A Laughter Extended Through Time

What traces will we leave behind, once we’re gone? I don’t know if my missionary relatives asked themselves that question in respect to anything but their ultimate goal – heaven. To them,  the salvation of souls within their mission in China was number one. They didn’t try to reach fame or become uplifted members of society – they just kept working, doing what they believed in.

Of course, they wrote letters to each other and to the mission head quarters. But these were probably not intended to still be around a hundred years later. They could also not have imagined their articles in the mission paper being saved digitally in big archives for their future relatives to read and draw conclusions from. Perhaps Olga and Dagny could have thought a little bit about their stories sticking around when they each wrote a book about their experiences in China. Though their books were mainly intended to be read by fellow missionaries at the time, and they were not printed in any big numbers.

I am very happy to have these books today, as it gives me an idea of how it was back then, in China. But none of these records are relaxed enough to give me a true picture of their personalities. What were they like in relation to others at the time – who were they as parents and friends?

A few weeks ago, a “new” relative of mine contacted me as we’re on the same heritage research site. His name is Ulf and he is a third cousin that I have yet to meet. Ulf very generously shared a couple of stories with me about our great grandmother Dagny.

Dagny and Robert. There are not many photos where Dagny is smiling – though here is one rare example!

Dagny was a fun woman and very childish at times, as I have also understood from talking to some of my older relatives. Ulf told me this story about Dagny, that I find so telling about her personality.

Our great grandfather Robert was very sought-after for giving out medicine and helping Chinese who were addicted to opium get rid of their habit. Thus his “waiting-room” was often filled with Chinese waiting for their turn.

Dagny is said to have been very busy, but also a person who wanted things to be a bit “light” and fun.

One hot summer day she looked into the waiting room and thought the Chinese sitting there looked far too gloomy and serious. Something had to be done!

She went out and got an old fire pump with a hose that she brought back to an adjacent room. She  stuck the tip of the hose through a hole she made in the rice paper that covered the “window” closest to where the patients were sitting. She then proceeded to pump a hard water-jet over the surprised crowd in the waiting room.

They all started screaming, and Dagny ran away to hide in another part of the house.

I can imagine she had a hard time keeping from laughing too loud! And of course, she could not tell them that she was the one behind the prank. That would have been a big scandal. A foreign woman – and missionary at that – hosing down her husbands patients in their own waiting room!

This small account tells me so much about how she tried to have fun even when life was probably filled with hard work and too many needing people – sick, poor, addicted and without the faith she so believed in.

Even though Dagny probably didn’t think this story would survive and be retold 100 years on, it is now part of the legacy she left for us to learn from.

I find it fascinating. Because what do we know about what will be told from our own life once we’re gone? What we do today, might in our own eyes just be something small and insignificant, but to someone far away in the future, it might be just that missing piece that helps them understand something about you, themselves or about the world – and that is no small thing.

Thanks to Ulf for sharing!

15 comments

  1. I can’t imagine ever doing something like that myself, but it’s a great story! You pose an excellent question, “What do we know about what will be told from our own life once we’re gone?” I think about this question often when researching old photos in my collection. Often there’s no information to be found about a person at all, and even when I find something, it can’t possibly represent an entire life. Stories like this one about Dagny are the kind which usually get lost, because they’re never written down. Hooray for Ulf!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I couldn’t do that either! She was pretty brave and cheeky at the same time 🙂 I can imagine you think a lot about legacy and the history of individuals we no longer know anything about. Only a photograph remaining of a life that must have touched so many others in ways we cannot imagine. Joys and sorrows, lessons learned or not… it’s truly fascinating that every human being carries such a vast experience and lives through so much that it’s hard to encompass it all. I think you do an excellent job bringing back those people from the photos you find – giving them some attention, wondering about who they were and posing those questions that entice all of us who are following your blog. That is also a way to lift lives lived, honoring those who went before us. I am very happy Ulf shared the story about Dagny – a story that is now out there to remind us that life is not only about “getting through” but also about living and laughing this very moment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, life isn’t just about bandits invading the home or rats falling from the ceiling! 😄 Dagny must have had many positive experiences in China that she never wrote about. She must have formed friendships and other attachments to Chinese people she met. They probably changed her view of the world and perhaps also her understanding of her faith.

        Your words about my blog are so kind! Such positive feedback is really encouraging. I hope what you’re doing here on your blog is also rewarding for you. These stories about your family, and your thoughts about them, are incredibly interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

      • For sure!😄 She must have created many strong bonds over there, and I wonder if she somehow kept in touch or what she felt about that as she grew old here in Sweden. And you’re right – through meeting a different culture and other views of the world, she must have modified how she saw it all.
        I do think it’s rewarding to invest time and thought into the lives of my passed relatives and I am so grateful for your thoughts about the different themes that arise. Without this discussion it would not be as fun!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Like Brad, I couldn’t imagine myself doing such a thing! You pose such an interesting question. What will be the legacy we each leave behind, and will our paper selves last longer than our digital selves?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, I think this is very interesting. As the digital era advances, less and less is printed. Photo albums today are mainly digital and as technology shifts we also need to transfer data to new kinds of storage units. I have lots of photos and clips of my children on DVD’s – but who uses that now? If it shall not be lost, I need to transfer it to hard drives or USB:s and with time being an issue, that might not happen. So if we think about it – how much of our digital life will still be around when our children are grown-up? At least, when you have produced a physical book or photo album, you can be sure it can be found somehow… Had my ancestors only put down their thoughts in a word-file, I would never had had the privilege to read them – I am so grateful for their efforts to write those books, and so grateful we have a wonderful library in Sweden, collecting anything written and handing it out to anyone who’s interested and knows what to look for! And these blogs we’re writing might not be around forever either. maybe we should have them printed 🙂 As an author Liz, what do you think about that – will you try to save the work you’re doing on your blog in a more physical way? And what about your stories or novels that appear in online magazines or such digital sources, how can they best be preserved for generations to come? I think that all this, that we are producing, is important as a narrative about who we were. Just like any other generation, we need to pass our experiences and lessons forward in order for coming generations to learn from, just as we have been able to learn from those before us. But if everything dissappears in a “cloud” where noone has any interest in sorting or thinking about what could be interesting for coming generations, lots of information from lesser known sources might be lost when technology advances and that, what seems advanced today, is hopelessly obsolete tomorrow.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s really great when you connect with someone who has new information about someone from long ago. When thinking about legacy, this quote by Maya Angelou springs to mind – “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • A wonderful quote, Louise! Thank you for sharing that! And it’s very true – it’s the feeling that lasts. People who make you feel something, are those you remember. It seems Dagny could surprise people and make them laugh – such a wonderful quality! The fact that she is remembered for it such a long time after her passing, is truly amazing and a strong proof of how we all can affect the world, no matter how insignificant we might feel in the big scope of things.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow, this is magical. Stories from lifetimes ago. Isn’t it amazing what is left after we are gone? Bits and pieces that other people try to make sense of, things that maybe capture who we are or are not. So much to ponder. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it’s truly amazing! And to think we all affect others in so many ways and for generations to come, without us even knowing in what way or how much, is very humbling, I think. Thank you for your lovely comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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