for people with very painful lives, the past is more often than not of little interest. remembering is difficult, a return to bad old days. much of my grandparents’ times are lost, and what little is known took a lot of asking and prying. even the happy memories tend to get buried with the hard ones. to me each scrap of their memories and artifacts from their time held immense value, whether it was my irish grandmother’s memory of going to a dance as a teenager in belfast during the second world war and being locked in when a bombing raid began. with nothing else to do, she spent the evening dancing. or finding my grandfather’s fake identification papers when he worked in the maquis (the french resistance), probably made in the south of france around the same time as my grandmother was dancing. they are points of contact, however fragmentary and one-sided, to a once-living past, and that once-livingness seems to me to be worthy of awe. but while i might find this or that particular history fascinating for a while, i see these as currents within a much larger river of time. All of history is interesting to me, even the occurrence of some dandelion on the side of the road in medieval ireland, or the lifespan of a single mountain peak in the northern rockies, or a sailor on an extinct sea. in many traditions, there seems to be an excessive emphasis on those events that “made” history, those world shaping events and forces that smashed the course of the river this way or that, the big boulders, the big rains.
but history to me is everything that happened before now; even those things which did not have the power to affect the course of human events have significance.although i have my doubts as to whether it is possible, i would like to eventually have a detailed sense of the entire course of this river of history. a river seems a good analogy to me, because this progression of time does happen intimately with the land. one can look back at the course of a river and see distant land and distant life, and this is equally true of time.
i’m not sure what having a long sense of history would accomplish necessarily, since my primary motivation is reverence rather than utility. to some degree having knowledge of many histories could help explain the relationships between eras and societies as they are now and how they got to where they are. to some degree it could help understand forces in the world that act on people over time. for me, many histories taken together make a grand story that is worth telling if for no other reason than it is in a wider sense my story, or better said anyone’s story.