What We Leave Behind

(Pictures taken at Rolling Hills Zoo by Marylin Warner.)

(All pictures are by Marylin Warner unless otherwise identified.)



African message stick

house on the plains







In 1937, the term “time capsules” became popular. The purpose was to bury and preserve items that would be a future communication, to be opened at a specific date.

There are numerous time capsules around the world that wait to be opened. For instance, the National Millennium Time Capsule in Washington, DC, will be opened in 2100. It holds assorted objects from history, including a piece of the Berlin Wall, a Hostess Twinkie, a helmet from WWII, a cell phone, and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.

But what about the things we leave behind without burying them to be found later?

During this year’s Labor Day Art Festival in Colorado, a rock balancing display—with no support of any kind for the rocks—was held in Fountain Creek. The artists knew this would not be permanent art; they did it for the challenge and the joy of creating.

Rock Balancing in Fountain Creek.  Photo by Jerilee Bennet.

(Rock Balancing in Fountain Creek. Photo by Jerilee Bennet.)

More lasting things we leave behind are memorials to those who have gone on ahead: cemeteries, monuments, statues and dedications of poetry, music and art. In Oklahoma City, at the site of the 1995 bombing, artists created 168 chairs as a beautiful and lasting memorial for those killed, including the 19 young children who died in the day care center.

Some of the chairs at the Oklahoma City  memorial.

On the Kansas plains, lonely cabins hold the spaces where settlers once made their homes.   At the Rolling Hills Zoo near Salina, KS, two African message sticks are preserved along one the paths. We don’t have to know who created any of these things, or exactly when or where, to appreciate the work and beauty that someone left behind.  (pictures above)

Other things left behind are rules, laws and warnings.  In towns wherever brick streets were popular, we can still find bricks with reminders like “Don’t spit on sidewalk”

advice, rules, instructions

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for my grandmother and all she left behind. She was a hardworking, kind, faithful and remarkable woman who, after her husband died, continued to run the farm and raise five children, including my mother. Neither woman would have assembled and buried a time capsule to be opened in the future. All my grandmother’s life, and until my mother’s dementia, they were too busy living in the present, doing what had to be done, facing challenges and embracing joys, and making a difference in the lives of others. Those are their legacies.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” With all that is happening in the world, may we be wise and grateful enough to appreciate the miraculous in common acts of kindness, goodness, love and hope.

My grandmother's five children; my mother is in the middle.

(My grandmother’s five children; my mother is in the middle.)


Filed under art, Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, lessons about life, life questions, memories for great-grandchildren, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Spiritual connections

47 responses to “What We Leave Behind

  1. Molly

    Wonderful things to be Thankful for at Thanksgiving time, Mom. There are so many things that you and Grandma have left (or are leaving) behind for me and Grace and Gannon. Every time we spend time together, or talk it is building memories. The kids are so linked and tied to family because of all the wonderful things we do together and all the time we spend together. It is full circle – just like me with my grandma and grandpa. Thank you for being the memory makers for G and G.

    • Oh, sweetie, thank you. You, Trevor, Grace and Gannon are the memories for our hearts. Dad and I still talk about all the memories of your growing up, and now Grace and Gannon weave happy memories among the others, making us all so grateful that we are family.
      See you soon, honey, for a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  2. You have much to be thankful for with your grandmother and mother Marylin as I know your own children have in you and your husband. You’re all passing along the wonderful messages you grew up with.
    I think it’s an awful shame that we have to ‘appreciate the miraculous in common acts of kindness, goodness, love and hope.’ since kindnesses and goodness should not be miraculous but should be the norm. Love and hope should be the standard fare for everyone, everywhere and we should all be striving to achieve it.
    I’m thankful for all those that try to improve the lot of others and that certainly means I’m thankful for you Marylin.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • I’m thankful for you, too, David. And I agree that acts of kindness, goodness, love and hope should be the standard fare for everyone. This year, maybe more will be aware and share it with others. Massive Hugs to you, little Reuben, and your family, David.

  3. Don

    I’ve always been fascinated by that which has been left behind, especially ruins. You describe those lonely little cabins on the Kansas plains. That touches me deeply, Marylin. Such a meaningful post – thank you.

    • Aw, thank you, Don. All over the country, when you drive the countryside you see the remains of little houses, and in some states there are even still the remains of sod house. Settling the land was no easy endeavor.

  4. Don

    The image of that cabin is wonderful Marylin. I’d love to be there just pondering on it.

    • This is one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken, Don. Out on the plains, alone on the prairie where the land meets the open sky, this little cabin still somehow manages to cling to the past. I love creating possible stories of the families who might have lived there and taken shelter with each other.

