Lately I have been contemplating history in a way I have not done before. I have read books and watched many films and documentaries about historic events. What I have learned is that as formally “educated” as I thought I was, the pro- forma history I was taught or even lived, left me knowing very little about not only US History at large, but maybe more importantly what has led to the current state of our country and especially the questions I have of this concept of “we the people.”
I think for many, it is a human trait to want to be connected, and related, but these times have challenged our sense of unity and begs us to find ways to be together when we are apart- to acknowledge our differences, our anger and our feelings of confusion and loss, because even the states we live in- colors our experience of these times in a way most of us have never had to think about. Certainly, we are more alone than ever- in the stand we must take as individuals, for our own health in the face of “The Virus” , and for our well-being – at a time when there is social unrest and no consensus about how to manage not one crisis but many.
The purpose of this writing is not to project negativity. I am owning my interest and investment in better understanding very large issues. I like to say, “stay curious, not furious.” This is a way to remain open to learning - in life, in relationships, at work and with our children. But I admit, as the months have passed and the realities of COVID’s far reaching effect on us have become unfathomable- the cost of life and financial impact has left me more astounded. The additional questions we are now confronting around the key issues of social unrest, leave me begging for equilibrium. How to balance the realities of how little we know about this disease, the undeniable toll, the myriad of responses on a national, state and local level, the lack of unity around this beast and what it means to be experiencing this – and at the same time uprisings which center around inequity- far reaching and deep- and unavoidable.
All of this contemplation leads me to the conclusion that while history is better understood in hindsight, it can be clarifying and disappointing and inspiring and terrifying. It can uncover truths and lay bare the fallibilities of leaders who were both exceptional and destructive and it forces us to look at ourselves and ask what part we play, how we want to be in the midst of turbulence and even danger. As individuals we can be exemplary and unifying, we can be inspiring and even if we are provocative- it can be for the higher good of the many.
I read this article wherein the celebrated documentarian Ken Burns was interviewed by Steve Bertoni of Forbes magazine. In the article he uses history to uncover the ways we have survived and thrived throughout some of our darkest times.
“ We need to understand that our Latin motto is perfect—E Pluribus Unum—Out of Many, One. If we don’t follow that, we don’t survive. When we have done it in the past, we have survived magnificently, but it’s taken shared sacrifice, and that’s something for which we’ve lost the muscle memory for, and we need to get it back.”
I share this- humbly, as we, together continue to search for and find strength and patience, acceptance and even rebellion around that which matters to us.