The young woman in the photo is Annabelle Fearn (nee Erickson). The year is probably around 1910. She is, if it is 1910, 34 years old. Married to Chester (Pete) Fearn, she has two children...a boy, Charles (Buck), 10, and a one-year-old daughter, Odrae. She has friends and acquaintances, and an extended family. She is a homemaker. She irons and sews and tends to Odrae and gets Pete off to work at the foundry and Buck off to school each weekday. She has only 8 more years to live.
She has no computer, no cell phone, no iPad, no TV, no radio, no electric refrigerator or electric stove, no air conditioning, no washing machine, no drier. She cannot vote.
William Howard Taft is President. The Wright brothers had taken their first flight only seven years before. In Belfast, Ireland, 3000 men are busy constructing the ship that will become RMS Titanic. World War I will not begin for another four years.
And yet these facts were, to Annabelle, simply facts. They were the way things were. Her days were too filled with...life...with day-to-day existence...to ponder things which did not directly affect her or her family. Every day was filled from morning 'til night in chores and routines and conversations and laughter and problems and sorrows and joys and plans for the future, just as yours are. But without the distractions of today's technology, her entire world centered around her family and friends. People were the focus of her world, not gadgets. She did not know about all the things she was missing, and therefore she didn't miss them. While I'm sure she would have loved many of the things we so take for granted today, she didn't feel deprived because she didn't have them.
The entire world was filled with people like her, who went about the business of living without too much pondering what was yet to come. What mattered was that she was ALIVE. She was alive as you are alive and the people you pass on the streets are alive. Her mind was filled with thoughts, and plans, and dreams and hopes and grocery lists and births and deaths. And every moment of her life was measured by exactly the same inhaling and exhaling that measures our own lives.
Of the estimated 1,750,000,000 people on the planet when the photo above was taken, only a few thousand are still alive. All the rest, who had names and faces and personalities and families and friends and jobs and loved and argued and reconciled are gone.
And a hundred years from now, people will look at our lives and think us quaint, wondering how we could possibly have gotten along without the things we today cannot even imagine that they will consider essential to their lives.
And none of this should be seen as morbid, or depressing. It is simply the way things have always been, how they are, and how they will always be. Reflecting on the past and all those who have gone before us should give us greater appreciation for every day...every minute...we have this infinitely precious gift of life.
I have always taken great, if difficult to explain, comfort in wandering through cemeteries reading the tombstones' names and dates of birth and death, and the epitaphs on the stones. And I think--really think--of the people who lie beneath them, and imagine them as they were when they were still alive. I try to give them the individuality that death has taken from them. And I realize, as I do so, and especially with the older stones, that I may be the first person in a very, very long time, to be aware that they ever existed as living, breathing human beings.
Annabelle and Chester and Charles and Odrae are now gone, but we must never forget that they once were here, and that they loved and were loved, and that they once shared the gift of life we take for granted.
My favorite epitaph reads: "As you are now, so once were we. As we are now, so shall you be." So the next time you're sure your world is coming down around you because your computer has crashed, or your cell phone has dropped a call, think of Annabelle Fearn. Please.
New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at http://www.doriengrey.com, or drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your comments are always welcome.