Recently, for some reason, a brief, seemingly insignificant episode from my college days came to mind. Some classmates and I were in the library, cramming for a test. I remember pausing for a moment and gazing up at some old photographs of foresters and timber men from the early 20th century hanging on the wall of the spacious lounge area. "How many of those guys are still alive?" I asked a friend.
He glanced up quickly. "Doubt any of 'em," he said, shrugging.
We resumed our studying.
On the left is my grandmother, Gertrude. She was born in 1917, to missionary parents in China. She married my grandfather and had 3 children (all present in this picture). She spent much of her life working in the public school system as an administrator. She died of cancer in 1987.
The man in the center, holding up the young girl, is my father, Ross Cariaga. He was born in Fresno, California in 1941. At the time this photo was taken, he had 3 children with my mother (all pictured here). He would go on to have 4 more children with subsequent wives. He worked as an instructor and football coach for many years at the Oregon Institute of Technology. He died of complications arising from Lupus in 2001.
The young woman in the back, behind Dad's left shoulder is my Aunt Jenifer. She was born in Salem in 1944. She lived most of her life in sunny Southern California and worked as a legal administrator. She died of leukemia in 2003.
The photo was taken by my grandfather, William Robert (Bob) Metzger. He was born in 1916 in Gresham, Oregon. He worked as a teacher and counselor in the Oregon public school system. He died of "natural causes" on New Year's Eve, 1999.
The other subjects in the photo are (in the front row) myself, my sister, Paige, my brother, Eric, and Mom. In the back row, my Uncle Wayne is standing next to Grandma, and Aunt Jenifer's then-husband Howard O'Brien is on the right. None of us has passed as yet.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, all of the people featured in this photograph will have transitioned to the next phase of existence. For a time, each will be remembered and, in that way we humans have, revered for his or her contribution to the blessings of the day. But that remembrance will be short-lived. Inevitably, we will fade and be forgotten.
Although this may seem sad, it is not, really. Each of us leaves his or her mark on humanity simply by touching the world around us. An act as significant as a lifetime's labor to provide for a child, or as simple as a smile given to a stranger on the street, creates an effect that spreads outward, like the waves that emanate from the proverbial pebble dropped into a pond. The effects we set into motion, simply by existing, go on forever. Just as matter and energy cannot be destroyed, neither can our tiny but absolutely essential part in the impossibly complex clockwork of the Universe be erased.
We humans, with our primitive perceptions, can sometimes grasp at that concept of eternity. The key is not to fully understand it (since that is beyond our capabilities) but simply to know that it is true. We're part of it; each of us.
And who knows where the time goes?
This song is by Sandy Denny. She was born in 1947 in London. She spent much of her life writing and performing music. She died in an accident in 1978.