Twenty years ago, I was driving my son to middle school, and he hilariously verbalized his complete and utter disdain for history class. Why I asked? What is it about history that perturbs your 8th grade brain so? His answer was, and I quote, “Because the same stupid things keep happening over and over again.” All I could do was chuckle and acknowledge that yes, indeed, he was right. (In addition, I reminded him that no matter how he feels about it, a good grade was still required.)
The older I get the more I realize that history truly does repeat itself. Case in point? I am becoming my mother. I talk to complete strangers in the airport, I prefer to go out when the crowds are gone, and I suspect the universal cure for any ailment lies in regular bowel movements (or Alka Seltzer, the unsung hero of the medical world).
My personal POV on history acknowledges that I have been privileged to have watched two previous strong and able generations grow into old age. They have experienced trials aplenty, and joys to match. Both generations have seen multiple wars, astounding feats of innovation, and economic changes few have witnessed. Yet, I’ve watched my ancestors precede me with growing concern about things they perceive to be growing concerns. It’s human nature to see the past, grapple with the present, and fear for the future. I see myself in this inevitable role with every passing day. History is indeed repeating itself.
Typically, I am not a woman of fear. I’m a serious goofball. I love to laugh (in fact, it’s my job), and I love to enjoy life. I do smile at the future and long to leave the world a better place than I found it 50-some years ago. However, these days, I find myself longing for the past on an emerging scale, something I heard my parents (and grandparents) lament as they neared the autumn of their lives.
My mother, who was born in 1935, remembers the days of victory gardens, sugar rations, and family church every Sunday. I’ve often heard my lovely mom say how much she misses the days of manners and decorum, ice cream for a nickel, and leisurely family evenings around the radio listening to programs without profanity. Sure, color television, vegetable aisles and modern conveniences have their benefits, but they come with a lifestyle often void of simpler times.
I am the tail end of the Baby Boomers, so here is a bit of history I hear my heart longing for.
I miss having 3 TV channels (with UHF as a back-up on occasion if the tin-foil was on point). That may sound dull these days, but it’s true. Only 3 channels, without endless vampires, zombies, or sports shows. Why do I miss it? Everyone in America watched the same popular shows (with mostly normal looking people), rudimentary news, and major competitions, giving us a commonality that galvanized our interpersonal conversations at work and school. (I didn’t even notice that the actors had yellowish teeth or oversized pores until HD came out).
Today there are a gazillion TV channels with shows I have never heard of starring unknown-yet-perfectly-sculpted actors who were clearly plucked from a pool of models who could memorize lines. (Do you think Loretta Swit would ever be cast as today’s Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan? I think not.) Stars HAVE to be gorgeous now because we can see every nook and cranny of their artificially-bulging pectoids and their blindingly-white choppers. Shows entertained us (thank you Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett) and sometimes taught us (Archie Bunker and “Roots” paved the way), but rarely slapped us on the hand for just being who we are, even if the slap was deserved. I miss those days. I truly do.
I also miss the good ole days before cell phones came along. (Have you ever rewatched “Seinfeld” and noticed that very few plot lines would even work today with the advent of cell phones? An airport pickup snafu would have easily been averted with a one-line text.) I refer to my iPhone as the shortest leash in the world. Do I really want people to know where I am at all times and in all places? Is it absolutely imperative that I be globally available while on vacation, at a wedding, or worse yet, indisposed? (I’m not saying I take my cell phone in to the powder room, but there is a reason so many phones end up swimming in deep doodoo. I’m just sayin’). Sometimes anonymity is a gift we no longer give ourselves, or others for that matter. “Where are you?” “Why didn’t you answer?” “You haven’t responded!” These are phrases I could do without.
Social media is another social experiment that leaves me longing. Posting about every bite of food, new outfit, and every single outing is not my idea of fun. I call it “Fakebook.” People only put the best of what they do, or want you to think they do online. C’mon. Have you ever seen someone post about their son, standing next to the parole officer? Or how about a picture of their daughter’s infected tramp stamp? A dream vacation… to Detroit? I don’t think so. The fact is, I would rather live my life than post about it. I waste so much time looking at images about people I don’t know, and who do not know me, that I could actually have learned to surf with the amount of time I’ve spent “surfing.” Our collective entertainment has shifted. I’m constantly amazed how Americans cannot watch a 2-hour movie anymore, but can easily watch 120 one-minute silly cat videos without pause. I have become one of those people. How did I get here?
Yeah, I sound like my mother. Things were better in the past, and the next generation is going to hell in a hand basket. We’ve all heard it. That being said, let me pause to reflect that in many ways the here and now is better for many. I’m not going to camp on this thought, but women and people of color have more rights than ever before, and that’s worth cheering about. However, in many ways, history is repeating itself, and it feels like there’s nothing you or I can do about it.
But there is something we can do. In fact, I can think of several things. We can impact the future by learning from our predecessors. When we listen to their journeys, we not only validate their lives, we cement their valuable place in history. As for ourselves, we can stand more fully in the present of our own day-to-day experiences, so we completely capture our historical memoirs in emotional HD. This practice will enable us to vibrantly, and positively pass on our life gleanings to those who are merely beginning to traverse their paths. And finally, we can wholly acknowledge that history is made up of humans, and the human equation is always changing. Like it or not, every day we make history as we go. Let’s make it worth repeating.