Tag Archives: scattered ghosts

Nick Barlay and Our Common Scattered Ghosts

When the pretty blonde facilitator asked Nick how one would actually pronounce his name, he said a sort of Baerlae, with the stress falling somewhere in between of the last two vowels. He pronounced the name carefully, yet with the bored politeness of a person who has been answering the same questions for the better part of his life. Where do you come from? What did you learn growing up, as a child, as a teenager? What did you do to get here? All questions which undoubtedly he asked himself, even before a material second person was in the room with him, on the other side of the table holding  a pen and a writing pad. And the exact same questions which he asked the ghosts, at the point when he realized that his answers were shaky at best.

Who are you? You can’t know who you are until you know who your parents are, who your grandparents are, who your great-grandparents are, and maybe even who your great-great-grandparents are. Or were, the tense of the verb can have different connotations. I strongly believe that even if a person is no longer alive, this doesn’t erase what they did at their appointed times on this Earth. And a person is not defined by their profession, by their relatives or by their surroundings. What is a person defined by then? Can you even define a person? Barlay seemed to somehow seek however not the answers, but the minds which sparked the questions. He goes smoothly back on his lineage, ending up somewhere in the beginning of the 1800 with the names of one or another of his great-great-relatives.

And yet names and the dates are nothing, they are shades of wind scattered around and played around by winds far stronger: wars, immigration, death, birth. The objective data can pin down a life, can shatter a bit of its illegibility, unfathomability, beauty, but that’s it. It can’t do anything else. It can’t tell you about how their eyes smiled in the sun at the beginning of spring, about the miles they walked back in snow to their family, about the secret taste of a strudel which still remains a mystery. This is where the real beauty of a person lies, in moments and in the memory of those moments. Those people must be shining up in heaven now looking down at these books and their words.

And after all of this, Nick’s answers were still shaky, I imagine, because mine are too right now. I have questions in my head which point to a somewhere far in the future or far in the past. That big question mark hangs in the air over my head like the sword of a Damocles who, unlike the one in the Ancient Greece, has no idea what might occur if the thread is cut. Life is not ended, but the joy of it might be. So let the thread be there, as frail or as solid as it may be. Looking at it makes me feel that my own personal quest is far from over. I want to make my people shine too up there in heaven.



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