Friday, July 3, 2015

What History is Teaching Me

History is teaching me something.  It’s teaching me that I have to write.  I have to.  It’s true that I’m studying a lot and reading and writing all the time, but I need to be here with my Muse, not giving up on this despite the demands on my time.  Reading history all day long tends to give one perspective.  It makes one feel very small.  There have been billions of people on the earth.  Many of them faced very dire circumstances.  Millions of people from the continent of Africa were enslaved.  Millions.  Today we call their descendants African-Americans, but it wasn’t until they came to the Americas that they identified themselves as Africans.  Before slavery they were Akan, Bambara, Fan, Igbo, or Mande.[1]  These were people.  And other people, mostly whites, but also Muslims, and other Africans, sold these people, men, women, and children into slavery.  The listing facts and data cannot help but underscore the horror of slavery on a personal level and of the evil of this institution.  Sadly, the United States was one of the last countries to give up slavery
Then there is what was done to Native Americans.  Disease alone decimated up to 90% of some villages before the American Revolution.  European greed then took away their land.   The Native Americans who couldn’t be “tamed” were killed, murdered actually, sometimes entire villages of men, women, and children.  Survivors were marched off to “reservations” areas in places like Oklahoma with little or no fertile land.  Andrew Jackson, one of the first populist or “people’s” presidents, was especially cruel and did what he could to depose or destroy the Native American population.
Then there is the environment.  Not only did white people kick the original inhabitants off their land and force slaves to work on it, they despoiled that land.  Native Americans lived with that land for 2,000 years leaving few marks on it because they knew when it was time to give an area of land a rest and move to another area for a while.  This is why they traveled lightly and why material possessions were a burden and not always a blessing.  Though Native Americans lived on the land for over 2,000 years with all kinds of plant and animal species, it took less than 200 years before Europeans in their attempt to “subdue” the land destroyed much of the prevailing ecosystem.
It’s hard to read hundreds and hundreds of pages of this stuff week after week and not feel some sort of shame in being a human being.  The world has been, is, and probably will be a horrible place for many. 
I, on the other hand, am incredibly privileged and so these studies and these blogs and taking care of myself and my loved ones are a sort of mission to me, so that I can use my knowledge and skills and health to bless others.  Granted, I’m not perfect and I’ve created my own share of pain in the world.  But I find the study of history not only humbling, but also elevating.  It shows me how small we all are and how great we all can be.  Not everyone wants greatness, but I do.  I’m still defining what “greatness” means,  (riches?) (fame?) (authorship?) (a legacy that few know of but is nonetheless meaningful?).  I don’t have answers yet.  What I do know is that it is imperative that I study and write and take care of myself and the ones I love in order for my life to have an extrinsic value.  Yes, I’m valuable intrinsically because God created me.  But He also created me for a Purpose, and sitting here writing this blog reminds me of that.
I have to Get Started and Keep Going.  I can’t stop.  I’m one of billions of people in this world and I want my life to mean something.  I want to have at least a small part in making the world a better place. That is what history is teaching me.

[1] Ira Berlin, Many Thousands  Gone – The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, (London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 101.