  5. Travelling around Europe I have seen what has been left behind and am awestruck. Seeing things from over 2000 years ago, makes me realize how civilization has survived. It is because of people like our strong grandmothers and mothers that we will continue to survive. I love your daughter´s comment. Brought a tear to my eye. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Molly’s comments gave me a few tears, too, Darlene. I’m always so grateful that our family treasures our time together and loves to talk about the grandparents that went before and in memory are still a part of us today. At Thanksgiving, though, I feel especially nostalgic and grateful.
      I love your comment about traveling around Europe and realizing how civilization has survived because of strong, hardworking people like our grandmothers and mothers. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Darlene!

  6. As you hopscotch around the country, I know I’ll learn something about places I’ve never visited and don’t know much about. Thank you for a taste of the Midwest – and frequently of your family’s heritage there.

    As you recall from my blog, my mother left behind many artifacts of her life as a Mennonite in Lancaster County, PA, but what I treasure most are the precious memories. The Emerson quote really resonated with me because I have experienced the richness of her “common” life.

    This Thanksgiving season I count my many blessings, including our friendship in this online space. 😉

    • You’re one of my blessings, too, Marian. Thank you for sharing your wonderful combination of precious truths about being both Plain and Fancy, and the lessons that resonate with us all. Thanksgiving blessings to you and your family!

  7. Great post Marylin. You have me thinking about what we leave behind with every interaction with another person. A kind smile, or a nasty look. A kind word, or a muttered expletive.
    A thank you to someone who holds a door for us, or an un-noticing dismissal. Are these just momentary ‘leavings’ are do they, in some way build or diminish us and the other?
    Thank you for your thoughtful and carefully crafted blog entries each week. And Happy Thanksgiving.

    • So much of what you write, Rod, tells me that both of my parents–before Dad’s Alzheimer’s and now Mom’s dementia–would have loved having you at their table. Through your comments I can almost hear my dad saying the words, reminding us that it’s the seemingly small things we do and say that make a huge difference.
      Thank you, Rod, and Happy Thanksgiving to your and your family, too.

  8. juliabarrett

    Marylin, what a beautiful post. So true and so poignant. Your mother would be so proud of you.

  9. Marylin, I love your positive attitude on life. It’s obvious you take after your grandmother and mother, a woman who was hardworking, kind, faithful and remarkable. You do make a difference in the lives of those who read your blog. Keep it up. And have a very Happy Thanksgiving. 🙂

    • Actually, during trying circumstances, I really struggle to be positive and hopeful, Tracy. But for my mother and my grandmother–even though I know that they were aware of troubles and problems–both kept busy and hopeful and optimistic, and they focused on helping others and making things better. Thank you for the kind words, Tracy, and I wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.

  10. calvin

    You made me tear up, which is not that easy, sadly. And it is a good thing to, so thank you. Yes we need artifacts, those mile markers of sorts, to pin point a history of being and beings. But memories; oh how they stir one’s sensitivity to what often is the down to earth miraculous that goes unnoticed or simply forgotten.

    • It’s the down-to-earth, common but miraculous details that keep us centered in ourselves and tied to fragments of hope, Calvin. And tearing up is good for us, too; it keeps our eyes shiny and focused, right? Make this day a mile marker for yourself, and go for the good! 😉
      Happy Thanksgiving, and many blessings!

  11. Beautiful tribute to your grandmother and mother, Marylin. I remember that photo of your mother with her siblings…love it! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  12. Claudia

    Ah yes, what we leave behind. I have begun to think of the topic and fear I have not left behind all I wanted to do. Yesterday at the beauty shop, I met a former student’s mother for the first time. Her daughter was a handful, often a giggling disruption, a cheerful chatterbox that I loved to work with. I feared she would never settle down to anything serious, would be flighty enough to wreck her own life. Well, Chicken Butt (her words) settled down into a nice marriage, is a mother of two lovely girls, and pushed slowly through college and is an RN at a local hospital! I’d like to think stretching my own classroom rules might have been some of the elastic that allowed this girl to find the disciplined snap later in life. No matter what, it felt good to hear a success story!

    • Absolutely, Claudia. From the way you describe her–and how proud you are of her choices and successes–it sounds like you did understand and care about the girl.
      I think we all go through periods when we worry about what we wish we’d done to leave behind as a statement about our life, especially at this time of year. Don’t you think the darker, shorter days and winter weather are part of it? Let me know if you figure this out, as it seems to apply to many of us. Happy Thanksgiving, Claudia.

  13. Jim

    I love the pictures and theme of this week’s blog. You always come up with something fun and thought-provoking to relate to our family.

    The art of balancing the rocks really caught my attention this week. Pretty amazing. How difficult it must be to achieve a small, stand-alone rock-tower. And then it’s gone! Puts me in mind of the Buddhist monks who spend hundreds of hours creating intricate, multi-colored sand-pictures on a sidewalk only to wash them away after a brief viewing in the completed state. “Why?” we ask. Besides creating masterpieces, these “artists” apparently want us to think about “what we leave behind” in a different sense than we normally want to.

