Hey folks, so I updated my theme and some parts of my “the blog” and “the writer” pages. If you want, you can look around and let me know what you think (just trying out to track mud all over the place, please). Regardless of whether you look around (and even if you do leave mud stains), enjoy the post. Also, I just realized that this post and the last are both based off of Tolkien quotes. Apparently my subconscious is trying to tell me that I need to reread Lord the Rings. Maybe I should listen to it.
Seventeen years ago, one of my earliest memories: my mother and grandmother are watching the TV and talking with furrowed brows. Something has happened, I don’t know what. I just know that normally we do not watch TV in the morning and that they seem concerned.
Seventeen years ago, I am not yet three, one of my earliest memories: fear. I will never know a life, a country, a world without it.
I will never know airports without security, I will never know TV without terrorists.
I know a woman, a smart woman, in her sixties, and she cannot figure out how to navigate YouTube. I have a little sister in her sixth year, and she knows how to unlock my phone and take pictures on it and use Instagram filters.
My little sisters will never know a life without computers and phones. I myself barely remember the days before we could just Google answers to any question under the sun. My parents talk about driving across America without a GPS, with one of those huge maps you can never refold splayed across their laps, and they themselves can hardly believe it. Those days are already sucked into the quicksand of history.
How is it that something that happened in the 1940s, when my grandparents were alive, feels so long ago? Is it because I live in a young country? Is it because technology is advancing so rapidly?
I read in my economics textbook that the world’s income per person is twenty times what it was in 1820, after centuries of almost complete stagnancy. In the past hundred years, the average lifespan has more than doubled in the West.
And I wonder, who am I to live in these times, in this place?
Life assignment: Compare and contrast newspaper headlines from the 1940s to those of today.
I will never know the optimism and patriotic pride following World War II, the idealism that we can do anything. That we have won the hardest war. The war to end all wars didn’t, after all, end all wars. Far from it. And now after two world wars we are still fighting all over the world. I will probably never know the feeling of triumph Americans felt on V-E Day.
I will also never know fear of polio. Or childbirth or cataracts or chickenpox.
I have always felt sad that all the earth has been discovered. Am I the only one who yearns to join Lewis and Clark and set foot where no (white) man has before?
We have maps upon maps and AP biology textbooks that get thicker every year and sometimes I want to go back to when even the most basic things were a marvel and you could write “here there be dragons” upon the white space of mystery and adventure.
In South Africa they said they watch YouTube videos about how to make money and they asked me if you could really have lemonade stands on the side of the road. They said in South Africa you could never do that because someone would just come up and steal the lemonade. I thought of the stands I had manned in middle school. I thought of how some people would come up and give me extra money because I was raising it for a charity.
It seemed like every day we we were in South Africa two summers ago we heard about another shooting in America. I looked across the ocean and wondered what my country was becoming, what monsters we had been hiding and were now finally breaking free, like some latent disease that reveals its presence at last in an ugly rash foretelling doom.
Then it was time to go shopping somewhere, and we had to remember to keep our purses close and put them in the center of the car, in case someone smashed through the window at a red light and tried to grab whatever they could.
Donald Trump versus Hilary Clinton: the first election I could vote in. I had been so looking forward to it. I really couldn’t believe my luck.
But then, there is the fact that I was able to vote in an American election, which is a gift I took for granted. And there is the fact to that although it may have been the most ugly and tumultuous election in American history, there was still a peaceful transfer of power. As there has been for our whole history. No bloody coups or forced votes to declare current president dictators.
Is there much American gets wrong? Yes. Could it be far worse? A thousand times yes.
Maybe what it gets wrong wouldn’t be as painful if we didn’t expect America to be better than other countries.
The good old days, everyone calls them, and part of me agrees. I will never know what life was like when a car ride was a Sunday treat and candy could be bought with a penny and nuclear weapons didn’t exist.
I will also never know a life without the infinitely precious friends I met online or cameras that can capture beauty so precisely or hygiene and medicines that will let me live for many more decades.
Sure, my arms hurt for no reason and have been for two years and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight but I have a loving, stable family and a roof over my head and so much food our pantry overflows and books in heaps and an education that enables me to read them and the luxury of free time to do so—
And so here is my life and here is the time I have been born into and I do not understand the half of it.
History may repeat itself, and I may feel like a boat against a current, but I do not believe that any of us are being borne backwards. We are each given a part in the symphony and we may sing it well or sing it badly but the song itself is moving toward its final, glorious measure and it will only ever sound as the conductor intends it to.
And he intends it to be beautiful.
That is what I do understand, in the midst of these wars and rumors of wars and seedtimes and harvests. I cannot hear the whole song, not yet, though the shape of it is woven into my veins.
For now, I accept the gift of my life, and I will try, oh I will try, to use well the days.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Then Aragorn took leave of Celeborn and Galadriel; and the Lady said to him: “Elfstone, through darkness you have come to your hope, and have now all your desire. Use well the days!”
~ J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord the Rings