Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Monday, July 14, 2003

"At the rising of the sun and in the evening,/We will remember them"



This Washington Post story about two soldiers named Ikins made me cry like a baby.



It's hard for people who haven't done historical or genealogical research to understand just how deep a bond one can feel for the dead, or even for the living, if you're going through someone's papers. You feel as if you'd known the person all your life -- as if you'd been the person, or at least could see through their eyes.



I remember how odd the modern world used to look when I'd spent all day in the 1930's back in the archives of the museum where I interned one summer. When I went to see The Rocketeer, suddenly everything looked right. I'd never been any good at aircraft recognition; but because I'd been immersed in aviation for several months, I could recognize the models of airplanes as easily as I could tell apart Queen Anne's lace from milkweed. It was wonderful and fun. But then, I got down to the end of the papers. World War II came; and my subject was a Quaker. Then the war ended, and things got tighter and tighter, and she was dating the wrong boyfriend and seeing a shrink who prescribed huge amounts of Valium. She dutifully wrote down her dreams, and they were mostly nightmares. She suffered injuries in a plane crash (someone else was piloting, unfortunately for her) which left her an invalid. And then....



Well, some of her papers are somewhere else. Some of her papers were destroyed. I prefer to think that she died of an accidental overdose, and with what that quack was prescribing, it would have been easy. But I found myself grieving for a woman I'd never met as if she were my best friend in the world.



When her one surviving brother came to visit, I couldn't face him, frankly. My job had taken me as deep into his sister's and his family's business as any human can go who wasn't there to live through it. I don't know how biographers can bear to go through with such an intimate process in public.



And yet...we all have stories, and they all deserve to be told.

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