World history, American history, and even my own family history—I’ve just never cared much about any of it. Some folks get a big kick out of tracing their roots, are fascinated to learn about what their great-great-great-grandad did for a living, and get all sorts of giddy if they discover a political or (gasp!) royal connection. Me? Not so much.
I don’t give a fig. I could be descended from bigwigs or beggars—makes no difference to me. I did love listening to my parents and grandparents talk about their experiences, for those were personal to me, but faceless facts about folks who happen to share a tidbit of my DNA? Eh.
In order for me to feel invested in, well, in anything, I have to feel a genuine human connection. The books and movies I like are always character driven. Ideally, stories should have strong plots, solidly forward-moving storylines, conflicts that stir something within us, characters of depth who make us recognize a bit of ourselves in both their strengths and struggles, and enough on the line to make us give a rat’s patootie as to how it all turns out. If some of that is going to be missing, it can’t, for me, be the sense of connectedness with the individuals. I’ve always felt disconnected from history.
Well, I guess that’s not entirely true. I’ve always felt disconnected from textbook tales of explorers and trail-blazers, from lengthy charts with names and dates of births, marriages, and deaths, and from one-dimensional depictions of pivotal moments. Those things are all the result of looking through a wide lens, but for me, the value of history becomes evident only when viewed in macro, with eyes, ears, and heart picking up the nuances of what it was to experience what seems foreign at first glance, but once examined, reveals that the differences between historical characters and us are nothing more than quirks of fate.
Remind me of our oneness and I’m instantly invested.
A few weeks ago, I watched a show with the hubs about the role of blacks as players, coaches, and executives in professional American football. The information provided was historically important, to be sure, but the show held my interest because it personalized the struggles of these men, rather than just line-listing the data to show the progression of their inclusion. Interviews with old-timers who were denied what now seems such a simple and automatic right played on repeatedly, the pain in their aged eyes still evident as they shared their stories.
Those men fought not just to earn their places, but to pave roads for those who’d follow. Generations who would make the team—or not—based on their gridiron capabilities and not by the level of melanin they possessed. Countless individual battles won that collectively changed the face of professional athletics, and really, helped to change the world.
Near the end of the piece, there was a close-up shot of a man who noted with mixed feelings that today’s players are largely unaware of the injustices suffered by those who hoped to wear and sometimes wore the uniforms in the past. He recognized the beauty in their innocent assumption of talent being the single criteria for winning a coveted spot, but he flickered for just a moment and reflected. “We drink from wells we did not dig,” he said.
I drew his words in deeply and held them, touched by their simple and profound truth. That sentence, just eight words long, summed up perfectly why history matters. Said and done? Yes. Unworthy of examination? Decidedly not.
Photo courtesy of Morgue File, which offers lots of wonderful, free images for public usage.
Written for this week’s GBE topic, “History.” If you’d like to blog with us, just clickety-click. All are welcome!