Friday, October 12, 2012

Angels and Archives

 Working in archives can often be melancholy business. Across one’s desk pass photographs of young people in their prime, wedding snaps, candids. All the long stretch of their lives ahead of them – what surprises would come to them – what tragedies – what joys - what life? And now gone, long gone. With no one to remember their living lives anymore – as their descendants are too – long gone. Of course I am talking about very old photos – Victorian era and beyond. Those photos are truly the best, as so often we see faces that seem to be restrained – proper – not allowing any hint of emotion to shine through for the camera – or for anyone else. But as depressing as this can be (and I rarely need extra help in that department), there is a comfort in times of sorrow and grief and misery: the knowledge, indeed the certainty, that it will not last – it too shall pass. As often as grief visits us, I always wonder how can we continue to live – how can we remain, when they have gone? We do because we must, and because there is only that one other alternative. And so – we do not die from grief – the pain becomes blunt, a dull throb, then eases over time into a warm memory of the one who passed. The jagged edges gone. This is the survival mechanism – urging us, beckoning us, to keep going. And so we go….

I am addicted to Google street view. I do not travel for a variety of reasons, and so on any given lunch-break, off I go to Portofino, or to the edge of Scotland – a  view of a lonely lighthouse – with just the seemingly endless sea for a view. I imagine living there. On the edge of the world.  As I work with old correspondence, I am often prompted to look up a location the person had visited, and am able to see – instantly – the moors, the cliffs, the sea, the limitless sky – all different now, yet the same. It all changes, yet it all stays the same – such a puzzle and paradox this life is. In one letter, the author writes of visiting the famous cemetery in Genoa – renowned for its stunning memorial sculptures. So I checked to see some images, and the one above struck me most intensely. So extraordinarily beautiful and moving: an angel – fallen from heaven – smashed to our earthly ground – agonized by a burning grief - wings broken and torn.

Maybe dying from grief is a privilege reserved for the angels alone.


  1. Very moving, Anya, and similar to my own feelings when working with family history. Also, now that I am sixty, I am painfully aware that there are fewer days ahead of me than behind me. I am at poeace with mortality but I also mourn those sweet cats who have passed through my life and live now only in my memories. When I am gone, they will be truly forgotten utterly, time will close over them like the silent sea.

  2. Wonderfully poignant, Anya. I love the images, all of them -- the sculpture, and of you "traveling." Lovely.

  3. Such a striking image. You travelled a long way, to Genoa, to find this perfect expression of grief.