A Cautionary Tale

February 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

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New York Tribune, March 29, 1920

A Cautionary Tale

So much hinges on the texture of a moment: how one word, one gesture can shift the earth beneath our feet. Suddenly the ground cracks open, swallowing people, houses, animals, rail lines. Whole villages disappear, collapsed into the earth or hauled somewhere else. Whole families vanish, erased from the record.

Think of the Jackmans: how quickly they became a story not to be told. How they arrived in Assam with the flush and speed of their missionary zeal, how later Reverend Jackman discovered that his wife was having an affair, how he fell stunned to the ground, how he ran to their bungalow to get his revolver, how he crossed the road, how he called the Major to his verandah, how he shot him dead, how William Witter was called up to Sadiya to serve as his spiritual advisor, how Mary Barss Witter cautioned her children not to speak of this to the outside world.

Silence: such a strange demand, a betrayal of the most human of instincts – to have at least one person on this strange earth who can say, Yes, this is what I see, this is what I feel.

[Note: This is one section of my essay “Dangerous Archaeology: A Daughter’s Search for Her Mother (and Others) – A Memoir in Fragments” published in Hayden’s Ferry Review #50, Spring/Summer 2012]

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