Saturday, June 12, 2010

Contextualizing Life

Yesterday I went to my daughter Elizabeth’s graduation ceremony. She has completed her B.A. as a History major through the University of Washington. She graduated on the Dean’s List. When she began college she was a single Mom. For the last four years she has managed being a mother, a student, and later a wife with a home to run. Throughout she has maintained an A grade level and not lost her sense of enjoyment for her studies. I am very proud of her to say the least!
At the ceremony the head of the History department talked about the study of history as a means for contextualizing a person’s life. I was struck by that insight. We live in such an instant society where the NOW seems so important and history is what happened last week or last month or maybe, if you stretch it, five or ten years ago at best. Once on a flight home I sat next to a high school age boy and a twenty something woman. At one point they began discussing life and especially his school experience and he made the remark, I just don’t get all this history stuff. I mean what does my knowing about the Civil War have anything to do with my life today?...My heart sank.
George Santayana (1863-1952) philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist said, Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it. Maybe a more contemporary application of his observation might be that failure to understand history can leave a person and a culture without a context.
Has anyone checked recently to see where we are going as a society? From individuals to our nation as a whole we appear to have very little sense of direction other than the to do lists of the moment. People live their lives today like they are adrift. They have lost their moorings. Could it be a loss of context…mental, emotional, historic and spiritual? Are we only preoccupied with self and its’ interests? Sure seems that way. Perhaps that is the best we can do when we have little or no historic framework for our lives…for our culture?

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