In light of the horror that unfolded Friday in Newtown, it is easy to believe we make a scant mark for good in the world – that we are each just another account number at the bank, another face on the morning train. There’s even a philosophy to suggest as much, as in the comment made by the Spanish sage. “Place your finger in a bucket of water,” he said. “Then pull it out and see what a hole you have made,” the melancholy thought being that the waters close over us and we are forgotten.
I don’t buy it.
I once visited the old walled city of York in England, where the earth had been draped and clamped and laid open like a surgical patient so citizens of today could look upon the painstaking process of archeology.
At the end of the Disneylike underground ride through a re-creation of the old Viking village of Jorvik, you see a cross-section of the earth itself, sliced straight down as you would slice a fruitcake, and holding within it bits of pottery, and metal, and animal and human bone.
This is what happens, I thought at the time: You live and you die and you’re tamped down into a pudding of mud.
Lucky for me, our group went just after to a Vespers service at the house of worship called the York Minster, built a full thousand years ago.
We heard music written back then, woven in words penned at the time of King David, then held and sent forth pure and clear from the living throats of elders, and youths, and little boys not yet ten.
Words live, then, and music lives, even as good deeds and careful instruction lives, to a far greater degree than most of us realize and long after our little lives have yielded to ultimate gravity and fluttered to the ground like the glorious crimson leaves.
I picked up some photos last night from that shoe box I talked about yesterday.
I had taken them the day my youngest started kindergarten.
Here he is smiling shyly on the lawn, squinting a bit against the horizontal glory of early-morning sun.
Behind him the lavish branches of that certain stand of maples wave brashly to the camera.
Before him, invisible to me until now, visible to him some time ages hence perhaps, on the lettuce-green grass, the clear and unmistakable shadow of his mother.
However hard that may be to believe at times, we do leave a mark on the world. We do.
And now, a version of Pslam VIII sung in that great cathedral, very much like the one I heard when I visited there.