I live in an old house that was built before the Civil War. Reminders of its age are everywhere, from the horsehair plaster in the walls to the giant tree, split into two beams, that supports the entire structure from the basement. My house has seen a lot of days.
I often wonder, as I sit in my living room, what people must have talked about in the early days of my house. It was pre-1860. Maybe they talked about slavery, Abraham Lincoln, or the Civil War. Maybe the historic, sickeningly lethal battle nearby at Gettysburg. Maybe the burning of the Wrightsville Bridge even closer by.
As time went on, my house and the people in it dealt with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, Prohibition and The Great Depression. They saw the rise and fall of dictators, World Wars I and II, and the civil rights movement. My house was here when man landed on the moon. It saw the assassinations of Kennedy, King, and another Kennedy. My house stood through the Cold War, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis and the Challenger explosion. When the Berlin wall came down, the walls of my house stood strong. My house has seen a lot of days.
And underneath all the headlines are the common, every day lives we share together. My house has seen those days too.
Fast forward to now and check the news. Twenty years after I moved in and at least 150 years after the original owners lived in my house, current events are much the same now as they were then. Racism. A socio-economic system tilted unfairly against people of color (throughout US history). A barely concealed cultural Civil War inching closer to physical conflict (early 1800’s). A pandemic in which a poorly behaving public sets the stage for a deadly second wave (1918-1920).
I used to wonder what the conversations in my house must have been like through those historical times, but I don’t have to wonder anymore. My family is having many of those same conversations again. Maybe your family is too. We’re all part of it now.
What happened to our brothers and sisters in the past when they were faced with similar situations as we are now? The reviews are mixed. On the one hand they elected a leader of high integrity, Abraham Lincoln, and went to war over racial injustice. On the other hand, they made foolish decisions regarding the Spanish flu and suffered even worse during a later, second wave.
Now, we are the people living in historic times. We will be judged by the future just as we judge the past. What are we going to do?
Do we have the courage to acknowledge our shortcomings as a society and to set things right? Do we have the maturity to protect ourselves as a group, at some inconvenience to ourselves as individuals? Are we perceptive enough to choose leaders who can get us to where we need to be?
We can search ourselves, finding ways to contribute and change the world for the better. Or we can sit around pushing disproven conspiracy theories and inflammatory garbage on social media. We can approach our problems and each other with the intention of finding both solutions and unity. Or we can come at everything and everyone with a shield of self-righteousness: ready to fight, be right, and win.
Our outcomes are not guaranteed. What we say or don’t say matters. What we do or don’t do matters.
Years from now people will sit around in what’s currently my living room, talking about these extraordinary times, what it must have been like to live through them, and how we reacted to our situation. If part of me is somehow still there in spirit, I hope I can listen-in proudly.
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