This photo was taken in Ireland, where weathered Celtic stonework remains as a permanent record of mankind’s encounter with capricious death. There are fields of them, those beautiful Celtic crosses. They all look the same but are individual in their beauty. They are evidence of the importance and gravity of death, and man’s recognition of the need to record one’s history. Ireland’s rich bardic tradition of music, and philosophy has travelled forward through time from the early 8th century when plague carried off much of the population. And with it has come the record of war, pestilence, and famine … the universal harbingers of death, and destruction.

In the 14th century the Black Death carried off an estimated 50% of the world’s population. There was no way to know what it was that was killing them when death arrived to feast on one’s neighbors, friends, and family. The randomness of plague and pestilence was ever present. Devastation came and went leaving empty villages and crippled hope. Nevertheless, those that survived the loss of all that they once had, took on the responsibility of creating their history.

The specter of death and the human tragedy that travels in its caravan is the same today. Even though we are able to communicate and join together to fight the current pandemic, I don’t think we are really any more or less capable of dealing with the unknown than those who went before us. We might know its name, but COVID is really the plague cloaked in modern dress. It is still frightening and still destroys life with a reckless abandon.

The question is who will create the history of our shared experience? Just as our ancestors left evidence of their collective trauma, so too will the outcome of this crisis be our history. What shall we leave behind? Poetry? Philosophy? Music? Artwork? Where are the voices that will record our journey?

Or, as my mother might have said, what do you have to say for yourself?

But then I ask myself, who will listen to what it is I have to say? We are living in a noisy world … where there is way too much information about everything, and not enough time or will to sort through it all.

In the past, when disaster struck the impact was felt at a local level. In a village or town your history rested in the hands of a few people you knew or at least recognized. But with the expansion of our world, we have become dis-associated from the events we share. Our community is no longer local. We are geographically disconnected from our circle of friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zoom and the phone and the internet and all that the electronic explosion has given us. But with it comes a form of isolation. We still only live on a local level, and as artists, what we create reflects only the smallest pin-prick of experience in a world too large to comprehend. In our electronic world, artistic expression in all its myriad forms is really only the local version of events. An artist deals only in personal memoir. And yet ironically the humanity revealed by such personalized accounts becomes an important part of the archive we create for the future.

So in the end the question becomes, who selects the story line, or the philosophical thread, or the image, or the sculptural expression of our shared trauma? Journalism gives us world history. We read the paper or listen to the news to find out what is happening. But our cultural narrative is written through the individual artistic lens assembled into something like a universal memoir.

I guess my mother was right after all. It really is all about what you have to say for yourself.


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