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Davis Journal

Learning of history while living it

 If you’re like me, there’s always been a certain randomness to the books that end up in your queue.

It might be a book you’ve been given for Christmas or a birthday and you want to honor the giver by reading it. It might be a book recommended by a friend and you want to know what they saw in it. It might be a book you’d heard others praise and felt it time to find out if you agreed the praise was deserved.

For whatever reason, the books I’ve spent time with over the past year have been all the more enlightening when juxtaposed with current events.

One was about Truman. One was about Eleanor Roosevelt. Several were about Lincoln. Several were autobiographies of people in the media, entertainment and politics. Several were fictionalized accounts of real women in World War II. Some were about social issues, others about growing up in difficult circumstances. 

I am now reading about the 100 years in France between the Revolution and the Belle Epoque and from this book, like from most others, I have learned that history has been full of challenges not only to communities but to individuals.

While it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the challenges facing us today, it might help to remember that most people in France in 1789 couldn’t afford bread even if they could find it somewhere. And that Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother made her feel ugly and her father was an alcoholic and both parents died before she turned 10. And that women were being treated in inhuman ways by other women during World War II. And that in America in 1862, those who’d lived and worked and served together found themselves fighting each other.

And while there’s no sense in arguing who lived through the most difficult times, there is wisdom in realizing that despite what was swirling around them, what made them great or good was the way they, individually or collectively, when everyone or no one was looking, acted.

It didn’t matter if they were the president of the United States or an inmate in a concentration camp. It didn’t matter if they were part of an aggrieved working class or the leadership of a political party. If they did the right thing when called upon, if they acted in a way that showed integrity and compassion, their story was one of honor.

We are living history now. Someday, someone will write a book about the virus that humbled the world and the election that challenged the country and the issues of equality and climate that humbled and challenged us even more.

Maybe we’ll be in that book.

And if we act – with integrity and compassion – maybe we’ll be the heroes.