I am always fascinated by the long, lovely, highly descriptive letters and journal entries from important historical times that were somehow saved by the sentimental people who found them. They became treasures because they opened a window to a moment when an ordinary soul took the time to vividly speak of the happenings, the privations, the fears and the hopes that they were experiencing. My mother-in-law had one such heirloom from a relative in the United Kingdom who communicated news about World War II to the family members who had emigrated to America. The words are so poignant and give voice to how the lives of ordinary folk were touched by the unfolding drama. The personal aspect of what the author conveys makes the letter all the more compelling in bringing the realities of daily routines under the duress of war to life. There is a special kind of voice in such first person communiques and luckily their existence traces it’s way far back into history.
I often write in the hopes that my words may one day resonate with my descendants. I know that my grandchildren are presently so busy building the foundations of their own adult lives that they rarely have the time to sit still and read my insignificant tracts. They are instead mastering mathematics, learning of the history of the world, enjoying the genius of the world’s greatest authors. They toil from dawn to the late hours of the night studying the fundamentals that will ready them for the future.
I have been in their position myself when I had little time to tarry and ask my grandparents or any of my elders to describe their lives. I was all too often impatient with their recitation of tales from their youth. It was only as I aged that I began to enjoy hearing what life had been like before I was even born. By then I had more questions than time to ask them. There is so much more that I would like to have known. Their knowledge, wisdom, and accounts of the past are forever lost. Because their educations were limited no written outlines exist. I will never know the full details of their experiences because I foolishly undervalued what they had to say.
My mother-in-law was a keeper of personal history. She researched genealogy and saved seemingly meaningless trinkets and correspondences from members of her family. She reveled in telling their stories and her own. I recall a time when she described her final year of high school when rationing was the rule and the young men who had been her classmates had gone to fight World War II. She showed me her yearbook which looked more like a thin magazine with its paper cover and lack of pages. She brought out a ration book that had once belonged to one of her aunts. She read that letter from a distant relative in Britain whom she had never met but with whom she felt a strong connection. I was fascinated by her dialogue and somehow felt that I had an understanding of those war years that no textbook or college lecture might ever have given me.
Each of us has a story, a history that might become a book. We may think our lives to be dull and unworthy of describing on paper but in truth our everyday thoughts and actions may one day become a treasure for some distant descendant intent on finding roots and knowing the people who came before. I am always thrilled when I discover even a kernel of evidence about my ancestors. I suppose that there comes a time for each of us when knowing such things becomes quite important. The more help we get from those voices from the past, the more exciting our search becomes.
We are now in the midst of a moment in time that will no doubt become a topic of discussion for years to come. We are part of history in the making as we navigate through the unknowns and unprecedented restrictions of the world’s battle with Covid 19. I find myself thinking that keeping a daily journal of what I witness happening across the globe and how I feel about it may one day prove to be an extraordinary gift to my great grandchildren who are yet to exist. What a glorious find my account may one day be even if I never get personally involved with the illness (and I pray that I am saved from ever actually knowing it). I can be a reporter of what I see unfolding in my tiny slice of the world. Surely there will be a future someone like me or my mother-in-law who will be curious enough to want to learn about the very personal aspects of the outbreak.
The very word history indicates that all that happens to us is a personal tale outlining how we react to unfolding events. The books that our descendants will one day read to learn about this moment will speak in more general terms without explaining how our own families endured. Keeping a journal of our thoughts will not only give us something to do while we self isolate but may also become a priceless heirloom of the future. Get busy writing your story now. It’s a worthy and important task.