in search of humanity

In a recent excavation of my closet, I unearthed the journal I wrote in high school. Stuffed with choir programs, dance pictures, rose petals, Shakespeare quotes. I'm always wary of opening old journals...This time, however, I wanted to see if I could find the entry I wrote the night I met Trevor, to see what I had written. I hadn't read it since that night.

I was surprised at what I wrote. I thought it would be something along the lines of how I remember feeling before T left on his mission: heady, intense, twitterpation. But I had written passionately about how I felt more alive than I ever had before. I was more aware of my body. That when I danced with him I felt like I could feel the past touching the present, and I could feel the future, and I didn't even know this handsome fellow! I wrote about the flow of humanity, and wondered how many human beings have danced together through history, and how many of those dances lead to a life together.

I know, mushy mushy. But I've been reflecting on it, and that feeling of being connected to the flow of humanity, of the past, present and future together in one place, and the way generations touch each other, is a feeling I am always seeking. That place where the veil is thinnest. That is why I love to stand in Gothic cathedrals and imagine the centuries of people who have walked on the same worn stones, and what their stories were. Powerful music that speaks to the soul, time in the temple, literature and plays shedding light on the human experience touch me to the core. For me there is nothing better in the world than fine objects that come to us from another time, another place, and tell a story. Things that uncover truth are the most precious of all.

This feeling is more poignant for me than love or hate or anything else. And I'm always searching for it, through experiences, books, paintings. I remember one of the times I felt it most strongly was in Varanasi in India, on the banks of the Ganges. I took a boat at dawn and watched the bathers, following their sacred morning routine, centuries-old. Women beating their clothes clean on the rocks. I floated past a cremation, a birth celebration and a wedding procession. All of it was present at once - birth, death, marriage, history, as well as the daily mundane routines that make up most of our lives. In that early, pink dawn, silent on the sacred river, I felt like I had my finger on the pulse of humanity and its place in the cosmos, and it brought tears to my eyes.

My first opera when I was eight years old. The halls of the Louvre. Henry V. Nowadays I feel it in smaller ways. Last night, I quietly crept in to check on my sleeping babes. Jo was mumbling in her sleep, and when I got closer to her, I heard her say, in her sleepy Jo voice, "Heavenly Father, bless mama...." Melt. Your. Heart. But there it was, that beautiful feeling of being close to God, a true expression of love.

For Easter I discussed the Isenheim Altarpiece with my Gospel Doctrince class. I was on fire, and I felt it there too, and I think my class did. Seeking this feeling is the biggest motivator in my life, and why I always long for Europe, for art, and why I study the gospel. It is also why I am impatient with crassness and carelessness in all forms (think Walmart furniture, Adam Sandler movies, or dirty jokes). I think I come off as snobby, but that's not where this comes from.

Understanding this has helped me accept myself in new ways. Looking back, it was probably the only feeling that could have shown me who my husband was :).


  1. Shelley - if you wrote a book I would definitely read it. I love drinking in the way you view things and, even more, the way you express them! I'm so glad I know you! :)

  2. Love, love this! Especially because while I'm reading it, I'm sitting here the Tillamook Air Museum (a huge old blimp hangar built during WWII), listening to music from the 40s, connecting to a different time and place.

  3. Beautiful post!

    I think that this idea of connecting past, present, and future is such a good observation. I think everyone searching to find meaning in their lives, and for many those meanings come through connections. Historians (like you and me) tend to find that meaning through historical connections (or connections involving time), I think.