The Plague Years – Person, Place, Thing with Randy Cohen

I had the opportunity — amidst this pandemic, amidst this sheltering, amidst these daily circumstances of challenge, frustration, and disappointment — to write a very short piece for Randy Cohen’s Person, Place, Thing Plague Years Series. At first I didn’t think I had anything to say. Why me? Then I thought into it. And I stopped thinking about me. I thought about our world, and all the ways we are all connected through things, across places, and across time. I hope these thoughts (which I re-post here) bring someone some comfort, some inspiration, some interest, some joy.

Person ­­– Queen Hama

gold crown of flowers and female figurines
Crown belonging to Queen Hama of Assyria, Northwest Palace, Nimrud, mid 700s BCE (Baghdad, Iraq Museum)

She was laid to rest in Iraq almost three thousand years ago. (Pictured: her crown.) When archaeologists discovered her tomb, in 1989, her identity, her story, her place in history, returned to the world of the living. We believe Hama came to Assyria as a teenage bride from the Levant. She perished just a few years later. She lived and died away from her homeland, away from her family. Then, like most individuals, especially women, she disappeared from memory, from history. When I think about this pandemic, I believe we will remember it for a very long time, but one hundred, one thousand, even three thousand years hence, will we remember the names and stories of any of us who lived or died in it?

Place – her garden

grass yard with small square garden enclosed by wire fence I’m not alone as a novice gardener this spring. Seed delivery is so delayed that we are missing the sowing season, while tomato stakes are strangely sold out. But feeling solidarity with my grandmothers, who created victory gardens during their own stressful and uncertain times, and finding comfort in childhood memories of planting peas with my mom (whom I cannot see as we shelter in different states), I, too, am making a garden. I’ve turned and tilled the soil and built a wonky fence. I want to show my daughter how the dirt will grow green, how seeds become plants. I want to give her the joy on a hot summer day of picking that fat red tomato and biting into it, barefoot in the soil.

Thing – these artifacts

cardboard box of dirty broken nails and bottles - artifacts Can you believe I found all this stuff while digging the garden? Rusty springs, corroded nails, broken bottles, a nylon stocking. They’re filthy and fragmented and beautiful. And they were gone, almost forever, crushed just inches beneath the surface. These pieces of things, a thing someone used, a thing someone touched, are treasures, salvaged artifacts of humanity. I don’t know if I’ll be able to fit any of these pieces together or find some archaeological meaning in them, but, at this moment, they remind me of all the someones who were here before, and that we are each a small part of a much bigger world.

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