Monday, October 30, 2017
A few days ago, my daughter asked how I could research and write about some of the saddest moments in history — war, earthquakes, slavery and with my present WIP, a dreadful, not-so-natural disaster. Two days after my daughter posed the question, a student with whom I sometimes work, asked me the same thing.
I suppose it does seem strange that I should involve myself with the sadness and tragedies of the past when the present offers enough heartache of its own. But, although my research often haunts me, my response to this question was easy, something I have thought about before, something I began to understand years ago when I was still in the classroom.
When I was an English teacher, some of the most meaningful assignments I gave my students were those in which I partnered with the Social Studies teacher. History came alive when students recognized that all those dusty figures with the ruffled shirts and outlandish hairstyles were once as alive as they were. Crawling inside characters from the past to create a play or story deepened their understanding of history and allowed me an opportunity to sneak in some lessons in grammar, spelling and the fundamentals of intelligible expression.
I was surprised to find another benefit to studying history — students who didn't like discussing difficult topics, were easily able to explore the same themes — war, racism, injustice— within the safety of distant and archived boundaries. Talked about in the present tense, discussions about fairness and equality sometimes lead to defensiveness and further divisiveness which historical perspectives may soften. When we study history, there is always the possibility that we will painlessly recognize in the mistakes of others, the unrecognizable flaws in ourselves.
There is another reason that stories of the past— even sad ones— captivate me— I'm a firm believer that every life is worth remembering and too many individuals have been forced to go gently into an early night. Laptop open, pencils sharpened and notepad nearby, I listen and hope to give voice to those unnoticed or forgotten.