Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Spread out before us
“How far does our family go back?” she asked.
Well, I said, all families go back to the beginning, but we can trace this branch to the 1700s, I said, unrolling a paper written by some of my cousins.
“That far? How many greats would that be?” she asked.
Well, there were about four generations to a century – about 25 years or so – and that was two-and-a-half centuries ago, I said. Can you do the maths? The Girl busily worked it out on a paper. “Ten?” she asked.
That’s right, I said. We can check it against the actual papers – 25 years old to have a baby is just an average. If it is ten generations, though, that's parents, grandparents, and then eight ‘greats.’
“These people were born in County Cavan,” she asked. “Is that the North or South?”
This was a century and a half before the Republic existed, I said – it was all Britain then. They were born before my native USA existed as an independent country. But the stone bridge by our house was already built, and spanning the canal just where it is now.
The Girl looked astonished – she travels back and forth to school over the old stone bridge, twice a day. “That bridge is older than all these people hundreds of years ago,” she said quietly.
Yes, that bridge has only been around 250 years or so, I said -- a quarter of a millennium. But you’d have to multiply that six times to go as far back as the monks of Glendalough – they built their monastery shortly after the Roman Empire fell. “And it’s still standing!” she said.
They built things to last back then, I said. Throwing things away hadn’t been invented yet. But humans go back much further than that – hundreds of thousands of years, and hopefully more to come.
“And all these people were alive for just … less than a hundred years?” she said.
Some a few decades, others several, I said, and they did whatever they could in that time.
Later we went out and looked at the full moon, on a frosty and remarkably clear night, and she pointed out the constellations she had learned – Cygnus, Leo, Orion. Then she clung to me quietly for a long time, and I sensed that the world had become alarmingly vast in her eyes, and she had become very small.
I love you, I said.
“I know,” she said. “I wish now would last forever.”
Now is the only thing we ever have, I said.
Photo: The Wicklow Mountains at Glendalough.