I saw my good friend the other day. He had read my recent post that featured the Saint Bernard dog. It was his story. As we shook hands, he spoke sternly to me, “What are you doing, digging up stuff from ancient history?” I knew he was joking, but still…it got me to thinking. What if all I’m doing with these posts about the past is “digging up bones”? You know what I mean. Dredging up memories that, for most people, are long dead and buried–forgotten in the far away and rapidly dimming past. Memories that might cause embarrassment, or recriminations, or even outright shame.
As I thought tonight, my mind was drawn to a country song of the twentieth century which used exactly that phrase, digging up bones. The singer spoke of “exhuming things that are better left alone.” I couldn’t help but realize that the famous singer who had a hit with that song has been in the news recently, entangled in a situation which, one day, he will wish to leave buried like those old nasty bones. Mr. Travis is having some problems with alcohol and maybe has already been digging up a few bad memories himself. I think though, that his current experience (or something like it) is actually the reason that I go on digging up the bones of the past, not to wallow in misery like some pig in his sty, nor even like the drunk crying in his beer. I bring up the past again and again simply to instruct myself (mostly) and a few of you readers who find the lessons enlightening as well.
Tonight, for some reason, old song lyrics keep popping up in my head, themselves a kind of bone being dug up. The problem with these bones is that they are largely unattached to each other, just like the dry bones that the old prophet saw. It is an event immortalized in the old negro spiritual, ‘Dry Bones”. “Dey gonna walk around, dem dry bones (oh hear de word of de Lord)…” Those bones too, were scattered and dead, but they became connected once again. Flesh once more covered them and then breath was given to them anew as they stood alive and whole. In a way, my hope is that this is what happens with the old bones which I dredge up now and again.
The connections are made, the story fleshed out, and the living tale stands before us to instruct and warn and convince us to avoid the errors of the past. Some of the memories simply bring back warm thoughts of people no longer with us, reminding us of lives shared and love given. Some make us laugh and feel the joy of times we would not like to lose as we move into the future. It would be nice if all of the old bones I dig up ended up like these. Alas, that doesn’t always happen.
Again, a short lyric comes to mind. I hear a bouncy, rhythmic instrumental background as a voice calls out stridently, “Caldonia, Caldonia. What makes your big head so hard?” I don’t remember any other part of the song, but it is enough. This one phrase speaks to me. Perhaps to you too?
I jest, but there is a serious bent to my humor. I’m a hard-headed human being, insisting on my own way again and again, ignoring the road signs and past history with disdain. I am smarter than that boy and later, the young man, that I used to be. Those old bones hold no messages for me. History could never repeat itself. I suspect that many of you are nodding your heads as you read along. You too, have insisted that you are beyond the foolishness that snared you before, but continuing in the same path, you are bogged down time and time again.
So, I think that I’ll keep digging up the past, if only because my hard head needs the repetition. Yes, I’ll dig up the past, even the Saint Bernards, and the pizza eaten once in a blue moon, and wondering what actually is the function of the fulcrum. Not so that we’ll focus on events long completed, but so that the future will be profitable and bright as we learn from our errors, and gaffs, and triumphs.
You never know what old bone I’ll be digging up tomorrow. Let’s hope that it’s not one of those really embarrassing ones…either for me or for you!
“De toe bone connected wid de foot bone,
De foot bone connected wid de anklebone,
De anklebone connected wid de leg bone,
De leg bone connected wid de knee bone,
De knee bone connected wid de thighbone,
Rise an’ hear de Word of de Lord!”
(Old Negro Spiritual~”Dem Bones”~traditional)
“…The fool is obstinate, and doubteth not: he knoweth all things but his own ignorance.”
(Akhenaton~Egyptian King~14th Century BC)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.