Mending History 3: Living in the Past

Will you search through the lonely earth for me?
Climb through the briar and bramble?
I’ll be your treasure.
I felt the touch of the kings and the breath of the wind.
I knew the call of all the song birds. They sang all the wrong words.
I’m waiting for you. I’m waiting for you.
Will you swim through the briny sea for me?
Roll along the ocean’s floor?
I’ll be your treasure.
I’m with the ghosts of the men who can never sing again.
There’s a place follow me, where a love lost at sea,
Is waiting for you. Is waiting for you.
Song by Johnny Flynn


Opération Terrestre by Estelle Chrétien

I had reached a place in my research where I could no longer hold it all in my head. If I was to learn anything at all about what influence the past had on the present, I had to allow my feelings to rise. I had to open my heart to a story that might, in the end, just break it.

What was I to make of Maja Lisa at this point? Had she killed her own baby? Had she suffered injustice, perhaps rape followed by an unwanted pregnancy in a society where bearing a child out of wedlock would have essentially ended her own life through social and economic consequences? Had she chosen infanticide to save lives only to suffer after all when her secret crime was revealed? Or had she become pregnant by falling in love and then being deserted? Was the child truly stillborn? Was her truth as a woman overruled by a male doctor? What was her life really like?
The first kind of feeling that arose as I pondered the complexity of my family research was a sort of grief, that of the descendant who realizes how cut off from her own past she has become. The French have a word, dépaysement, that comes to mind. It is usually translated as homesickness. But to me it means something more like uprootedness. It suggests that something has happened, a process of removal and separation from a place that has rendered a new but deprived state of being. To be homesick is to miss home, a house, a family, a smaller unit than homeland. Dépaysement is another thing all together. It is to be painfully separated from a place where many people share common descent, history, culture and language. I realized how much easier it would be to understand Maja Lisa’s life if I had not lost that connection. The place I was aching for was both across the sea and in the past.

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