Next time you see a line of old dusty history books tucked away in someone’s library, think again. Those books cost a lot. I don’t mean to the pocketbook, I mean personally. Each and every story cost somebody something. History bites.
History’s cost is personal. We don’t get it until life dashes cold water in our faces and brings it all home. We are not so different from people we see in black and white family albums, or those we read about in sagas and poems. Wars and tragedy are the human lot. If it all seems like some quaint and distant history, then you have been living in a happy bubble until now.
Here is a list of things I have thought about during my lifetime, but perhaps not deeply enough:
On my Mother’s side of the family - one sister dying as an infant from whooping cough. Another brother killed in World War Two. Sister dying at age 18 of Polio. Father dying of a ruptured ulcer in his early sixties. The burst ulcer tells it all. There was a lot of stuff to worry about, with the War, the Depression, the visitation of pestilence and disease. It’s not so unlike 2020, the year whose number we equate with perfect vision. Hindsight is 20/20.
There is a touch of the melancholy on my Mom’s side that comes from all that dying. I wonder if unconsciously, she started pumping out kids to shore up the numbers. Seven is a lot by most people’s standards, but maybe not enough if you had a bunch of people kick off in your life. Just part of the general baby boom after the War, for similar kind of reasons. It’s something to think about, all that history. It’s more personal than we imagine.
My wife’s side. Her Grandpa died as a medic in World War One, of the Spanish Influenza. It meant her Dad had to become the man of the family at age ten. It made him inventive. It changed who he was. He had to take chances because he had no choice, and people’s lives depended on him. It also meant migration. The family fled Lebanon and ended up in Nazareth, Israel. Their fortunes were forged out of war, and struggle against want. If the Spanish Influenza had never happened, they would have all stayed in Lebanon, and they would have been different people. On down the line, I never would have met my wife, and our kids would never have been born. It just multiplies as it goes along.
My Dad’s side. Some unusual anomalies that got hidden in the family line. Back in the day, you tucked away any questionable family arrangements that might not be considered table talk. It made you guarded lest anyone probe too deeply, and secrets haunt your life. It turned my Dad into a quiet and serious man, carrying around all that baggage he inherited from others.
A brush with fortune will change you. You won’t be the same after a life-altering calamity, or a visitation of human evil like a random crime. The statistics sting up close. It’s a little more personal than what you read about in the newspaper. The newsflash of the day, is we are living history, right now. It’s one for the books and one for our grandchildren, all the things that went down in 2020.
History changes who you are, and it gathers steam with age. It may explain why old people develop a “bite” as often as they develop sweetness. I noted this on a recent walk in the unusually balmy November weather. An oldster was coming at us with his cane, sporting a stylish cap and very white hair. He looked old enough to have lived through the Great Depression, and the War. Sailing past, he spat out a greeting, “BEAUTIFUL DAY!” in the gravelly tones of one unaccustomed to hearing his own voice. It sounded an awful lot like “HEY KID GET OFF MY LAWN”. We just walked past the cost of history. It is personal and it tends to shout with age.
Yes, history bites, and you are living it. Brace yourself because life can be bracing. Pick your day. Or maybe you don’t get to pick at all. It’s food for thought.