As I threatened/promised yesterday, I want to share some reflections on my parents’ 52nd anniversary, which was on the 11th. I was struck by the obvious fact that they had been married longer than I have been alive. While that is somewhat newsworthy in today’s environment, it wasn’t so much back in 65. As a matter of fact, before I understood the concept of gestation periods, I mistakenly thought (and commented once in a crowd) that mom and dad were married in June and I was born in September! My parents, probably more mortified than I remember, were quick to point out that it was in two different years. Anyway, I digress.
Mentally, I know my parents are, by design, older than me, but it really hit me what that means with respect to the universe I know. My parents were born during World War 2. Their parents and relatives had lived through the Great Depression, had endured the worldwide uncertainty of the 30’s and saw the rise of fascism in Europe. When my dad was born, the US hadn’t had a ton of success yet in the war, although the tide had started to turn in the Pacific and North Africa. Our victory, however, was far from assured. The late 1940s ushered in the nuclear age and the beginning of the cold war with the Soviet Union. It was into all of this that my parents were born.
What stands out to me is how much has transpired since that time. Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire” highlights some of the big events, but what struck me was the fact that these were the times that actually shaped my parents lives and that I would never fully understand, because, I only read about it rather than experienced it. I have had the same feelings and revelations in the other direction, but this is the first time I have had them moving back one generation. The point to all of this rambling is that each of us will experience things that history will record for those who come after us, and in most cases, history won’t have the subtle nuances, the feelings, the perceptions, etc., that you experienced. For example, I vividly remember the Bicentennial Parade in Dixon, IL, on Independence Day, 1976. I remember the coins having bi-centennial backs, and I remember that Gerald Ford and some former-Democrat named Ronald Reagan were running for the Republican nomination, while Jimmy Carter looked pretty certain to take the Democratic nomination. I remember the red, white and blue petunias lining the streets, and I remember thinking “we’ve been around for 200 years…that’s an amazing achievement”. I remember the Soyuz-Apollo docking mission in space, the first “home computers”, and I remember gathering in an assembly at McNally Elementary School (now New Horizons) and watching one of the moon landings.
Today, we have the benefit of YouTube and other video archives to watch the original footage, but it still doesn’t provide the same experience as actually living through the event itself. For example, during many points of the cold war with the Soviet Union, such as when Brezhnev passed away, etc., there was a palpable feeling of concern that the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union would potentially strike at the United States. It is hard to think of a nuclear first strike option today, but it was very real in the 70s and early 80s, and even more so in the 50s and 60s. The point is, whether it is Nadia Comanici’s perfect scores in the Olympics, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr., the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or any other event, the difference between experiencing it first-hand without knowing the outcome is much different than revisiting the history through the Internet.
I know this post has been kind of (okay, very) rambling, but the key point is that, each of us will experience life and important events that our descendants will only be able to experience through recorded history. Our personal experiences provide a unique window into the intangibles of those moments, which are important to understand and collect. In my opinion, it is not enough to know that the cold war happened. It is much more important to understand the emotions and mindset of those who lived through it to understand how serious the time was. What this has meant for me, personally, is that I really need to take advantage of the time I have with my parents to listen and understand their views of what I know only as historical context, so that I can better pass that along to future generations.
Thanks for staying with me during this wandering diatribe, and I hope you have a great day and upcoming weekend!