Living History

Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History

History has long been a passion of mine, almost equal to books. For in the end, history really just is a long story, unravelling as time moves forward into the future.

I love the mystery that surrounds the past. It is a time apart, a time we can read about, study and discuss, but in the end, all we are doing is surmising, guessing, trying to understand.

It is a mystery and we will never know for sure whether we have solved it or not.

It is a bottomless cup of intrigue, beguiling, reflecting something we may or may not see in its depths.

History is full of riches, of heroism, of mysticism, of wins and losses, of greatness and of the average person.

It is an endless font of tales, myths, legends.

It is, of course, also a tale told by the victors and not always to be trusted. And it is pieced together by archeologists, anthropologists and sociologists, ostensibly working from the cold hard truth of their science, but always with a dusting of hypothesis, assumption and guess work.

I can still recall my grade 5 history class with Mrs. Gray. I believe that may have been when I fell in love – with cave paintings, cuneiform, the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumer, Babylon, Egypt.

I returned again and again to those ancient haunts over the years, throughout high school and then into university. I poured over archives, manuscripts, pottery shards and ancient coins, history books, relics.

I have always been attracted by the idea that new things are being discovered all the time, that as much as we understand, there are still many things we do not. That everything we know about the past is based on educated guesses. That there will always be still more to discover, new mysteries that, when solved, could change our understanding of these places and times yet again.

In my third year of university, I discovered the Celtic Studies Program and was able to actually study my life long love: Ireland. I became intimately acquainted with her literature, her folktales and mythology, her ancient, middle and modern history.

I came to know which historians were trustworthy, which were simply out to sensationalize, to ride on the coattails of the country’s mid-90’s trendiness. The leading authorities, professors mostly in Ireland, became hallowed names, like gods and goddesses in my mind.

Studying what I viewed as my homeland brought history alive like nothing had before, and yet as intimately as I felt I knew the country, that sense of mystery remained. I knew there were aspects we could never know for sure. And so much daily life that was lost, forgotten.

When I lived there, I used to sit up on a hill and imagine myself back in time, imagine what it was like to be there when it was a centre of Medieval knowledge and learning. It didn’t look much different in 2002 – not where I was sitting anyway – but when I came down off the hill, the reality of modern times always hit me with its full force.

In university, I also discovered a class on the history of Christianity – the greatest mystery of all, as far as my atheist mind was concerned. Who was Jesus? Did he really live once upon a time? Why did he survive our collective consciousness where others did not?

What really happened 2000 years ago is a wonderful mystery and I wanted to dig deeper. With so much passion, emotion, faith and expectation rising up to cloud, or emphasize, certain aspects of the story, it will never really be possible to know for sure what and why and how.

An unsolvable mystery that begs to be solved.

It is a perfect story. Unknowable.

But what of our current times will be understood in the future?

What history are we making right now?

In this age of information technology, have we removed all the mystery for future generations? Will it all be stored, ready to be watched and immediately understood by our great-grandchildren, and theirs?

I remember reading a short story in grade 7 or so. I don’t remember what it was called, or even who wrote it, but I recall it took place in the future. The world had been partly destroyed and the narrator curiously came across a statue floating in the water. On the statue was marked the name SHINGTON. It was the only vestige left of the great America and its hero, George Washington, and the narrator wondered who it was and what his story had been.

Will a mystery such as this still be possible in our future, or have we left too much of a mark, too much information, that those yet to come will simply know how we lived?

And will the world survive for long enough, or at least be habitable for long enough, will sufficient time pass, so that there will be the distance between now and then to allow some element of mystery to develop once again?

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