S. Eliot wrote in "The Waste Land," and Caouette does the same thing.

I haven't seen it yet, but I plan to. It's a prime example of the creativity that lies in all of us as we try to make sense of our lives. Luckily we have the resources in the effluvia of our lives and the means with the easy accessibility of digital tools to create our works of art from our own lives. Ebert wonders whether a new type documentary is coming into being as we record the experience of our lives. I think so.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:09 AM | Permalink

November 17, 2004

Stories for Christmas

I'm one of those that believes in Christmas but decries much of the materialism that surrounds it. While I understand that many people earn their livings in creating and selling products for Christmas, just how many scarves and soaps on a rope is more than enough?

Why not plumb your memory to create a meaningful story for the people you love. The beauty of the digital world is that you can create something and give it away while keeping a perfect copy for yourself. This is the way to increase their personal and family archives as well as your own.

I've just discovered Foundation for a Better Life which I write about in my Business of Life blog. There is a section of stories that you could well use as examples. Take the featured story about a sister's wedding called Class and Grace or a son appreciating his mother in Ambition or the story of an aunt in Character. (These stories don't have permalinks so click on the bar on the bottom. )
Or you can pull out some of your old family photos and tell a short story to send to all your relatives. They most likely don't have digital copies of the old photos and will really appreciate not only the photo but also your take on it or your story. I've written about this earlier in Your Take on Family Photographs.

Ronni Bennett does this beautifully in Little Ronni, Ronni and Mommy, Army Air Corps Daddy, Great Grandma and Ronni and Daddy and Mommy. She's developed a few rules for herself because she originally published them on a photolog that provide some good guidelines in telling a good story.

    1. I limited myself to one photo per day (many fotologgers publish
    several a day) to give me the leisure to consider/ponder that
    moment/person/episode in my life. And some took on new meaning for me,
    as readers left comments, that I wanted to think over.

    2. Captions had to reveal something more interesting than names, places
    and dates.

    3. Captions had to tell a whole story with a beginning, middle and end.

    4. Captions were limited to no more than six published lines - it was on
    a PHOTOlog after all, not a weblog. But this sharpened my thinking and
    writing and I think it is more successful than if I hadn't made this
    rule. I stuck to for all but about half a dozen photos.

    5. Captions and photos could not harm or embarrass the people in the
    photos (it was and is public, so that was important. Private collections
    wouldn't need to be bound by this. I had to leave out a ton of great
    stories to stick to this rule ;-)

    6. Unless the subject of a photo is a publicly-recognized person, only
    first names were used, but those names are real. I violated that a
    couple of times, but for a good reason and to no consequence.

    7. Within the limits of fallible memory, the captions had to be
    emotionally honest and factually true

    8. Above all, it had to entertain.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:08 PM | Permalink

November 15, 2004

Gift of a Lifetime

Gift of a Lifetime - what a wonderful phrase to describe your personal legacy archives.
Many more people are realizing that there is more to leave behind than money, more of value in your life than your valuables. Now's the time to capture the stories of your parents if you haven't already. The one regret of Robert DeNiro is that he didn't,

    When a parent dies, it's the end. I always wanted to chronicle the family history with my mother. I know she would've gotten into it. It would have been okay with my father, too. But I wasn't forceful, and I didn't make it happen. That's one regret I have. I didn't get as much of the family history as I could have for the kids.

Carolyn See who wrote "Gift of a Lifetime" for the AARP magazine captures the story of Maureen Evans
    Before her mother died last year, Maureen Evans hastily began writing down the stories she told her about her life. "I captured something that otherwise would have been lost," says Evans, who works for a nonprofit in public education advocacy in Washington, D.C. Inspired, she began to write down her own stories for her four children and any grandchildren she may have. "I wanted to make sure that they didn't get lost in the chaos of day-to-day life," she says.

The first step is capturing your parents stories, the second step is writing your own. As Ellen Goodman said
    This packrat has learned that what the next generation will value most is not what we owned, but the evidence of who we were and the tales of how we loved. In the end, it's the family stories that are worth the storage.

The story of your life is not just a recital of facts and events, it's the story of your choices, turning points, values and lessons learned and hopes for the future. Maureen Evans knew that and so she set out to write an ethical will. "My money is important," she says, "but it isn't the be-all, end-all of what I want to give my kids."

An ethical will is an important part of your Personal Legacy Archives and some say its injecting heart into the estate-planning field, according to Carolyn See who wrote Gift of a Lifetime for the AARP magazine. But don't think of it as something only those at the end of life do. It's an important way to reflect on the many selves you are and have been. It also isn't a one-off, something you do all at once. You can do it that way of course, but you will probably want to use the services of a professional to help you like Susan Turnbull at your ethical will That's why I prefer the term Personal Legacy Archives. You start where you are, and add periodically throughout your life to your legacy account. Then you won't have the regret Joan Didion expressed, “We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget; we forget what we whispered and what we dreamed; we forget who we were”

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:22 PM | Permalink

November 13, 2004

Bill Clinton on Personal and Family Legacy Archives

On his recent book tour before a crowd of booksellers in Chicago.

"I really think that anyone who is fortunate enough to live to 50 years old should take some time, even if it's just a couple of weekends, to sit down and write the story of your life, even if its only 20 pages, and even if its only for your children and grandchildren."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:16 PM | Permalink

November 10, 2004

Who's More Generous

You might be interested in the recent report of "Generosity in the United States: 2004" at the Philanthropy site.Scroll down to see the red state / blue state divide.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:20 PM | Permalink

Remembering Montaigne through Time's Prism

Waxing on Montaigne, John Burns in Straight Talk Goes Unbent Through Time's Prism. ponders how his children will remember him as he remembers his father in law.

