Friday, February 17, 2006

A ghost from my past

It was a beautiful day on Friday. I took the opportunity to get on the scooter with my wife and tour both the Vancouver Maritime Museum and the Vancouver Museum as part of a professional development opportunity. They're located right off the water in Kitsilano next to the Burrard Street Bridge.

I've been to the Maritime Museum several times, but always as a tourist and this was the first time I was able to go down to the basement and look in their collections area to see some of the artifacts they had. One item was a piece of cork carved from a life raft that had be recovered after the sinking of the Titanic.

For lunch we ate at the White Spot on Cornwall Ave. and I actually spotted a silver Bentley Continental GT and a black BMW Z8 drive by. I've seen a dark Lamborghini Gallardo driving around Coquitlam a few times, but it was the first time I'd seen either of those two cars on the street.

In the afternoon we toured the Vancouver Museum (which happens to be in the same building as the H.R. MacMillan Space Center). The last time I was there was probably more than 30 years ago when I was a young child on a school outing so it all seemed new to me. As the education coordinator explained the various exhibits the museum had, she mentioned that they also had a mummy of a 10-year old Egyptian boy. For a fraction of a second I stopped breathing. One of my most vivid early memories is of looking very closely at a mummy and noting the texture of his hair (you could almost count each strand), his skin (it was so black and wrinkly), and his teeth (they were the same size as mine). I remember moving my eyes slowly up his face and staring at where his eyes used to be. I remember trying to imagine what this boy might have been like living so many thousands of years ago. I remember staring at his face until I was too scared to look any more and turning and walking away as quickly as I could, wanting to be as far away from that mummy as possible. That memory has stuck with me all my life, but I didn't know where it came from.

We completed the tour and were given an opportunity to explore the exhibits. Even as an adult, I was a little aprehensive as I approached the display case. But I had to do it alone. The mummy was a lot smaller than I remembered. The 10-year old boy looked to be as tall as my three-year-old daughter is now. I made myself stare into his face to go over all of his features. And... I recognized him. His face was the same and it was as if he hadn't moved from this spot in all these years. Obviously, the display had been moved around the museum and others, but physically he was unchanged. I had grown up and lived my life and had children of my own and am watching them grow up while my own parents age. But this mummified 10-year old boy remained very much like he had been 30 years ago, like he had been for thousands of years and probably for many more. The image of his grinning face has haunted me my entire life. I didn't know where I saw it until today. Now I also know why it had such an impact on me.

Sometime in the mid 1970's, I went on a school field trip to the Vancouver Museum, saw a mummified boy, and for the first time, confronted my own mortality.

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