Not long before my mother passed away, she was given a smartphone by her children so as to be ready reachable and in case of emergency …we paid the connection fees etc … all she had to do was sign on.
Of course, signing on to such services has a security obligation and so one is called upon to use identity clues for a secure connection … clues that no other person will know. But being older, she knew from experience that she had best write those clues down just in case she would be called upon to repeat them verbatim at some future time.
So there, under the lid of the box the smartphone came in was a slip of paper with three items that were the answers to three obvious requests from the service provider:
My first pet: ‘Taby’.”
“I was called: ‘ Peggy’ when young.”
”My parents met in the city of: Sydney.”
These three little insights into a past life give clue to the gentle humanity of us all … little “songs” shall we say, of those moments that are held softly and secretly within our hearts, like a faded flower holding a special memory, pressed between the pages of an old novel. Strange then, that we will share them with an anonymous machine without compunction, yet not be inclined to freely reveal such to other people. Perhaps it is that machine-like anonymity that reassures us … some people seem to have that same encouraging “feel” whereupon you can unload worries or confidences into a sensitive ear.
This, to my way of thinking is a failing of history … of our local history, where incidents and events are recorded minutely in committee records and local government archives etc … but where are the personal names? Where are the identities that these events centred around? Who were these people who marched down the street of the town on such and such celebration day? What was the fate of the person whose car or buggy or person was crashed and injured in industrial accident or fall? Who were all these people who marched through time with neither personality or history? Are we all to be slaves to opaque anonymity? Where is the colour in the canvas .. the eyes that are the mirrors to so many souls?
I recall perusing through some archived photographs of a local town’s German school from the 1930’s. There were the usual gathering of kids ranging from around fourteen/fifteen down to seven or eight years, their beaming faces giving lie to their shoe-less poverty … but then I noticed in the second row, in the shadow of one of the many Sagenschnitter brood, a dark-skinned boy of around (at a guess) ten years. I enlarged the photo on my computer and sure enough, there he was … an Indigenous child amongst the twenty or so German kids. What was he doing there? After all, in those times many of those children only knew English as a second language.
Fortunately his name was recorded along with all the others in handwritten script under the photo and with a degree of complicated research, I eventually found the solution to the conundrum. He was one of the Stolen Generation … placed in care as a ward of the State in 1921 from the tender age of two years for being “illegitimate” … and I learned from local sources that some Indigenous children were placed in these country centres far away from their original place of birth as a “subsidy placement” (whatever that means) with suitable families. But whatever the suitability of the family who took this boy in, it was recorded that he escaped their care and eventually made his way under several different names to Mildura where he died suddenly in 1936 – aged 15 – under suspicious circumstances from Strychnine poison. The history of this lad’s fore-shortened stay on this earth would have gone un-collated save through police and one paragraph newspaper notification and indeed, because the death was in another state from the one he was registered in, no enquiry was conducted and he would have been totally forgotten … but for this accidental notice of a different ethnicity amongst all those Germanic children. And what also of his mother and relatives in this entire sorry affair? That is the chance of history.
And what chance for many others, identities forgotten in the steamrolling onslaught of capitalist production, so many heaped together in congested tenements and desperate lodgings so that even in old age we become just another commodity of “cost per unit” in an aged “care” investment property portfolio … as has been recently aired on the ABC with the closure of the Gatwick Hotel and the subsequent disasters for some of the tenants who resided there?
Here is the link to a short story about this very subject by Lajos Zilahy; But for this.
Is this the universal fate for those without funds or favour in the wider community? Lost in the sands of time … to have any memory of their personal idiosyncratic character die along with the last one who has a direct knowledge of them at all … with perhaps nothing left on record save those “personal security identities” clinically saved on some sort of android device … a history condensed to three passwords … three little moments of one’s personal identity … a soul incomplete.
We are all humans in a humanist society … and we should not think nor treat others as a capitalist commodity.