There are moments when I am deeply aware that I am participating in something much larger than my own life-sphere. These moments sometimes have great majesty and other times feel deeply personal, and yet are shared by others. The birth of a child is one such shared event. Politics is another. This past week was one of those weeks that contains more than the seed of historical importance. But as dramatic as it has been to me and other Americans, does it have the gravitas necessary to become something other than a footnote in history?
Here are some other things than happened on February 5th over the centuries:
- Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, arrived in America (1651)
- John and Charles Wesley arrived in Georgia, and brought Methodism with them (1736)
- France recognized United States of America, signed Treaty of Alliance (1778)
- In Philadelphia, the first motion picture shown to a theater audience (1870)
- Southern Pacific Railway completed the “Southern Route” from New Orleans to Los Angeles (1883)
- Mexican Constitution proclaimed (1917)
- Hank Aaron was born (1934)
- Franklin D. Roosevelt announced plan to expand the Supreme Court to 15 justices (1937)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower became Commander of Allied Forces in North Africa (1943)
- King George VI died/Elizabeth became Queen (1952)
- Nelson Mandela was released from prison (1990)
- Donald J. Trump, impeached president, acquitted by U.S. Senate (2020)
What strange alignment of the stars, what Karmic convolutions, what random chances caused these events to happen on this day in history? What did John and Charles Wesley discuss as they walked the streets of Savannah, Georgia? What kinds of curious folks came to that theater in Philly to see moving pictures? Were Mr. and Mrs. Aaron pleased with their newborn son, or were they afraid that his future would be bleak? What was FDR thinking when he tried to pack the Court? Did Lilibet have any notion of what her reign would encompass or how she would navigate the tempestuous waters created by 20th Century paparazzi?
Lincoln famously penned that the “world will little note nor long remember” his remarks on that Thursday afternoon in November of 1863 in Gettysburg, PA. He modestly suggested that the sacrifices made in battle would have a far greater impact than his words, yet it seems the opposite is true. Unlike Lincoln’s remarks, the rhetoric of the past week during the impeachment of the 45th President may be preserved for eternity, but its impact might have already passed.
History seems to record events of the powerful, the influential, the evil, and only occasionally, the mundane. But life is happening at all levels. Acts of courage happened this week not only on the Senate floor, but also in homes around the world where individuals, families, and groups took a stand against hatred and intolerance. Sacrifices were made with little or no thought as to possible loss or gain for the individual making the sacrifice and in the hopes that such actions would result in someone feeling less alone, not so hungry, less pained, freer and safer. People slowed and stopped to allow pedestrians and ducks to cross the road, and did so without swearing or honking a horn. Kind words, an occasional hug, and jokes were made, resulting in others feeling seen, appreciated, and joyful. None of these acts will be recorded for posterity, yet they are at the foundation of our society and culture.
These legacies of values are typically not explicit. They are simply patterns that are repeated because there is utility in them. Benefits are experienced without fanfare and traditions are reinforced because in doing so, we are brought closer together and find common ground rather than difference. And we are better for having done it.
There are valid reasons for elders to be the keepers of these traditions. Having made it through hard times as well as periods of contentment, many older Americans can compare what we are going through today with other possibly more harrowing times. We have acquired the knowledge that it may be easy to get caught up in the winds of change and lose hope. Because we survived experiences, we may have a deeper understanding of how important it is to stay the course and gather strength from each other.
What are your values? Have you had them tested? Could you speak truth to power? Can you find space in your heart to forgive? Can you look at yourself in the mirror and see worth and value?
Hank Aaron made history not only because of his prowess on the baseball field, but also because of his commitment to civil rights. Nelson Mandela stayed true to his conviction that apartheid was wrong and inspired his fellow South Africans to find ways to heal the wounds created by that system. Queen Elizabeth remains the undisputed head of her family, in spite of its dysfunction and discontent. Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped up to the challenge of taming mighty egos and aligning them with the larger purpose of eradicating the evil that was the Nazi war machine. Franklin D. Roosevelt rebounded from his unsuccessful and unbridled attempt to pack the court and led the country out of the darkness that was the Great Depression. Roger Williams held true to his values of independence, separation of Church and State, and followed his conscience even at the peril of exile. John Wesley lived to the ripe old age of 87 and while he returned to England, he left behind an indelible legacy of sacred hymns and psalms still sung by Methodists today.
We are in need of legacy right now. Using our values to guide us in these challenging times is essential. Each of us has a legacy of values worth curating. Taking time to explore, discuss, and cultivate these values and sharing them with family members and your larger community is fundamentally necessary if we are to find our way through this current darkness.