The Accounting

To keep accounts has to do with numbers. But in many languages it is also connected to the word “story”. You have account books that will keep a record of your expenditures and your receivables, and hopefully there will be only one record, the true record.

There might also be an account, a story, of your life. It might not be written it might just be a collection of memories, a family oral tradition, or perhaps stories that are told about you from complete strangers. One would hope that this would also be a true record.

The ancient Egyptians believed in an afterlife, their whole process of preparing the body for burial was necessary because the afterlife was as real as their current life. One of the first steps after death was the judgement before Anubis. The Egyptians believed that a light heart would be a good thing. A heavy heart would be laden with guilt and evil. Anubis had a scale with a feather in one tray, your heart would be balanced with this Feather. The god Thoth would be there to write this all down, making your potential condemnation legal, if necessary.

It was also thought that the newly dead could present a written record, an accounting of their life, just in case the gods had forgotten all the goods deeds that had been done. Of course this was written before death, and one would hope that it was current. Accidentally death could have been problematic, but perhaps a scroll was stashed away someplace, or maybe a scribe was in the family and could whip something up on the spot.

These scrolls, the story of their life, were rolled up and placed in the hand before burial. Thoth, the wise god, could read what was written and perhaps tip the scales. After the Great Library of Alexandria was destroyed, many scrolls were not burned in the fire. The poorest of the rioters gathered arms full of scrolls, and carried them back to there homes. For years, when one of the family died, the body was wrapped in random scrolls before burial, and often, perhaps a classic Greek play was carefully rolled and placed in the hand of the corpse. The poor were mostly illiterate, but they thought that they should go to the afterlife with a story in their hand.

We know all this because of archeology digging in the cemeteries of the poor. More scrolls found there then in the tombs of kings.

Today we don’t have that custom. Some people write about their thoughts, they keep journals, and they even publish what they have written. Most do not. Some people make a better account of their lives than their actual life. It is not fun, nor particularly enjoyable, to write of the more darker thoughts or actions. Better to leave a record of the positive things. If the bad things are serious enough, then surely you will be judged on them. We even have legal issues around self-recriminations, why remind everyone how bad you can be?

By the very nature of the “accounting”, we are the star of our own story. We took a breathe, we grew, we did things, and then we died. Very straightforward story. 

However,the world is not full of individual stories. It is a mixture, a blend of the impacts of story upon story. History may only record that you bandaged the knee of a future Olympian, and because you stopped a potential infection, he ran the fastest mile ever recorded. Yet, your life was complete on its own, full of accomplishment and failure.

Harald Hardrada was king of Norway, by his own hand. He was fifty years old and had never lost a battle, except his first one. He invaded England stating his claim was more valid than the current Saxon king Harold Godwin. It should have been Hardrada’s story. Instead, he took an arrow in the eye, and died at Stamford Bridge. So it really was King Harold Godwin’s story. Except that King Harold of England lost more than half of his very best men in the battle, and then he found out that William the Bastard had invaded from Normandy. He quick marched his mauled army down to meet William and might have beaten him, but he took an arrow in the throat and died on the heights. It was actually William the Conqueror’s story after all.

George Eskridge was an colonist born in 1660 in Lancaster, England. When he was ten years old, he was visiting Wales, and playing in the city square. A British Naval Press Gang moved through the square and young George was soon on board a ship bound for the colonies. Upon arrival he was sold as an indentured servant to a plantation owner in Virginia. What his parents thought, or knew has not been recorded. Indentured servitude was for seven years, so young George was freed at seventeen and was allowed to return to Lancaster.

Apparently he has used his time in America to learn how best to run a plantation. He enrolled in college, earned a law degree, went back to Virginia, and bought the most promising plantation in Westmoreland County. He also became a politician and was part of the House of Burgesses for ten years. He married well, had healthy children, and was a man of honor. 

The story of George Eskridge was known far and wide as a remarkable success, and he was not embittered by his kidnapping as a boy.

A neighbor, Mr.Ball, had gotten sick, and George had helped him, his wife, and daughter to bring in the harvest. When the neighbor died, George convinced the widow to keep the land, and he would continue to help with planting and harvesting. When the mother died, George brought in the orphaned daughter and raised her along with his multiple children. George even helped Mary with her engagement party, when she planned to marry another neighbor.

Mary was so influenced by George Eskridge, by his kindness, by his commitment to community, that she named her first son George. This was to be the story of George Eskridge, but the impact that he had on young Mary Ball was so profound that the lessons she learned she passed on to her son, George Washington. And it became George Washington’s story.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography.
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