I believe in history. I believe in all kinds of history: political history, the history of science, natural history, but I especially believe in the importance of personal history – the story of my life with all its failures, successes, mistakes and accomplishments. After all, it is all these things that make me who I am – for better and for worse.
I believe in history because it is a force that has shaped an understanding of myself.
Some people never want to look back in time. I’ve reached that middle stage of life where I just love to look back to what is now a distant childhood. Call it mid-life crisis if you want, but I urge you to visit where you grew up as I have. It can be intoxicating. The memories come flooding back. Those clichéd simpler and more care-free times are there to be felt again, if you want to find them.
What does this do for you? It helps define you. If you ever lost your way, one of the methods to get back on track is to retrace your steps. It’s the same with life. Remembering why you got to where you are can be grounding – almost cathartic. A turn here, a decision there, the kind advice of a teacher, the stern warning of a parent, it all leads us down certain paths. Sometimes we get lost because life is so overwhelmingly complex. Recalling our history reminds us of how we got lost and how we might find our way again. “Go with what you know,” a kind professor told me once. What we know is what we learned over our lifetimes and it also includes the emotions and curiosities that drive us to achieve. Both of these personal characteristics come from our earliest life experiences: school, home-life, vacations, visits to relatives, shows, museums, sporting events – the list is endless.
Some people just know that they were meant to be what they have become. It’s attributable to their personal history. Whatever it is that makes us curious about something and whatever drives us to it is, for better or worse, part of our human nature to develop, to become, to achieve. And it starts when we are young.
But there is something about looking back and seeking out your childhood that is less mysterious than this and perhaps even more indicative of human nature. Sometimes we get lucky and we find someone from our past that touched our lives. Sometimes we get the chance to tell them, after all these years, “thank you.” That happened to me in 2005 when I visited my old home in Yonkers, New York. At a meeting of the Crestwood Historical Society was a beloved woman who had taught the 2nd grade in my old grammar school. She still remembered me and I her. A singular moment in time: the chance to thank a person who helped shape a life.
My history is not remarkable. It is rather pedestrian in fact. But, it was awakened by a few visits to my old hometown. To see your old home, to see your old school – it must touch you if you are truly human. And it makes you realize that your time on earth is short. It does go by so fast. Never forget who you are. Visit your past just once. It helps to keep you on the right path and it may help you to get back to it. It may give you a chance to be as human as you can be.
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