March 4, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield
The Ruins of the Past
Missing the Story
This week I had the amazing opportunity to visit a place that is often ranked among the seven wonders of the world. It is a massive temple complex called Angkor Wat located near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious complexes in the world. It was built nearly a thousand years ago. Over time it fell into disrepair, and although we do not think it was ever completely abandoned, it was more or less lost to civilization for hundreds of years. In the 19th century it was effectively rediscovered by a French explorer named Henri Mouhot. Although many carvings are still visible and the towers themselves still stand, the edifice has given into the ravages of time.
Over the last century some restoration has taken place, the jungle has been cut back and some pieces put back together. Today it is an overwhelming edifice and one has to wonder, much like other great pieces of architecture from long ago, how they accomplished such a feat.
As I walked through the complex I tried to imagine the thousands of people who were there when it was built and when it was being used as a city and a religious center. I tried to connect in some way, knowing that I stood where people once stood, walked where people once walked, but in very different circumstances.
For me the challenge of "connecting" with a historical site is the lack of the corruptible materials. A stone structure will last for thousands of years, but the real story of any structure is found the the corruptible elements; the people, the fabrics, the books, the wood, the food, the garbage, etc. All of those things will disappear tens of thousands of years before the stone structure is gone. So the big picture story of the stone still remains, but the history of the people, the events, the laughter, tears, feelings, etc. is lost to time.
Imagine the building where you work, imagine your home or your church. If you were to remove all of the organic or destructible items like the pictures, the books, the food, the clothes, the furniture, etc. and leave only the structure, the story would be utterly incomplete. The part that we truly care about, the humanity, would be gone. And it would be a tragedy.
Unfortunately we have examples of this throughout our world, and as a result, history is often told in broad strokes of decades or centuries. There is little for historians to say other than things like, “During the 11th century these people were...” We get 100 years of history in a sentence. Tens of thousands of human lives, individual stories, relationships, hopes, dreams, feelings all wrapped up in one generic sentence.
I couldn't help but think, will that be me too? Will my life be wrapped up in one of those generic sentences in some future history book? Will anyone know that I was here? My pessimist mind immediately says, “Get used to it, your life will be lost to time and no one will really care.” But then I ask myself the question, “if one of my ancestors had lived during the time of Angkor Wat. If one of my ancestors had been here, would I want to know their story?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Although it might seem odd in a setting like this, I couldn’t help but think about our Audiomover business. Because that’s what we do here. We help you preserve history. Whether it's yourself, your family or your organizion we preserve the past for the future.
We have captured hundreds of thousands of stories, whether it’s a court record, an interview with a grandparent, a song you recorded on a cassette, a sermon you gave or listened to, a dharma talk, a piano recital, the list of things we have seen could fill pages. Our work helps preserve history. And we can help you, your family or your organization.
Whether or not someone will truly care that we lived is hard to say, but wouldn’t you want to have those personal stories from ancestors long ago? Contact us today and let us help you preserve your audio and video tapes in a permanent digital format.