When I was 10, I didn’t get it. My parents took me to England, and decided to drag me on every tour they could possibly find. I didn’t understand how they could be so fascinated and enthralled, as they bent over to read every plaque and gaze at every statue, eagerly listening to the tour guide’s words. As for me, I would have rather been anywhere but there. I remember blinking my eyes furiously, desperately trying to keep myself awake as my parents read grave stone after grave stone, one being Queen Mary, in Westminster Abbey. I didn’t know it then, but I would soon cherish what my parents were doing doing.
When I was 13, just three years later, my family and I visited Australia. I remember walking along the perimeter of the famous Ayer’s rock, which ended at a series of cave paintings. Looking at the scratched and eroded paintings of suns and animals, the tour guide mentioned that several of them could be dated back to as far as 30,000 years ago. I believe that written words cannot express what happened inside of me when I looked at those cave paintings on the rock. I began to develop an adult understanding of history. I began to see who I was and where I came from. For the first time, I placed myself in history. In 100 years, I would be the past. These paintings were communication to the future, something to represent who we were 30,000 years ago.
A couple of weeks ago my mother and I stopped by the graveyard in which my great grandparents are buried. Shined and smooth, their gravestones stood happily in the sun. I noticed a few rows behind them there stood some stones, which were brown and weathered, pieces of their destroyed face scattered about the plot. I walked over and knelt beside them, brushing my fingers over the date that lay on the first. It read, “1670”. Unable to fathom the numbers, I kept my fingers there. Here I was, in the year 2006, kneeling before something that was over 300 years old, kneeling before a gravestone where, in 1670, a woman stood in my exact spot, mourning the loss of her child, or husband, or friend. This is what my parents were doing in England. This is how they felt. I was just like my parents.
What I later came to realize was that my parents needed to touch those caskets and read those plaques because it was their way of understanding who they were. I now believe that they only way we can understand ourselves is to know who came before us. The same desire is found when our grandparents want to give us things that belonged to them and why we will take joy in having our grandchildren carry on something of us. I believe that it’s in knowing where we come from, that we know who we are.
If I could go back to Westminster Abbey, I would read every plaque and touch every gravestone, imagining the people that were here long ago, living their lives like I live mine. The real thrill of encountering history is not in the intellect, but in the imagination. It our imagination that allows us to look at the slab of Queen Mary’s tomb and see her walking through the halls of Hampton Court. I would listen to my little girl ask me why they persevere all this stuff and why do I want to see all these old things, knowing that she wouldn’t get it, but some day, she would.
Maybe in a thousand years someone will come upon the house I used to live in or the gravestone where my body is buried. Maybe they will imagine what life must have been like, knowing that in a time before their time, in the past, this is who we were, this is where we came from.
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