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Making It Through Our Turmoils By Reflecting On The Past

September 7, 2020
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Today a cousin of mine posted on Facebook a copy of something that is making its way around social media. And it struck a note with me. It starts out this way…..

For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits…..

The short version of history continues through the Vietnam War. It is a summary of our past, and framed in such a way as to be worthy of a blog post. That is because it strikes a theme I long have argued when confronting our own times and the weighty issues to be considered and dealt with.

One only need to take the roughly 35 years between the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, and that of President William McKinley, in 1901 to make the larger point that we have been ‘here’ before.

During those decades the nation experienced an overflow of ineffective politicians, steamy and numerous scandals, the despicable examples of racial backsliding, polarized newspapers and what we term ‘yellow journalism’, dangerous populists who put forth the most ridiculous economic remedies, a growing distrust of those who were rich, born into named families, or those who had undertaken a study in a field so to be a (gasp!) expert, frightening outbreaks of violence and bombings and terrorism, major job losses, anti-immigrant hatred, declining social mobility, giant corporations dominating the economy which bred rising inequality, and the appearance of what some viewed as dangers from both the financial and technology sectors of the economy.

Sounds a lot like what we read in the headlines of our own times.

But what we also know from the headlines of the past, and those which greet us each morning in the newspapers is the importance of knowing our history and learning from it. Having perspectives and insights and being able to put the larger forces at play into a historical context is vital for succeeding generations.

I have thought back over the times of which I write today and land on my Grandma Schwarz to make my point. She picked cotton in Texas at one point in her life, with a sack pulled behind her back, very much akin to pics one might see in books. Decades later in her living room she would watch man land on the moon.

Why I mention this in relation to the posting by my cousin is that it is so important to know from where we came and where we are presently. I recall conversations with grandma about cotton picking and how she would remark about the wonder of the moon landing. When she made those comments she was in her ‘autumn years’ and I was too young to be able to appreciate the span of time in which she viewed the world and her life. Now as I am older and thrilled by history those conversations of her views about the course of the nation resonates more.

I do not wish to downplay or minimize any political, social, or cultural upheaval now underway or pretend in some glib fashion that it will all just ‘get better’. That is not all the lesson we should take from the past which echoes again, but rather learn of the earnestness and applied resources it took to overcome the issues and prevail over them. We did it then, and we can do it now.

I wish more of my fellow citizens would take in and ponder the perspectives of our history. It can lead us forward.

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