A Hole In The Ground by George Merrill


If the New Years’ experience is nothing else, it’s our collective indulgence in nostalgia.

We all know that feeling of sweet aching, a yearning for some aspects of our past, however we interpreted them. The word nostalgia means coming home. And of course, ‘home’ begs the question: just where is home? Is home somewhere way back there that I’ve left behind, or is it located up ahead of me where I have not yet arrived? Is a homecoming a retreat? An advance? Or might it be just standing where I am and really know the place.

I suspect it’s all of the above. Home is wherever the heart is.

When I was a boy, I wrote a message on a piece of yellow lined paper and placed it in a can that once held tennis balls. I dug a hole in the ground and buried it in the hayfields behind our house. I cannot remember what I wrote although I remember the yellow lined paper. I wanted the finder to know something, but for the life of me I cannot recall what it was. I do recall feeling powerfully driven to leave a message hidden for someone one day to discover. I would describe the feeling as one of nostalgia and a fleeting sense of life’s hidden connections that emerge to surprise me. Creating my time capsule was inspired perhaps by stories I’d read about people finding bottles on beaches, set adrift by someone unknown far away. I’ve wondered whether it was my way of leaving a piece of me behind that would outlast my days, a primal yearning perhaps for immortality, a statement across time that bears witness to the fact that I had once been here.

I recently retrieved copies of old newspapers I saved from New Year’s Day, Y2K; specifically, the Washington Post and The Staten Island Advance. They represented the worlds of my past on the Island, and my present home in St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore. I saved them thinking the millennium was an epic event and it might be interesting years later to see what our concerns were when it first came.

It turned out it wasn’t how we would fare in the new millennium, but how our electronics would. The bogey man then was the fear of the Millennium Bug, a problem in the coding of computerized systems that was projected to create havoc in computers and computer networks around the world at the beginning of the year.

The evolution of our computerized systems has in fact created havoc, not coding issues as such, but the impact electronics have brought to every conceivable aspect of modern life. Few would consider leaving their homes today without taking their cell phones than they’d consider leaving the house without clothes.

I saw in that edition of the Post that I was not alone in my desire to put time capsules in the earth. One headline read: “A time capsule from the people of the year 2000 to those of the year 3000.” The national millennial time capsule in D.C. contained among other things, a piece of the Berlin Wall, a Hostess Twinkie, a WWII helmet and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.” How the contents for time capsules were chosen is not clear. The contents of some raise the question in my mind of just what were they thinking.

Take for example the Billings Montana Campfire Girls Adventure Group 33; they sealed a time capsule in l976 to be opened 2076 Tercentennial. That they included a Princess telephone, a digital watch seems understandable, but a box of bullets was odd. Was it something like squirrels who bury acorns to be retrieved when the going gets tough? Maybe the bullets have something to do with the girls being called “Adventure Group 33,” or do the bullets suggest the incipient stages of the #metoo movement.

In 1976, a time capsule was buried at the Los Angeles Bicentennial to be opened in 2076. The contents included one of Cher’s dresses, a pet rock, a skateboard and Laker Jerry West’s No. 44 basketball jersey.” Mostly Frippery in my opinion.

A Time Capsule commemorating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. was sealed in 1988 and slated to be opened in 2088. Here the contents seem appropriate; personal possessions of a great man, audio cassettes of the 80’s and recordings of the significant speeches of the civil rights era.

The Westinghouse time capsule sealed at the 1939 World’s Fare (I was there), was slated to be opened in 6939. Why so far into the future I can’t imagine. It contained no remarkable items or any whimsical material, but microfilm, news reels, fabrics and, presciently, seeds.
Since science is creating hybrids all the time, studying the characteristics of the original seeds might teach us how life mutates over time, perhaps like preserving the bones of a pre-historic man.

Most American time capsules from the 19th and 20th centuries contained a Bible, stamps, coins, newspapers and an American flag. Some offer predictions about how life will be when they are opened.

On the front page of The Washington Post’s millennial edition I read; “Yeltsin Resigns: Premier Putin Assumes Power Pending Election. He’s here to stay.

What became of my own time capsule that I sealed and placed in the ground in 1944? In 1945, the field was bull dozed for a housing development. No doubt my statement to the world was lost to development. As silly as it may sound, although I have no idea what I wanted to tell the world in my time capsule, I felt a twinge of nostalgia when I remembered placing it in the ground while I entertained the hope that one day it would be found and my words would become a part of someone else’s story.

That kind of moment is more than just a hole in the ground.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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