Sunday, January 18, 2009

Living in Interesting Times

"May you live in interesting times." (Old Chinese blessing)

Actually, we all live in interesting times. But most of us don't stop to notice history as it happens.

I've taught family heritage journaling now for years, and I'm often astonished by how people concentrate on the past--and how easily they forget to record the times they live in. People tend to underestimate the changes that they've seen.

To point out how fast life is moving, I ask them to consider how telephones and telephone services have changed in their lifetimes.

For example, I remember growing up with a wall-mounted black Bakelite rotary-dial phone in our kitchen. We were on a party line. If you picked up the phone quietly, you could overhear your neighbor's most private conversations! Push-button phones were an amazing and modern upgrade, as was a private line. The first mobile phone I ever saw had to be carted around in a large bag that you wore over your shoulder. Then we upgraded to a phone in the car that was bolted to the floorboard. And my first cell phone was, well, large.

You see? It's so easy to convince ourselves that THESE times--and our reactions to them--don't matter. That our insights are insignificant. But, just imagine if Samuel Pepys had felt the same!

Tomorrow our nation will inaugurate its first black president. I challenge you to record this historic time--if only for your own eyes.

Here are some questions to get you started:

Will you be celebrating?
How will you spend the day?
Will you watch the ceremony?
Did you watch or listen to the gathering today on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial?
What are your hopes and dreams for this new administration?
What are your fears?
In your opinion, are we one? Has our country come together?
Or are our divisions too deep?
Can we overcome the prejudices and problems of our times?
Did you vote for Biden and Obama? If not, why not? If you did, why did you?

And don't forget to record your emotions: What will cause you to despair? What will move you to tears? What will lift your heart?

History isn't just about the distant past. It's also about what happens in our lives right here, right now.

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