    • Thank you, honey. You’re a big part of so many of my blog ideas, and this time I owe you for the balanced rocks.
      When it comes to Molly and the kids, many of our best stories of what we’re leaving behind are part of our memories because of our family. We have many reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving, don’t we?

      • Jim

        We certainly do have much for which to be thankful, sweetie, including this blog, which is a masterpiece creation that shall endure. I echo Molly’s beautiful comment above.

  14. Hi Marylin, what a lovely post on memories and time capsules. Many times when I do weddings, the bride and groom will create a time capsule to be opened on their 1st, 5th, or 10th anniversary. They write letters to each other to be opened on that date and they include tidbits of their lives or of their wedding day. I think this is a lovely idea.
    Thank you for a wonderful post. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

    • I love the idea of bride and groom time capsules, Joanne! Not just for themselves–though that is excellent, too–but think of how their children will enjoy seeing this side of their parents’ lives!
      It makes saving the top layer of the wedding cake in the freezer until the first anniversary (which is the usual tradition among our friends) pale in comparison. 😉
      And a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, Joanne.

  15. A wonderful tribute to your grandmother Marylin, and to the poignancy and importance of living in the present, getting on with what needs to be done today, building a beautiful legacy by investing in the love and joy of those we meet everyday: family, friends, loved ones, neighbours, colleagues, everyone. Lovely family photo, you mom looks so adorable. Wishing you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving dear Marylin, a celebration I miss but will always remember so fondly spent with my family all those years ago in California…a legacy of wonderful, happy memories. And now time to make lots more 🙂

    • Probably, if you invited a number of British buddies for a true Thanksgiving celebration, they might wonder about the story of the first Thanksgiving and if the pilgrims and Indians really fixed a feast. 😉 But you could try it, and like kindergarteners, some could dress as pilgrims and others dress as Indians.
      Actually, the happy feelings of having family together, everyone bringing a special dish to share, sitting around the big table and being oh-so-glad to all be together–that’s what makes Thanksgiving special for me–and I wish it for you and your family, too, Sherri! 🙂

      • I always think about doing something about that, but somehow it never happens. But we do have our ‘Thanksgiving’ at other times throughout the year and especially at Christmas, which is several day of feasting together. I love it, nothing better than being gathered around the table with our loved ones…have a wonderful time together dear Marylin, I will be thinking of you, and thank you for your lovely, kind wishes 🙂

      • And tonight, Sherri, your blog took me on the most wonderful journey of castle doors, windows, wild cats, telephone boxes filled with books…and “bird hides.” You introduce me to so many wonderful British terms and adventures, Sherri, and on this Thanksgiving I’m so very thankful for you!

  16. Hi Marylin!

    Thank you for all the reminders. I went to University in Oklahoma at the time of the bombing and can remember this tragedy very well. Good to remember and nor forget. I have also some pieces of the Berlin Wall at home. I picked them myself right after the Berlin Wall came down. That was such an unbelievable moment. And Oh Marylin; your grandmother must have been a very special person; just like your mom and yourself. The legacy lives on …

    That was a post that made me relive some of my moments. Thank you so much for that! Hugs, Ilka

    • Oh, Ilka, then you do have a personal remembrance of the Oklahoma City tragedy. If you have been back to appreciate the Survivor Tree and the memorial chairs, etc., it’s very touching to see the way the city–and people from all over, actually–have created a living reminder to the lives lost.
      Thank you very much for your kind comments about my grandmother, my mother, and myself, Ilka. I wish you and your loved ones a happy Thanksgiving.

  17. Happy Thanksgiving to you my friend. Lovely post! XO

  18. What a wonderful collection of things to ponder you have given us. Thank you

  19. I like studying photographs for families over my blogging years, Marylin. I like that you are not only memorializing your grandmother but are honoring your parents, too. ♡♡ You have a calm spirit which radiates in your writing and in the face of the middle child who you were. 🙂

    • Thank you, Robin. My “middle child” status is only as the daughter of parents with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and also mother and grandmother involved in the lives of my daughter and grandchildren. In real life, my mom was the middle child in her family, but I’m the second child, which was not often an opportunity for having a calm spirit as I was growing up. 😉

  20. Marylin … Photographs and memories are what I inherited after my parents and grandparents passed on. Also, I feel that I’ve been able to overcome any challenges life hands me because I’ve benefitted by their resilience and courage. Like you, I hope we will “be wise and grateful enough to appreciate the miraculous in common acts of kindness, goodness, love and hope. ” 😉

  21. jakesprinter

    Amazing one love it

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