Our place in history

The stories we tell about our lives tend to be mostly about events that aren’t evenly spaced. We report the big things and don’t say much about the everyday. For example, my mother died, my grandson was born, my father-in-law passed away and my daughter got married all in the same calendar year. I tell more stories about that year than the year that followed. In the future I probably will tell more stories about that year than the next five or six that followed. After the passage of many generations this effect i pretty dramatic. We tell stories of three generations of our forebears: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Rachel. Then we tell a few stories about Joseph and skip up to the time of Moses. The way that we remember and the way that we tell the stories doesn’t mean that the people who lived in other generations weren’t important - they re the way we came to be. We are literally dependent upon every generation that preceded us. Our lives are made up of every moment, not just of the more dramatic ones. We just don’t have many stories about the moments we were sitting and waiting or the times we went to work and performed the same tasks we performed the day before.

The style of journaling that I do reminds me of this on a regular basis. There are days when I awake with two or three ideas for the day’s journal entry in my mind. There are other days when I don’t have an idea what i’m going to write about after having been up for an hour or more. Some essays roll out of my brain and off of my fingertips with ease. Others are struggles. My days and my experiences aren’t equal in terms of what I remember or what inspires me to write. That is part of the reason I adopted this discipline. I want to become a writer. I believe that one becomes a writer by writing. So I write when I feel inspired. And I write when I have to struggle to find inspiration.

If I ever invest the time to go back and select, edit and republish my essays - something I intend to do - I will discover that there are some that stand out and others that don’t need to be included in a collection. They won’t be evenly spaced.

I was thinking about this recently because there are many cycles that repeat in our lives. I get my teeth cleaned every six months. I see my doctor for an annual wellness check once each year. At my age, the doctor’s visit coincides with a visit to the dermatologist and other appointments. Those particular events travel around the calendar because they must be scheduled a certain number of months plus a few days in order for insurance reimbursements to work. That “plus a few days” adds up to move the appointments from one month to the next one and after enough time, the events walk around the calendar. It wasn’t along ago when i had a round of medical appointments in April. Now I have them in May. In a few years, they’ll be in June.

So we use those events to mark the passage of time in our minds. The truth is that a lot of things change. Some of them change slowly, some more rapidly. And our perception of time changes as well. I remember being awake with a fussy baby and it felt as if the night would never end. Looking back, however, the years when we had babies seem to have passed incredibly quickly. Our babies turned to toddlers and into schoolchildren and into teens and into adults at a pace that is amazing when I think about it. I’m older than my grandfather was when I was a child. Perspective makes a big difference.

Over the flow of many generations, our people have come up with a standard way of telling some of our stories. The stories in our Bible, for example have remained the same since the days of careful writing. The advent of the printing press made those stories available to many people. We literally used the same words to tell the stories for many generations. Around the time that the bible became to be available through printing, it became available in common languages. Translators rendered the document in words that average readers could understand. But language is never static, so as our language evolves so do the ways in which we tell our stories. There are many different versions of the Bible available today. The stories are similar, but we use different words to tell them.

It has been said that we are entering an entirely new era. Some have called this new era a “post-truth” society. Politicians and other leaders now label things with which they don’t agree “fake news,” and have no problems with presenting their opinions as fact. Independent verification of facts doesn’t hold the power it once did. People believe that truth is not fixed, but rather changes depending on perspective and opinion. Principles that have governed academics and rational conversation since the time of the Enlightenment are called into question, and in some cases thrown out. Philosophy, once hailed as the highest and most important form of study, isn’t even offered as a subject in major universities. All eras com to an end, and we had a good run of enlightenment for 300 years, but it is difficult to imagine what is coming next.

Sometimes I imagine that when many generations have passed and people look back our time might not stand out as one of the important eras, despite the fact that it seems terribly important to us who are living in this generation. Information technology has surged forward, but we haven’t learned how to control or to properly use our newfound powers. Ours may be more of a time of transition than a time of the really big events that shape history. Like every generation before us, we won’t know how those who follow us will see or judge our place in history.

So we live. We make small attempts at telling and recording our story. And we will trust history to sort it all out In the case of my journal - there will be a lot of words. Perhaps a few of them will carry enough meaning to survive for a while.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!