Sunday, April 19, 2009


My sister Revan -- my favorite relative -- sent me a packet with several pages of family genealogy enclosed. Revan, who is actually my half-sister, has taken an interest in the family history and so I read through what she had sent.

There was my great-grandfather, Charles Fisher, bearded and sunken-cheeked and looking a bit as if someone had ordered him to sit very still ... something between an outlaw and a strict judge. There was his wife, Jessie McQueen Fisher, a bit tentative, with lace at her throat. Then the grandfather I never met, Herbert Herschel Fisher, a pleasant-faced man in a starched white collar and a straight tie ... moustachioed and not exuding the Presbyterian minister profession he followed. And his wife, Clara Augusta Fisher, a grandmother I had met in her later years ... a knock-out in her younger days with a high lace collar and hair swept up.

I read the brief synopsis Revan had sent -- a genealogical point-A-to-point-B linear tale that made me want to know the context. What made these people laugh, what foods did they like, what secrets did they consider secret, what favorite piece of clothing did they own, what made their hearts soar and what made them truly sad. But none of that was there. There were the pictures, clearly human and in some cases humane, and yet the blood and music were missing. It seemed somehow cruel to see those faces and have no more than the faces to reflect on.

And yet, had the context been more present, would I have known more?

When I was a reporter, I reveled at first at the opportunity to run around and unearth the truth of one situation or another -- to get beneath the surfaces of people's lives and transmit what lay there to others. But the further I got into reporting, the more apparent it became that there was no telling the truth even if I did manage to winkle it out. There were always facts that lay beyond the facts ... endlessly. And even if, by some chance, it had been possible to collect all the facts in a single, magical net, still there was the matter of words ... words that can help so much and still, inevitably, obscure. It was a wonderful lesson to learn first-hand, but I was definitely not happy about it. What was it that a good reporter did if the best s/he could do was a mere approximation ... it was too wimpy by half. If nothing could be known in its entirety, what was anyone to believe ... what did that say about beliefs ... of any kind? It didn't bother me so much that anyone else might believe the "facts." What bothered me was that I did when I had ample concrete proof that "facts" and "beliefs" constituted a slippery and unreliable slope at best.

Maybe that was part of the reason I got involved in spiritual adventures.

Not that that is any less a slippery slope. :)

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