Living in Historic Times

I’ve often watched movies or read books set in a particular time period of history, and I’ve wondered what it would be like to live at that time. On the one hand, I think we each have a general idea of what we might expect. The Great Depression would be full of people jumping out of sky scrapers or standing in bread lines. The American Revolution would be everyone in the country heading out to fight the British.

Or something like that.

Except I really wonder if that was the case. The other day I was listening to a story on NPR, and they were interviewing a woman who lives in Syria near where the missile strikes were expected to take place. This was right after the chemical weapons attack. I was expecting her to talk about how crazy things were over there right now. How everything was in upheaval. How disastrous it all was. After all, there have been tons of refugees coming from the country. It had to be a ghost town by now.

But that’s not what she depicted. She talked about how normal everything was. How the kids had all been in school that day. How she’d spent the afternoon going to the gym. How people were talking about the potential missile strikes, but weren’t too worried about them.

I only caught a snippet of her interview, and I know nothing about her. For all I know, she’s the Syrian equivalent of Baghdad Bob, who spent the Iraqi War proclaiming blatant lies day after day. But her blasé attitude toward the whole thing made me wonder.

After all, I’ve lived through “historic times” of my own at this point. 9/11. The Great Recession. Donald Trump. While there have definitely been changes I’ve seen during each of these times, I’ve also seen life largely just keep churning forward. Sure, the topics of conversation might be different, and the Facebook posts certainly shift over time, but the actual mechanics of my days have been fairly constant.

This isn’t to say there’s no difference at all. There are many people who have been impacted by each of these times. I’ve had friends lose their jobs. Seen others lose their houses. Watched people head off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I still get up at the same time each day, and I still have my banana for a snack and eat lunch at noon.

What I mean to say is that life is life. “Big” events impact a significant number of people, but for the majority, it all continues. 9/11 was by far the biggest “event” I’ve lived through. It’s altered the course of the country. But what, in the end, was its impact on me personally?

  • Security lines in airports and at stadiums are much more restrictive.
  • Class was canceled at BYU for the day.
  • I followed the news closely for the next while.
  • I had many discussions about 9/11 with friends and family.

That’s about it. On a personal level, not a whole lot happened. On a macro level, things really shifted.

So it doesn’t necessarily surprise me that people in Syria continue to live their lives. Continue to go to the gym and to school. It actually reminds me of my time living in Weimar, Germany. Buchenwald, a notorious concentration camp, is just over the hill, right next to the city. I remember talking to people who lived there during World War II, when the camp was up and running.

They said they didn’t really know what was going on there. They suspected, but they didn’t know. And it was easier not to know, no doubt. It was easier to just go along and continue living their lives. Because even during World War II, life would continue. You still had bills to pay. Kids to raise. Chores to get done around the house.

And the suffering just over the hill? Out of sight, out of mind.

I’m not sure what the conclusion of this post is. On the one hand, it’s reassuring to know life can continue relatively unscathed, regardless of what’s happening elsewhere. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that just because your personal life isn’t being impacted by national or international events doesn’t mean others are so lucky. Maybe even other people very close to you, physically or personally.

History looks much tidier when it’s all wrapped up in a Hollywood storyline. The reality is always more (and less) complex.


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