Can anyone tell me the most significant thing that happened in 1826? How about anything that happened, no matter its importance? Nope? That’s right. No one cares about 1826. (You don’t count, Mr. Yost.) For your information, in 1826, Pedro I abdicated the Brazilian throne. Also, a mob, dubbed the “Eggnog riot,” broke out at West Point Military Academy, but dissolved abruptly when the Christmas church service started. Those two events are not related, in case you were wondering.
The point is that we, as the human race, have whole years that, for the most part, have faded from importance. Sure, they might have a tidbit or two of interesting trivia, but the majority of us couldn’t care less about them. Or 1826.
On the other end of the spectrum, some years and periods are quite significant. 1776. 1941. The Renaissance. The Roman Empire. We all know what is important about these dates and periods. They stand out to us. We’ve probably learned more facts about one year, say 1776, than whole centuries, like the ninth century. As a rough estimate, I compared the Wikipedia pages for the ninth century and 1776. It is no surprise that the year of our nation’s birth has more details than a century which I randomly chose. Why?
Another aspect of this seemingly unjust assignment of historical importance is that it tends to correlate with the passage of time. The more recent an event is, the more we know about it. Most high schoolers can probably give a fairly in depth rundown of the past hundred years, with some areas going into even further detail. Again, that’s not surprising. World War II and the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement are things that are still affecting us in some ways today.
The question is, which of these events, which we know well, are more than blips on the radar of history? Yes, the first two World Wars were horribly bloody and tragic. I’d say they will be taught in depth for a while to come. But think through the past. There is a war from European history that lasted around a hundred years (aptly named “The Hundred Years War”), yet I doubt you can find five people in your class who can tell you the centuries in which the Hundred Years War occurred.
History, like all memories, fades as time passes. We know the past century really well, the past 300 years well enough to get important dates, and the couple or so thousand years before that in terms of empires and periods. The thing is, someday we’ll be in that category of “last century,” and after that, “last 300 years,” and after a while maybe even “that country that was the first organization on the North American continent.” Eventually, America could fade into the distance of memory, overshadowed by other great nations, space exploration and colonization, and a lot of time. Who knows?
That’s a little daunting, isn’t it? It wears on your desire to “strive for excellence” and “shoot for the stars.” It’s depressing. Let’s think about something else.
September is Hispanic Heritage Month. This is a time when we can focus on one culture and its people in order to appreciate their past and their values. Yes, it looks at a whole category of people, but it is also focused on the individual and how to treat every individual, in this case Hispanics, with respect regardless of race.
The local animal shelter would love for you to come look at their cats and dogs, and maybe find a new friend. It’s always a good thing to adopt a shelter animal over a pet store one because they don’t have much time left before they’re put to sleep.
Why did I mention those things? The answer is that I wanted to bring us back down to earth. We get so sucked up in “legacies” and “reputations” nowadays that sometimes we forget to look at the individuals and happenings around us. Maybe you’re not Napoleon or Columbus or anyone that will be remembered for ages past. Chances are you’re not. Almost all of us are just individuals, just people, going about our daily business. That doesn’t give us an excuse to keep our heads in the clouds, not caring about others or ourselves simply because “it won’t matter in a hundred years.” There are plenty of ways to help someone out, even if no one else ever hears about it.
Don’t be ruled by how the future will see you. This is your life. Seize it.