In a Graveyard

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Of all the places to experience a pivotal moment in life, a graveyard was mine. After a week of research, my grandmother and I stepped through the old, rusty cemetery gate and were surprised to see the headstone of Moses Short a few feet from the entrance. This name had intrigued me for as long as I could remember. I had seen it almost daily as a child — painted on a plaque, along with the title “Pharmacist” — nailed next to the front door of my family’s 1780s-era house in my former hometown just north of Boston. Ever since I was a kid, I had always wondered who Moses Short was. Did he live in this house alone, or with a large family? Did he fight in the Revolutionary War? Did he simply operate a primitive colonial pharmacy, or was he another 18th-century virtuoso, a second Ben Franklin? It wasn’t until that summer, long after we’d moved out of the house, that I began searching for answers.

Since moving to Nashville, I have had a yearly tradition of visiting my grandparents, who live just a few blocks away from the Moses Short house. Walking by that old plaque one evening, I suddenly remembered all those questions I had about Moses Short. The next day, my grandmother and I set out for the genealogy section of the local library. Even after hours of combing through centuries-old ship logs and censuses, we had still not unearthed any trace of Moses Short. The local museum, a grand mansion lovingly restored and filled with yellowing portraits and antique horsehair sofas, also yielded nothing. However, the unsuccessful start of our mission didn’t deter us. We were so involved in our little quest that stumbling upon Moses’s grave was a poignant experience. In little more than a few days, we had both become that deeply invested.

Although it seemed like an insignificant event at the time, I would realize the importance of my find week years later, in middle school and high school. I noticed that my studies brought into play multiple viewpoints, just like my pursuit of Moses Short: combing through records, talking to local historians, and doing a little fieldwork. In Latin, studying the art and architecture of the Hellenistic world brought me a first-hand view of ancient life, offering me knowledge beyond anything in a conventional history book. In World Studies, a class I took my sophomore year, hearing my teacher talk about visiting Hindu stupas and Buddhist temples during his travels prompted me to learn more about comparative religions much more powerfully than any text could. Since my school didn’t offer AP Art History, I found a way to take it online — and found out how art from different eras is linked to historical events, people, and places. I even began to draw connections between science and math and the humanities, subjects I had previously thought were completely unrelated. In Geometry, I was reminded of Roman arches as we studied various forms in two- and then three-dimensional space; later, in Physics, I was forced to think in terms of the interaction of shapes, much as in art history, to work out problems.

It is essential that I continue to build connections like this throughout my life, that I continue to search for the architecture, people, and places that illustrate history. Although I never would have suspected that this realization would come to me in a graveyard, I couldn’t be more grateful that it did. That experience aroused something in me that not only made my education more meaningful, but also permanently sparked my sense of curiosity. For all that, I have Moses Short to thank.

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