Do you know who this man is? Neither do I, but I feel like I should. This picture popped up when I Googled the tiny cemetery in rural Oklahoma where my great-grandparents are buried. It’s the spitting image of my great-grandfather, but it’s not him. Great-grandpa lived to be 100, and I was blessed to know him as an adult. Humans are hard-wired to recognize those we know. Though the resemblance is uncanny (my mother says “amazing”), I know it’s not him.
So who is he? The Internet associated him with a country cemetery of maybe 350 residents, of whom I’m related to a meaningful percentage. Plus he’s looking at me with my grandmother’s eyes and her brother’s face…he’s got to be a relative. We have no idea who he is, and there’s no one left who would know. The last of my great-grandparents’ twelve children–ironically their oldest–died five years ago at 100. My guess is that he’s my great-grandfather’s father, after whom he was named, and who’s buried in the same cemetery. The resemblance between them is too strong for him to be anything else. According to his headstone, my great-great-grandfather died in 1925. Anyone who might remember him would be at least 100. I doubt that person exists.
His face has stayed with me since I found the picture; it bothers me that I don’t know for certain who he is. He looks just like a man I grew up loving, a man who attended my wedding. We must be related, yet he is lost to time. I suppose that’s the fate of us all. We’re here for a brief instant, then the day comes when the last person who remembers us is gone. It is sad, but it is life. Already I’ve lost friends and loved ones at this halfway point of my life. Yet I remember. I remember them with fond memories; I will see them again, all too soon. And I will learn who the man in the picture is, and we will remember together.
“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” –Antonio Porchia