August 20, 2003
Lost and Found
I was channel-surfing last evening (that's what I do when I take a break from web surfing) and came across a documentary on the CBC cable channel, Newsworld.
It hooked me right in because it concerned a woman and a diary.
And it's still with me, which is reason enough to write about it.
The name of the documentary is Celesta Found. Celesta (sounds like an arthritis medication, doesn't it!) was a woman living in rural Quebec in the early part of the twentieth century.
For many years Celesta kept a series of diaries, eight volumes in all.
By luck, coincidence or cosmic design, those diaries turned up in an abandoned Quebec cabin sixty years later. They made their way to a woman who recognized them for the treasure they were, pieced them together, and managed to track down remnants of Celesta's community and family to fill in the framework of her life.
The documentary combines a dramatization of Celesta's years covered in the diary (part of her 40s and 50s) with commentary by the filmmaker and others involved in the project, and elderly people who remember what it was like to live in that era.
Two things struck me in particular:
First, the way of life was so drastically different from what I know, less than a century later. Women had to do everything - chop wood, bake bread, make soap from scratch; there were NO conveniences and no antibiotics either, for that matter.
Children who got sick were as likely as not to die.
Yet, Celesta's emotional world was not different at all.
She was a widow with grown children who was caring for the small children of her cousin who was a widower and much younger than she.
They (or she?) fell in love.
He would be away from home for weeks or months on business trips and writing the diary was how Celesta dealt with the loneliness.
Which brings me to the second thing:
It was probably started, the filmmaker said, as a way to chronicle the days, life and times but during periods of emotional upheaval, became so much more.
Because Celesta already had a diary, when trouble struck, it was "there for her".
She used it as a way to work out what was happening and what she was feeling.
Just as people have always done and as we do still.
The filmmaker said in so many words that reading the story, she could see what was coming before Celesta likely did.
Of course diaries in those days were private affairs, written without the expectation of ever being read by another set of eyes. Yet, the filmmaker felt that in some way Celesta was writing to her, a person that did not yet exist and couldn't be imagined but somehow, a link to the world to come.
That sounds new-agey, but consider what journallers and bloggers are doing now.
We don't know who reads these words; we don't know who will read them ten, twenty, or hundreds of years from now.
They are out there, possibly permanently.
We do it by design because we can.
Celesta did it because she had to.
And yes the story of that part of Celesta's life ended badly. The pain, like the love, was disturbingly familiar.
For those who have the CBC Newsworld channel, the show will run again on Saturday at 10 PM EDT. There is also an email address for information on the CBC website.
A quick google search turned up some reference to its being available on video; perhaps a PBS station might run it if you ask nicely and throw money at them.
That is if you want to be haunted by Celesta, as I now am.
It's all in our heads...
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