Archeologist of the soul

For some reason I’ve had an image from one of my kids’ books, a Magic Schoolbus book about archaeological digs, in my head today. It’s a picture of an archaeologist crouching in the sand, sifting materials through one of those flat trays with a fine mesh bottom. Looking for pieces of treasure, fossils, messages from centuries ago.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been that archaeologist. Spurred on by my sense that something major was missing, I have been on a on a journey into my past to try to understand how I got here. To see how the tiny little choices, explicit and not, have led me to where I am now. When I think of the ways that tiny little things, each seemingly insignificant, can amount to the formidably immovable mass of a life, I always think of snowflakes: each so fragile, but together so powerful.

I have been sitting in the sands of my life, looking through piles of recollections both tangible (letters, photographs, old school papers) and intangible (memories). I sift carefully, shaking the tray side to side until most of the silt disappears through the mesh like water through a colander.  I wonder how it is that I choose the areas to sit and mine carefully; it seems random, but I imagine it is, like all things that seem coincidental, guided by some hand that I cannot see.

Most of the time all of the materials sifts through the tray, leaving nothing there. Sometimes I am startled by what remains, by a memory or a moment whose importance and power I had not realized. Other times I am not at all surprised to see the heavy lump of something there, in my hands, reminding me again of its impact on the shape of my life.  Some of the pieces, of fossil or of treasure, are anticipated, and some are not.  I take them carefully out of the sieve and place them in my bag.

As I proceed down the roads of my childhood and life until now, the bag grows slightly heavier, weighted with pieces that have made themselves meaningful enough to save.  The next task, I think, will be to read the code in these fragments, to piece them together and see the whole that is far larger than the sum of their disparate parts.  I’m nowhere near done on the dig site though.  There is much more sand to sift through, many more pieces, each of which allows a small part of the past to speak in the present, to find.

12 thoughts on “Archeologist of the soul”

  1. Spectacular Lindsay. Really, really amazing. So full of meaning and so easy to understand at the same time. I’m just starting down a similar journey of my own, out of necessity for my health and peace of mind. I lost my mother when I was only 4 and that single defining moment has had a ripple effect on the entirety of my life. I’ve started to sift through the memories and moments you refer to, I’m hoping to be able to separate and find comfort in knowing. It’s not an easy path to travel. I’m delighted to read your own experience because it helps.

  2. What a powerful analogy. I see you sifting and sorting, even as you write in this space. I feel in many ways like we’re with you on this dig, discovering with you. And it’s such a treat.
    I seriously can’t wait to meet you in real life.

  3. What a great metaphor! I can almost see you, crouched down, pawing carefully through the rubble.

    As for me? I think I’m more like that crazy old dude on the beach with a beaten-up metal detector. 🙂

  4. love, am amazed and humbled by the synchronicity. wow, during the first months of motherhood (and truly ever since), i have used this exact phrase to describe my mothering experience, noting that my children were archeologists of my soul, excavating my dark, hidden corners and unearthing a whole new me. beautiful.

  5. And don’t forget the significance of the items in your bag for the future. For what they will mean to your children and what they will symbolize about your own life, history, legacy.

  6. Beautiful and apt way of describing the act of looking back, parsing through recollections and moments for what defines and makes us. I’ve been thinking and struggling with this for years and enjoyed sifting with you by reading the through the past posts to which you linked. It’s interesting when you read just the right thing for the day and your post has been that for me.

  7. Oh Lindsey, you *are* an archeologist of the soul. A soul archeologist. A soarcheologist?

    This passage caught in my heart: “To see how the tiny little choices, explicit and not, have led me to where I am now… that tiny little things, each seemingly insignificant, can amount to the formidably immovable mass of a life…”

    Husband and I have been watching “The Pacific” miniseries on HBO, about the Pacific battles of WWII. What has really left an impression on us is the sheer chance, the luck of things. How there is no rhyme or reason to why one soldier dies and another lives, when they are mere feet from one another. It is just fate or God or whatever.

    And this sounds morbid, but I think it’s in the same vein as your words. We face so many decisions, so many forks in the road of life. Some of them – like choosing a college or deciding to get married or accepting one job over another – are very clear. We know these choices will lead us in one direction and not another. But then there are the “inexplicit” decisions we make, that we don’t even recognize for what they are. And all we can do is have faith that we’re headed in the right direction.

  8. My mother-in-law (now gone) lost her dad at four, my mom lost her dad a little later, but still as a kid. I just wanted to say that I have some notion of the inexplicable power of such losses, and that I am sorry for yours. In your sifting you must look also to your bones, and deep into your own eyes and you may find more clues as to how to be both truly your own self, but also how you are part of your mom.

    I feel like the dead are really so close to us sometimes, helping us sort and dig. There is a wonderful movie, if you’ve never seen it called “Wings of Desire,” that really evokes some feelings that are fairly impossible to put into words.


  9. This made me think of walking into a cave in the Dordogne and seeing horses and bison made many thousands of years ago and feeling that this was like some post-it note to my own collective soul—it didn’t seem foreign or old, rather it seemed to be life itself, animals themselves and not pictures of animals and certainly not “art,” and I felt like this was some talisman not of creative expression, but of being, a living remnant from the very bottom of the dig.


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