“Vanity of vanities,” sayeth the preacher, “all is vanity!”
Vanity is one of many words we use that has lost its original meaning. The original meaning was closer to emptiness, from one Hebrew word meaning wind or emptiness. “Emptiness upon emptiness, says the collector of words. All is emptiness.” is a somewhat better, but still flawed translation …
The phrase went through my mind this morning as I read a little bit of my Japanese cousin’s life growing up in the slums of Tokyo after the war. The daily struggle with starvation, the eating crickets and wild birds, the lack of fuel and warmth. I once listened to a Taos Indian talking of survival on the reservation during hard times, and it was hardly different than Marianne’s account of life in the slums. And to many of my adopted people, Jews, who struggled during the hideous times in Europe in the last Century, that was their story too.
I think of the civilizations that rose and fell, devastated by wars, famines and pestilences, of lives lived in misery as slaves in salt mines and plantations, and the struggles of my own family as “Okies” in the years after the war.
We are born in blood. And we die when we bleed out at the end of life. In between we struggle to rise to the fullest potential that we have if we can. If we win, we die. If we lose, we die. And few of us will have our names written in the history books. We die forgotten.
Odd it is that so many of us, me included, try to restore what we remember of our families with genealogies. And for why? Still, my family is pouring over forgotten photos and historical press clippings. That a great grandfather was a grocer is a revelation. Some of my family were slave owners in the Carolinas. Others were clergy, and yet others were titled “the foolish” for their poor stewardship of wealth. So now I know what my fathers family did as far back as 1657.
Why do I draw comfort from that?
My cousin from Japan is soon coming to visit her grandparents grave, and she wishes to tell them that she is home now. That is important to her. And I draw satisfaction from that as well. I desire to share that moment with her if my health will just hold out a bit.