The air was damp and cold as a girl and her mother got off the bus and began walking past Stadium High School. The huge castle-like structure fascinated the girl. At ten years old, she was very fanciful, and the building looked nothing like a school to her. In her mind, the battlements and towers spoke of a different era. Knights descended the stairs in complete shining armor. ‘Ladies in Distress’ leaned from the windows. Filmy, wispy fabric blew from the tops of their conical hats. She and her mother always passed this way on their trips to the museum. It was a kind of gateway into the past. The spell had begun to work.
They reached the corner and turned downhill. From here she could see the waterfront. Heavy fog drifted over the water. The girl scanned the sound for old tall ships, schooners and frigates. She had seen sailboats out there before, and if she squinted just right, she could see the pirates that manned them.
Soon they were passing the huge round stadium. She thought she could hear the lions that must be pacing in their cages. Hungry lions growling, waiting for …
The girl and her mother walked up the marble steps and into the silent museum. They tip-toed past the huge albatross that guarded the steps leading to the most important room: The Egyptian Room. Although it was summer, her teacher awaited. Maybe today he would tell her the answer she longed to hear. Maybe today …
The morning was overcast as we finished things up before driving south to Tacoma. We were meeting Will and Stephanie at the Tacoma Historical Society to celebrate my 59th birthday in a very unique way, with a very unique individual.
Ankh Wennefer was back. Come back out of the oblivion of the storage section, out from under the blanket put there to protect him from the dust which had filtered down since the time I saw him last.
A ten year old girl. Does he remember her? Does he remember the tentative wave from the doorway? “Until next time,” she had whispered. Not knowing of course that the next time would be 49 years later. Was he willing now, to impart the answer to the question she had asked so many times while sitting next to him, just the two of them in the Egyptian Room.
The feeling of anticipation mounted, just as it had all those years ago. Maybe today. Maybe now he would consider me worthy. The student, still eager to learn, returns yet again to sit at his feet.
Will and Stephanie had arrived before us, and we exchanged hugs. Stephanie, still trying to understand her future mother-in-law, stood with gentle patience, having been briefed by my son on why this is such a momentous occasion, such a perfect celebration for my birthday. This birthday. We enter the museum together, a different building, but with the same air of mystery of time gone by. No albatross guards the wide stairway leading to the 5th floor, so we pass unchallenged. Becky would join us later after taking a business call in the car.
The displays were magnificent, each building up to the next in an interesting briefing on life (and death) in Egypt. Beautiful amulets, maps, hieroglyphics and pictures lined the walls and filled the cases. So close, I could almost feel their texture, but safely secured under glass. Ages old, yet once treasured. Once a part of someone’s everyday life, perhaps a method of worshiping the god they held dear. Their rosary. Other pieces possibly were a part of the funerary garments used to send them safely on their journey.
Becky soon caught up with us, and shared this moment with reverence for the stories I have told her. She knew about Ankh.
As we turned a corner in the exhibit, I recognized a face. A reconstruction of what the forensic artists believe he would have looked like. Yes. There was his name under the bust. It was the man I knew. My mummy. I had waited so long to look into his eyes.
I must admit. That moment had the same impact as if I had walked into a room and found George Harrison standing there waiting to greet me. It took a moment for me to walk up to his face. I longed to reach out and touch the cold, white plaster. High cheekbones, wide mouth with full lips, a large, straight nose, eyebrows pulled down into a thoughtful frown. Serious, just as I knew he would be. His eyes were gazing off into the next room, and I knew he was waiting for me.
He was alone when we entered the room. I recognized the sarcophagus that he lay in. Rows of colorful hieroglyphics silently told his story, along with directions for his afterlife. I wonder if my name is listed. If somewhere in these directions, he was instructed to finally give me the answer to my question as a part of his priestly responsibilities in the afterlife. Although the display is housed in a different location, although the sarcophagus is closed and I can no longer see him lying in front of me, I take my place beside him in exactly the same spot that I had always chosen. Waiting for his words, for the answer I have patiently waited. Once again, I whisper the question while no one is looking.
“What is the meaning of life?”
As I wait, I look around me. His life surrounds his death. He had trusted in his belief structure. He had fulfilled the obligations placed on him by his community and his faith. He had lived a full life, right up until the accident that caused his death. He had given of himself to the cause he believed in, expecting as much of himself as he could give. He had believed in honor, and had trusted his god to provide accordingly, expecting an afterlife that would be gentle with him.
No different than me. The words from the Book of the Dead that he had chosen for his last journey covered the wood of the sarcophagus. Were they much different than from a book that I would choose? What have I learned from my life to give me meaning for my journey? Perhaps the same words, written differently, but with the same meaning. Life, interpreted differently by each of us perhaps brings us to the same meaning.
What is the meaning of life?
As I stood quietly beside his glass shroud, I am overwhelmed with the desire to understand. To understand the stars we stand under at night. To understand the look of love in a lover’s eyes. To understand the passage of days: good days passing into bad days passing into good days. To understand the eternal questions of faith, how bad things can happen to good people. To understand the differences and similarities in people within their cultures. To understand where I end and others begin. To understand this place called earth, and our journey here. To understand.
I leave the room, with tears threatening. I try not to let the others see just how this has affected me. I try not to show just how painful it is to say goodbye. This may be my last chance to visit him. I hope, somehow, he knows what he has meant to me. That even in death, this priest has reached out to me and has changed me in ways I have only now begun to realize. But I will not say goodbye. Never goodbye.
On my way out of the museum, I stop in his room one last time. I realize I have four words to tell him. I do not tell him, “Until next time,” as I had whispered shyly as a child. The grown woman has another message for him.
“Thank you. I understand.”
The following picture is a CT scan of Ankh.
Rest easy, my friend.
May the afterlife be everything you hoped for.