We think of history and we think of a dusty hardback filled with useless facts and trivial information. We wonder why we are learning this and how it could ever possibly help us years from now. I used to wonder the same thing but not anymore. History is not just some tedious class we take in high school. It is who we are.
We have all heard the cliché: Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. It is overused and worn-out, but it is entirely true. History is necessary because we see ourselves in it. Past events, past people—we see our qualities and our traits reflected in theirs. We think of the Gandhi or Rosa Parks, and we think of human kind’s extraordinary courage and strength in the face of powerful oppression. We think of Mother Teresa and the help she offered to the poverty-stricken, and we recognize the wondrous generosity that we are capable of possessing much of the time. We think of Hitler, Stalin, and violent dictatorships and we identify the hunger for power and the presence of malice that we sometimes feel. History is always around us and within us, whether we recognize it.
I guess my devotion to history comes from my parents and my family. My mom is a genealogy fanatic. She devotes hours to learning about our history and our ancestors and she even teaches classes on the subject. Over the last nine years, she has compiled a family tree that stretches from present day Chicago back into 19th Century Poland. I asked her why she is so interested in genealogy and the history of our family and she told me, “When you learn about your past, you understand yourself a lot better.” When we learn about history, we can see how the past is a part of ourselves. We know our roots and we can connect with them.
When I was nine or ten years old, my brother and I decided to make time capsules. We took two old, glass jars and we filled them with artifacts from around the house. We took postcards, small toys, and other relics from our childhood and we put them into these capsules. We buried the jars in our backyard, and they remain there to this day. We promised that we would dig up the capsules whenever we move out of our house. We never asked each other what the point of making these capsules was. It was obvious. We knew that the experience of unearthing these mementos from our past would be an amazing one. Connecting with our past and reliving our history, maybe ten or twenty years from now—it helps us to understand who we are today, and what kind of person we have become.
The most fantastic and surreal aspect of history is that we are becoming a part of it at this moment. We think that history is just a compilation of famous events and people, and that we will never be an important part of it. This is completely untrue. Just by the fact that we were born, we changed history. Maybe not on a global scale, but we became a part of history for our parents and our family. Today, we continue to make history. This essay, two pages about a belief that I hold, will become a part of history, even if I am the only one to ever read it. The smallest things that we do each day become a part of history, even if they are not noticeable to us. Years from now, our ancestors will attempt to connect with their past and to learn about their history. That history is us.
History is a chain that connects every generation of human kind. It is our common bond. History is the meshing of the past with the present, the intertwining of every human being on the earth. History is who we were, who we are, and determines who we will be. History is what I believe.
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