A Simple Wayside Flower
I believe in the glory of past kings, queens, battles and conquests. There is a miraculous vibrancy in the unalterable past; the volumes of human history contain an unsurpassable beauty. There is no greater joy than delving into the stories of simple people who altered the course of history. Both the simple pious man who nailed his grievances to a church door, and the lonely teenager, who hid behind the saying “Let them eat cake,” deserve our study and consideration. There is no better cinema than the recreation of bloody Revolutionary War battles and complicated rituals in Cleopatra’s court. History cannot be carelessly cast aside as ‘the study of the dead;’ we are all shaped by the millions of rotting skeletons buried in the soil around us. I believe that without an understanding of the past we cannot truly appreciate our present.
When I was about 10 years old my mother began to read me the book, The Scarlet Pimpernel. The novel began in a tavern on the coast of England over 200 years ago. It reeked of boring historical conflicts and Englishmen, who in my limited view of history had no interesting culture that made them in the least bit noteworthy. Compared to the Egyptians, the Renaissance Italians and the Russians tsars their culture was mundane and predictable. As the book quickened I soon begged my mother to continue reading late into the night. When Percy, disguised as the scarlet pimpernel, risked life and limb to save the dauphin I was nervous and when he succeeded I was jubilant. The novel came
to a close rapidly and left me breathless. An elusive English man had escaped the eyes of the French guards and a few aristocrats had been saved from the revolutionary razor, but the most surprising twist was not in the plot, but in me. I began to realize that the seemingly boring English could be wild, brave and even cavalier about danger. The history of my heritage was now new and exciting. I soon began to dream of women in petticoats fleeing marble floored palaces. I discovered the tales of the English kings along with the colonial American rebels. My dreams were no longer just occurring in 18th century France but I soon became Anne Boleyn living out her last hours in London’s tower as well as the young love of Johnny Tremain, apprentice to Paul Revere. I began to see potential in myself; my ancestors had altered history, why couldn’t I?
Seven years later I am still enamored of the past. Modern diplomatic conflicts can be better understood by searching the annals of history. Likewise, traditions do not make sense without an understanding of the culture which created them. The answers to why and how our culture has developed are easily found in high school history textbooks and in the 700 section of the library. One simple wayside flower, the scarlet pimpernel, sparked my curiosity to unearth the past. Maybe a drinking gourd, a diamond necklace or a jeweled beetle is waiting to lead you into history. Quite simply, I believe without the past there is no present.
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