Saturday, September 23, 2006

History isn't what it used to be

I’ve been cruising the Net looking at lots and lots of blogs, diaries, and news reports. Most of what I see strikes a similar chord. We are living in historic times. Generations from now, our lives will be investigated and scrutinized by those who wish to appreciate what we going through now.

Let’s start out with a bit of a lesson in history.

I remember history being ‘Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492’ or “Custer’s army was cut down to the last man at Little Big Horn’. That’s not history, that’s trivia. Those are answers on a board game or to a pop quiz in Mr. Hawkins class.

History isn’t what it used to be. History doesn’t just arrive in your rearview mirror. It comes at us as we glance backward. Sometimes it knocks us on our ass as we look back. History in the making I heard said once.

It’s more than just the recording of events and endeavors. It is our soul. History is the modeling clay we use to sculpt who we are. It isn’t written, it is performed; it’s not approached, it’s pursued. It’s never allowed to be static; it’s constantly being renewed. Those who participate in history are not the authors; they are merely extras in an epic production. History is not forever, it vanishes as the last cast member turns to dust. Once the players are gone, history ceases to exist. It becomes mythology.

History is the great theatre of life.

We, the bloggers and commenters, lurkers and posters, are the players in this current production. How will we compare to those who last walked this stage?

Imagine being in Birkenau when the first cattle cars started arriving. Imagine waking up in Honolulu on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Imagine turning on the television in 1954 and seeing Ed Murrow.

These are times and events where people were changed, not necessarily for the better but changed nonetheless. Each time, we were given an opportunity to give our world a push forward, or sadly, a kick back. Would you have sipped your coffee and merely watched the planes fly overhead on that December morning in 1941? Or looked away as the rail cars full of people pulled into the station? Would you have turned the channel on Murrow and watched ABC or NBC instead?

We can look back at our predecessors’ choices and answer with reasonable certainty what we would have done differently, but we have the luxury of hindsight and the safety of time.

What actually was going through the minds of those people who were there? Despite the volumes of documentation and years of investigation, we won’t ever know the answer to that question. It has, for the most part, ceased to be history and has become mythology. We can assume that some of the people were gratified, that some were indifferent, and others may have been afraid. But in the end, it didn’t matter. Those who lived through those times have too much invested in their experiences to relate them exactly. We can know the facts, the numbers of the dead and affected, and the evidence of the pain suffered or the injustice done. But we can never really comprehend it.

The same is true for every other historical event. Unless we lived it, it’s just a tale to be told.

Which brings us back to the present. Never in my life have I seen so much history coming at us. Events are piling up just waiting to happen.

We are being given a chance to ‘make history’. How will we respond? Will our descendants look back on our choices and answer with reasonable certainty what they would do differently?

The choices we make now will be the stories our descendants tell to their children. Whether they will be tales of heroism or tales of woe depend on the parts we play today.