Monday, February 25, 2008

The saddest picture in recorded history.

Don't be fooled by the hyperbole of this post's title. It does not rhetorically suggest something that is in fact pleasant, by virtue of its over-the-top claim. Nor does it needlessly exaggerate some trivial annoyance, in a vain effort on my part to get you to watch a Rick Astley video. It is, to my estimation, really and truly the saddest picture in recorded history. If you're up for it, click on it, look at it, and then I'd like to tell you why I think the way I do.

First, the picture in question: A daguerreotype from 1853.

There's some details on the page that you'll notice. For instance, we know the mother's name (Harriet H. Parker), the child's name (Fanny Melissa Parker), and that she was but 5 years and 6 months old when she passed away. Apparently there was also a short poem published in the newspaper. I am searching for it and if I do find it, I will update with a new post. However, there is much, much more to consider.

Stop for a moment, if you will, and think about how amazing a technology the daguerreotype must have been to Harriet H. Parker.

According to Wikipedia, it was proclaimed a "Gift to the World" on August 19, 1839, meaning that this technology was only about fourteen years old when this was taken. Given how much slower time moved back then, that would probably only amount to an equivalent "technological age" nowdays of a few years at most.

It certainly would have been borderline miraculous, no?

And what did Harriet H. Parker ask of this miracle of engineering?

Not to bring back her deceased daughter Fanny - which clearly would have been impossible to ever hope for - but merely to immortalize her.

And so, in addition to the horrible grief she must have been feeling, she took it upon herself to spend minutes, if not hours, motionless while gently holding her deceased daughter. If I ever brag about how "having a poker face for a few seconds at a time" is something amazing, please remind me of the pressure Harriet Parker was under, knowing that the 'quality' of the immortalizing depending on her stoicism.

She did all that, and why?

To remember, and to share.

To immortalize, but without cursing. After all, millennia of literature up to and including modern movies like "Highlander" (and even video games like "Lost Odyssey") focus on how literal immortality would be a curse, yet our imperfect "human" path to immortality - by remembering people after they are gone - is the single greatest blessing that can be given.

And even though I believe the factors discussed here summarize the true "sadness" of this picture, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how moving it is to know that, by viewing this picture, I'm not just looking blankly at two people from a century and a half ago.

With her actions, Harriet asked people to "feel" for the loss of young Fanny. And when I "feel" that sadness, I know that I am, somehow, contributing to her wishes, in a collective subconsciousness that spans time and space effortlessly. I must be. What else could you call the impulse to feel for something or someone in such a way?

And hopefully if you've read this far, that means you have too. If so, thanks for helping me out.

No comments: