Monday, January 23, 2023

The Girl in the Photo

In 1927 my maternal grandfather built a house in Danvers, Massachusetts, on the same street where I later grew up. In 2022 the present owners were doing repairs to the foundation of the house and found personal items hidden in one of the cinder blocks – a sort of time capsule. Thinking they might belong to my family, they turned the items over to my sister who now lives next door. Knowing I was the family genealogist, she mailed the items to me.

They consisted of a pair of eyeglasses wrapped in two pieces of cloth in a hard case, a small hand mirror, and a tiny (1¼ inch square) photo of a young girl with a dark ribbon in her hair. On the cloth was imprinted the name of an optician in Salem, Massachusetts. This is the city where my grandparents lived before they built this house in the neighboring town of Danvers.

The glasses were the type called pince-nez, a style of glasses popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  These glasses have a hole in one of the lenses, which at one time held a chain, cord, or ribbon connected to the wearer's clothing. From what I have read children sometimes wore this style of spectacles, although the girl in the photo did not have them on.

Anyway I have been pondering the items ever since I received them, although I have not been able to identify the girl in the photo or the owner of the other items. I don’t know much about fashions, but the girl’s dress looks like 1920’s attire to me. I don’t think it is a picture of my mother. I have seen photos of her as a child and this does not look like her.

It is possible that the photo is her sister Mary, who was born in 1917 and died of influenza as a teenager in 1934. That would make her age 10 when the house was built. The girl in the photograph looks younger than that, but perhaps the photo was taken earlier. It has been a long time since I have seen a picture of my aunt, but if I had to guess, I do not think it is her either.

So I am left to wonder who this girl in the photo is. Why were this photograph and these spectacles hidden away in the foundation of my grandfather’s house? Who put these items in cinder block? The little girl? My aunt? My mother? My grandparents? My great-grandparents who lived nearby? Is the photo of another girl entirely, perhaps the daughter of the man who laid this block in the foundation?

After having these items in my possession for weeks, I am no closer to knowing the answers to these questions. Yet this photo has been a gift to me nonetheless. It has helped me travel back in time. The personality of this little girl shines through the photo. One can easily imagine what she may have been thinking and feeling as her picture was taken.

Even more striking is the consciousness that comes through the photo. I look into those eyes and recognize the one looking out at me. I do not know her name, but I recognize what is behind the eyes. She is life. Although she is long dead, she is alive. The consciousness I see in her eyes is the same consciousness I see in every child and adult. I recognize this consciousness in myself.

We are the same. We share the same divine life. Genesis says that God breathed God's divine breath (the Hebrew word can also be translated “spirit”) into the primordial human. It is called the “breath of life.” It is the same breath in my lungs. It is the same spirit in me. It is the Life of God. Jesus knew this life. He is this Life. 

When debating with some Sadducees, who did not believe in life after death, Jesus quotes the words of God to Moses at the burning bush: "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." He then said to the Sadducees, “You are badly mistaken! God is not the God of the dead but of the living!” 

Some people believe there is nothing beyond human earthly existence, that our participation in God's eternal life is just a myth. Look into the eyes of this little girl, and she will convince you otherwise.