I love history. I used to hate it when I was in school because I would get lost in all of the dates — even now I need to Google key phrases to figure out when certain events began and ended, but I know the circumstances, I know the stories. I read about history for the stories they tell, for what we can learn. I write about history because sometimes I wish I were anywhere but here.
There are things to love and hate about every time period. For example, I love the Regency era for their appreciation of literature and aesthetics and romance; I hate it for their views on social class. I love the 1940s and 50s for their wholesomeness — Hollywood was full of class, family was emphasized; I hate it for the wars, the narrow-mindedness, and the structure. These are just a few minor examples of what I mean — every era has something I could look back on and wonder what it would be like, just like every era has their dark side where I’m suddenly grateful for where I am and how far we’ve come. Only, how far have we come?
I love this new millenium because I appreciate the advancements in technology and open-mindedness. I hate it because we’ve lost respect — for ourselves and for each other.
I sat down with my parents this weekend to watch “Across the Universe” — the 2007 movie directed by Julie Taymor that is billed as a romance set to the music of The Beatles against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. I loved the music, I loved the storyline, and I found it ingenious how they worked the storyline around the music. My mom and dad grew up in New York, I thought, and my mom loved The Beatles — maybe they’ll love it, too.
Although I had seen the movie two different times in the past week, it wasn’t until I watched it with my parents that I understood the full scope of it, how, although they, too, loved it, it would be so different for them. It wasn’t until I sat down with them that I really saw the parallels in how much the past affects the present.
“You don’t understand, Susan,” Mom said to me, tears in her eyes. “This was our life. We lived this.” And she shook her head and lamented, “when will we learn?”
I had loved the movie for the music, for the story. For a second, I wished that I had lived back then, where everything seemed so easy, where you could take that chance and go to New York City, where you could share an apartment with six other people, knowing that they were your second family. Where music had soul and words had meaning and you felt like you really could change the world.
But then I watched my parents watch the movie, and I realized that it wasn’t just a movie, another time, to them. This was a memory. A memory that could so easily translate to the present.
I read about history for the stories they tell, for what we can learn. I write about the good, forgetting, or perhaps purposefully ignoring, the bad. Maybe I need to learn to be content with what I have, instead of always looking for something more. Maybe if we all treated history as a memory, we could learn and change the world.