    My father-in-law often speaks to Joan and me, though he has been gone for years. He was an inveterate writer of letters, composer of sermons and maker of notes. Even in the small things he left a record.

    We still find his words, written in tiny, careful script on the backs of photographs, taped to the objects he left us and in the boxes of papers that remain. It's as if he's found a way to pop up and say hello now and then. In a dusty album there's a photograph of three little boys and their pet, circa 1911, when he was 9 years old. On the back of the photo, he'd written, in a child's hand, "Theodore, Ridgeway, me and the dog." At the bottom of a shoe box I found a snapshot of him 65 years later, with two little children -- my children. The three of them are staring at an overgrown shrub. On the back of the snapshot he'd written, "Teddy and Susannah and I search for raspberries, 1976."

Burns dips into Montaigne after 40 years, "in aching awareness of time passing."
    "I have had no thought of serving either you or my own glory," Montaigne writes in an introductory note to the reader. His sole aim is to reveal himself honestly to his family and friends, "so that when they have lost me (as soon they must), they may recover here some features of my habits and temperament, and by this means keep the knowledge they have had of me more complete and alive." In these few words he's suggested to me what I must do.

    Montaigne writes about anything he pleases, large or small. He writes Of Smells; Of Prayers; Of The Art of Discussion; Of Cannibals; Of Glory. On and on he goes, to speak of women, thumbs, nakedness, cripples, liars and books. These topics don't seem to have been part of a grand design -- he appears to have just sat down and written about them as he felt the urge. Montaigne considers topics at his own pace; circles around them, pokes at them, goes where his curiosity leads.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:25 PM | Permalink

November 3, 2004

Adopting Dios de los Muertos

The wonderful and various diversity of cultures in America, now more like a salad bowl than a melting pot, offers us many piquant customs, we could do well to adopt and remix to our own tastes. One of those is Dios de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday that mingles the Aztec culture and Catholicism.

It's estimated that the Aztecs ritually sacrificed about 20,000 people a year. Still, their belief that the souls of the departed remained on earth in the form of butterflies and birds is a charming one. So with the return of the Monarch butterflies, who migrate to Mexico for the winter, the souls of the departed are welcomed home.

Ancient Celts often sacrificed animals and humans at this time of year to free the imprisoned souls of sinners. They believed that evil spirits roamed the word, eager to do mischief or worse on the eve of their new year on October 31. To trick them, they would dress up as a ghost or a witch to fool the evil spirits and get through the night safely and so began Halloween. The Celtic custom was to extinguish all hearth fires then gather at a sacred grove where Druid priests would build a bonfire to welcome back dead ancestors. After dancing around the bonfire to frighten away the spirites, people would return home with lighted torches to ceremonially light the first hearth fire of the new year and exchange tales and ghost stories of their encounters with the spirit world.

Celtic Catholicism transformed many of the druid practices and November 1 became the Feast of All Saints and November 2, the Feast of All Souls. These two customs mixed in Mexico as the Dios de los Muertos and we can remix again to remember and welcome back memories of our beloved dead. Just how can be seen in Sacred Ordinary as 16 year old Anthony remember remembers his grandfather. Anthony remembers his grandfather
and Fran remembers her grandfather Grandpa from redondowriter

Just another way of creating and adding to our family archives.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:27 PM | Permalink

November 2, 2004

Simple Living, Simple Dying

Watch the movement towards Green Burials increase in popularity as nature lovers and environmentalists learn they can choose to make the manner of the disposal of their bodies a statement of their values.

    The ideas behind green burials are simple. Bodies are not embalmed. Elaborate caskets made of metal or rare tropical hardwoods are replaced with fabric burial shrouds or simple, biodegradable coffins made of wood or cardboard. Concrete grave liners or vaults that prevent the ground above the coffin from settling are avoided.

    Perhaps most significantly, in lieu of carefully manicured cemetery grounds, native plants and wildflowers are allowed to flourish, turning the burial ground into a nature preserve. "It preserves the land and the habitat for the animals," said Ramey. "Our habitat is going quickly, and if we don't preserve it, we won't have any."

    Though there are over 200 green cemeteries in Great Britain, the movement is relatively unknown in the United States. South Carolina, Florida, California and Texas have the only four green cemeteries currently operating here. Several more green burial facilities are being planned throughout the country.

Others argue that the traditional home funeral where bodies were bathed, anointed with oils and prepared for burial by the people who loved them is the way to go.

"The typical American funeral is a commercially created tradition," said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a grassroots organization raising awareness of alternative funeral choices. "The general line in the industry is that a traditional funeral has a fancy casket and a hearse. But the truly traditional funeral in America is a home funeral,"

Jerry Lyons, a home funeral guide in Sonoma County says,

    "These are people who want to take charge and be responsible for their own family members, and to lend themselves to more privacy and intimacy," she said. "Many religious and spiritual backgrounds call for this type of home wake."

    According to Lyons, the home funeral greatly helps survivors with the grieving process. "There's coherence and continuity for the family. It allows more time to visit and view the body, to say prayers, and to visit in the middle of the night," she said. "It brings death back into the cycle of life."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:04 AM | Permalink