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I visited my grandfather at an assisted living facility in San Francisco when I was around 13 years old. He was losing his memory, but his eyes lit up when he saw his grandson. I had to lean in close to understand what he was saying to me. He spoke slowly and deliberately while he told me about the importance of developing one good skill that I could turn into a career. I smiled politely while I thought about how anachronistic his views were. That was the old world when you apprenticed and spent the rest of your life selling insurance or fixing cars. People now switch jobs every couple years. Instead of being an expert at one thing, you need many different kinds of skills.

I failed to understand the subtext of what he was saying. My grandfather wanted to hand something down to me, some form of knowledge that would help our family persevere. As the memories of his life slowly blurred like a Polaroid photograph sinking in water, he could still see himself in me. He could see one solid thing carrying me through a capricious world.

But that’s just my story.

Elliot Imse is the first person in his family to go to college. He bought his father a school sweater after finding out he was accepted to the University of Wisconsin. His dad proudly wore it until the day he died. Shayna Peavey’s grandmother, Dot, was an out lesbian in 1950s middle America. Shayna is getting ready to marry her longtime partner, Melissa, next Spring. Walter “Shep” Shepard contracted Hepatitis C from his drug use in the 1970s. He cleaned up and dedicated the rest of his life to working with troubled youth. He left his wife Norah Feingold with their beautiful Victorian house, which he worked 10 years fixing up.

These are some of the stories in this project. There will be more. Maybe about someone you love and want to honor. I believe that within each of us, even the most cynical, is the hope we somehow endure beyond our ephemeral flesh. Through art. Through memory. Through family heirlooms. Through all those things we leave behind.

This may seem overly sentimental, but I think it’s important to allow ourselves a little sentimentality. Everything might fade, but some things fade slower than others.

The clutter. The created wants. The endless consumer products. The things we say are meaningless, and it is true they usually are, but sometimes they are more. Sometimes they are what was beautiful and gnarled and tragic and triumphant about a single human life. There are these things left behind. Tiny songs floating in the cacophony.

-Ben Fractenberg, December 2009