Panama 2019 Reflections: On Minga

My friend Louise, also a blogger, has a new post up about obits, and what we might share if we had unlimited space. Here’s the link if you’d like to read her post in full.

I’m mindful that Minga had no obit. There would have been no place to post one, since there are no print newspapers in the village, and most people don’t have regular access to computers. I doubt any of the family gave a eulogy at her funeral. Sounds as if they relied heavily on Padre Raphael to conduct the usual Catholic service, in which personal remarks from the family do not play a part.

I suppose my blog posts from Thursday might constitute something of an obit.

Minga would have found the concept of an obit odd, I think. The people who needed to know she’d died, knew. So much for the informative function of posting an obit. I think if I or someone had asked her what she wanted shared publicly about her life she would have smiled and shaken her head. Talking about herself, or having someone speak for her, would not — I suspect — have felt right. She did talk a lot one-on-one about her early life, the challenges of being left motherless at five, the grueling day to day struggle of feeding nine children often on her own, and what she hoped her legacy would be. Her legacy to the world was her family: nine independent adults, all of whom had a way to earn their living, and with the obligation to be good and generous human beings.

I’m of two minds about an obit. Jerry had one, in what was then the print edition of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. The informative function was a high priority. He died very suddenly, and professional colleagues, clients, neighbors and friends needed to know what was happening and where and when they should come to pay respects. When you get older, like I am, that informative function shifts. Like Minga, the people who need to know when I die will know.

My two thoughts are these: an obit is a good way of drawing together the threads of a life and sharing with everyone how, in the end, you made sense of your time on earth. That’s easier for someone left behind who is going to speak for you to carry out if you’ve first laid out the framework, maybe even written the thing ahead of time. Louise and I have a friend, Julie, who does “legacy writing” with clients — and writing a sample obit is part of her approach.

My other thought, though, is to look back on the creation of sacred mandalas — intricate sand paintings — by Buddhist monks. A group of monks visited Rochester years ago, and I went to watch them work. They skillfully array grains of colored sand into a complex pattern, working for hours every day without appearing to tire. The construction of a mandala takes weeks. When done, they ceremoniously sweep up the gorgeous creation and dump it in the river. The message is something about the beauty and fleetingness of our material existence.

If you think of the mandala as representing the complex elements of a life, while it’s there in front of you it’s there, and visible for all to see. When it’s done, it’s not there, and can be conjured up only in memory. No one tries to say what the mandala looked like, or what anyone is supposed to remember about it. Each person in touch with the mandala carries his or her own memory. Nor does anyone try to preserve the mandala. It’s there in all its glorious color and complexity, and then it’s not. That’s the preciousness of life and the sadness of loss, all in one fell swoop.

I’m still going back and forth between these two contrasting notions. Glad to hear your thoughts.

4 thoughts on “Panama 2019 Reflections: On Minga

  1. For me, obits serve an important research and historical function beyond the time when any remaining generations of family members remember the family member themselves. Famous people get lengthy well distributed obits. The ordinary person does not, but the ordinary person is much more reflective of the realities of an era of time than the person who gained fame. On a personal level, there is something about knowing who and where you came from that has an importance that is hard to describe. This is especially true when there was a disconnect in a family line -whether because of adoption or an absent/estranged parent or an early death. Obits are an extremely helpful tool when doing genealogy research.

    The Buddhist mandala illustrates a life philosophy that surely does reflect our impermanence but I am also glad that there are surviving works of art from ancient times in Asian countries to enlighten and inform us thousands of years later.

    In terms of Minga, I…and I think many other readers of your blog…loved reading what you wrote about her. She was a remarkable “ordinary” person. Your blog provides an obit of sorts that reflects on her life and character and does provide the genealogy line (and pics) for an unknown future family member.

    What happens to blogs? Can they be archived in some way that people could access them in the future and by what means?

    The digital world is difficult that way, like the mandala, it is fleeting. Data storage, and the equipment to view the data, change at an alarming rate rendering some material un-viewable. Certainly not everything is worth preserving, but we may lose whole segments of our history. I still have my grandmother’s photo album from 1920 – black and white snapshots preserved and viewable – to show me how she lived.

  2. for Sharon: This is thoughtful commentary — no surprise coming from you. First the easy question: blogs exist only so long as you pay the platform that hosts them. I suppose I could print them all out, which would be quite an undertaking since I’ve been writing for 10 years. I really love writing the blog. The length suits me, and the need to come up with 3-4 posts a day reminds me to pay attention to life. Other than printing out what I’ve written, the existence of this body of work is fleeting. Re Minga: your observation is right on point — she was a remarkable ordinary person. Your reflections on the importance of obits for genealogy and as a research tool, as well as for grounding people in who we are and where we came from, are interesting and push me to think about this more. Thank you.

  3. I’d like to share an “obituary” European style, written by my uncle upon the death of his wife. This was mailed to a list of friends, probably the Christmas card list, as a way of announcing the death and giving a final farewell, so to speak.

    To Friends and Acquaintances of Edith
    My dear wife Edith died on August her 89th year and is being cremated in Florida.
    It has been her desire that no funeral or memorial services be held, and I respect that wish. i take this occasion to once more send you her greetings and to thank you for the many kindnesses you have shown her.
    Edith has been a wonderful life companion. She had great self-reliance and sound common sense, and she would face with equanimity, courage and natural grace any situation that would present itself.
    Please keep her in good remembrance.

    This was the essence of Edith. There was no need of a biographical sketch.

  4. for Louise: This is very touching. Uncle Alphonse was articulate, and obviously in love with his wife of so many years. Thank you for sharing.

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