History is (not, it turns out) dead

I remember thinking in middle school, and even high school despite the radar blip of the Gulf War, that history was dead. It had surely passed us by. Those people long ago were fortunate to have lived in times that mattered, times when things were happening.  Events of the time seemed far away from my suburban Connecticut town. I loved tales of long ago, preferably far away places…but no matter.

The evening news only ever seemed to report fires and break-ins. So why watch? The local paper was poorly written and seemed to cover the same sorts of banality. A chance encounter with the New York Times in a friend’s home later in high school left me gasping at the sophistication of language and the complexity of the stories. But since it was my only chance to read it, I didn’t have time to feel that history was still breathing.

All those years, I was soaking in bits of history from other times. I know a thing or two about history by now. And as an adult I’ve found news outlets that cover more of the world than the local evening news and the regional paper. So for a decade or more I’ve also been tuned in to current events.

These days it seems I can barely tear my eyes away  from the headlines or my ears away from the analysis. We are flooded by the facts and vignettes of history–loud, angry, calamitous, defiant, shocking history. Every day some new revelation has me narrating headlines and key points from the news at my family. My husband pointed out that I’ve been angry a lot lately.

It’s been awhile since I shook off the youthful naivete that nothing new will ever happen in the world. The old adage that those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it, is so familiar it had worn thin–the kind of thing you know intellectually, but don’t feel in your bones. Until…

Flash forward to 2017. It feels like we’re watching colorized newsreels from another era…several in fact. It feels like we’ve slipped into the pages of a dystopian series…and as an avid reader I know those get much worse before the end.

And then today. Today the spokesman for the leader of the free world chose to curtail the free press. Legitimate news agencies were barred from participating in the daily presidential briefing.

Curtain please.

(Spotlight stage left. Cut to black.)

Doctor enters and crosses downstage. Removes surgical mask and gloves. Wipes brow, clearly exhausted.

I’m sorry. Democracy suffered severe trauma. She’s in critical condition.  Without her free press, she’s been hemorrhaging. We haven’t been able to stop the bleeding. Without a transfusion of a free exchange of ideas, and the ability to speak truth to power, Democracy won’t last the night.

You can go in and see her now. Prepare yourself. The end could come quickly. It would be best to say your goodbyes and make your peace in case the worst happens.

Any of you who are able to donate free speech, freedom to assemble, or protection of habeas corpus, the clinic is open.  We’ll keep her on life support for now. Anything you can do could make the difference.

Democracy was the best among us. I’ll be sorry to see her go.

(Lights up on empty stage.)

History is happening now.

It was easy to judge the characters in historical fiction. Easy, from the outside, to see what they should have done. It’s harder to see our way through right now. Clearly we must make a stand.

I just hope when 2017 feels like ancient history that those reading our story will see that we did not go quietly when democracy was threatened. Please, don’t let me be a passive bystander when it matters most.


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