“To understand a man, you must know his memories. The same is true of a nation” (Anthony Quayle).
EVERY INDIVIDUAL IS A UNIQUE COMBINATION OF MEMORIES OF THE PAST, ACTIONS IN THE PRESENT, AND HOPES FOR THE FUTURE. Each of these is important in its own way, but let’s think for a moment about the significance of our memories. A person’s history can’t be changed any more than a nation’s can, but it’s still important to pay attention to it. “History is the ship carrying living memories to the future” (Stephen Spender). The living memories of our personal past need to be cared for and kept alive.
Unfortunately, we tend to neglect the facts, stories, objects, and images that have gone into our personal archives. We don’t study these things as we should. If we did, we’d have a better understanding of who we are — and a better grasp of what our role is in the world.
But if there are those of us who neglect our personal histories, there are many more of us who neglect the history of our country and the history of the world. Will Durant, a man who certainly earned the right to comment on the value of history, said, “Most of us spend too much time on the last twenty-four hours and too little on the last six-thousand years.” This shortsightedness costs us dearly. We not only lose the humility that comes from seeing the larger reality of the world; we also lose the wisdom. People who never get outside of their own experience in the present moment make many needless mistakes.
We should be aware that when we give ourselves to others, we are giving them a person with a past, a history. It’s an even better gift when we give them a person who appreciates the past.
If we haven’t lived so that our personal histories are rich and good and worth remembering, we need to start doing that. Today, we can begin building histories that will be a joy to be connected to later on. But for most of us, there are already many things in our past that can enrich us when we remember them. These are things we should meditate on from time to time, humbly and respectfully. Lest we lose touch with our roots, we need to remember where we came from, from whom we came, and what we’ve done in getting to the present.
“A people without history is like wind on the buffalo grass” (Sioux Proverb).