A Young Historian’s Meditation on the Living and the Dead

I spend my days among the dead, the ancient and the old,

I haunt the halls of history, the dusty and the cold.

The pages cannot speak to me, the paper has no face,

The letters cannot laugh with me, the ink gives no embrace.

And yet I love discovery, I live in days gone by,

I love the who, what, where, and when, the whether and the why.

But now that one I dearly love is drawing near to death,

And edging ever closer to her last and final breath,

I find myself rebuked for seeing with the eyes of youth,

And failing to appreciate a plain and simple truth:

That archives, graves, and libraries will never disappear,

But kindred, friends, and family will leave us year by year.

If I should wish to hear the voice of one who’s gone before,

Why would I not give equal time, in fact, why not give more,

To those who live, to those who love, to those that yet remain,

To those we know, to those we see, to those who share our name?

No manuscript or signature, no photograph or note,

Can substitute or replicate a grandpa’s anecdote.

No treasure of the ancient world can rival or replace

The loving tender kindness of a grandma’s smiling face.

No comfort and no luxury will equal or compare,

To simple joys like hearth and home when family is there.

We waste our time with pixeled screens, with that which matters not,

Neglecting those who will, one day, be only in our thoughts.

And if we fail to take the time to spend our days with them,

How poor will be our reminiscing in memoriam?

Begin to know them from the day they leave their mother’s womb,

And stay with them until their body lies within a tomb.

Give honor to the hoary head, give honor to great age;

Give honor to the faithful, and the loving, and the sage.

Do not neglect to know your line, to know your family tree,

Or you will know remorse, regret, toward your ancestry.

So speak to them and be with them, and know their history,

Before they slip away from you into antiquity.

And fill your life with family, with lifelong souvenirs,

With stories, tales, and memories that last throughout the years.

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Testamentary Priorities

In the seventeenth century, when people prepared their wills they normally paid someone to write them down, normally a scrivener or notary public. Once written, the testator would sign their name (or make their mark) and add their wax seal. Scriveners often used the same template for the wills they composed, which means that most wills have very similar and generic beginnings. The following will, however, stands out among the many hundreds I have read. And for that reason I commend it to you.

“First, principally, and above all considerations I commend and yield my precious and immortal soul into the hands of almighty God my most merciful Creator that gave it and my body unto the earth from whence it was taken in assured hope and confidence that both body and soul shall be reunited and raised again to life immortal in the world to come for I steadfastly believe that as assuredly as Christ Jesus assumed man’s nature and therein fulfilled all righteousness by his most perfect obedience and being with all spot of sin or iniquity yet was accounted and reputed amongst sinners and had the guilt of all the sins of mankind imputed to him for all which he gave full satisfaction unto the divine justice by his most cruel and bitter death so certainly will God impute unto me (vile dust and ashes) the righteousness of Jesus Christ my Savior and the all-sufficient merits of his obedience whereby that in my self am nothing but sin shall be reputed and accounted righteous in his sight seeing that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I account my self the chiefest.”

What is your last will and testament, and what does it reveal about your priorities?