Never under any circumstances take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night. —Dave Barry
Won for the ages: After years of waiting and suffering, Cubs are in World Series declared the banner headline on this morning’s Chicago Tribune. The excitement is palpable across social media. It’s been 75 years since the baseball’s Chicago Cubs played in a World Series, even longer since they actually won one. There was yelling, screaming, and excitement all over the place.
I slept right through it.
This isn’t the first time I’ve slept through history. I missed the first Apple commercial in 1984. I missed Bill Clinton’s appearance on the Arsenio Hall show in 1992. The Supreme Court decision that decided the 2000 election? Yep, I was asleep when that came down. Slept right through Saddam Hussein’s capture in 2003 as well. Sleeping through history is something I’ve become quite good at doing, and I’m reasonably sure that I’m not the only one who does so. I know because Kat was sleeping right next to me when the Cubs won last night.
On some level, sleeping through historic events is common. After all, we have to sleep. We can’t always anticipate that something historic is going to happen. The Cubs have been letting us down and choking on the big game for 75 years. What reason was there to think that last night would be any different?
At the same time, though,sleeping through events of global importance deprives us of one of the most exciting experiences in the human condition: telling a story.
Culling Through History
A fair portion of the time, we have good reason to sleep through what is being called a historic event. When something is actually happening, we don’t always know if it is something that history is going to bother remembering. For example, when we think of school shootings the one that continues to be the most important, historically, is Columbine. Why? The country was shaken to its core. We, collectively, had never imagined that such a thing was even possible. However, there has been 31 school shooting since Columbine. Each, in their own way, could claim some historical significance, but history itself doesn’t remember them because they became too commonplace.
Historic events are sometimes obvious. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and John Lennon, for example. The Challenger explosion would be another. Certainly, the events of 9/11 fall into that category. Something so massive, so startling, is immediately etched in our brains the moment they happen we know they’re important.
Others, however, sneak up on us when we’re not paying attention. As Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, forecasters attempted to warn residents, and the government, that this storm was stronger than anything we’d seen before. Too many people didn’t listen. Governors didn’t listen and force evacuations that could have saved lives. The federal government didn’t listen and as a result, aid was slow in arriving. Citizens of affected areas didn’t listen to the warnings, tried riding out a storm that couldn’t be ridden. Because we weren’t expecting the hurricane to be historic, the nation tried sleeping through it and was knocked right out of our comfortable beds.
Perhaps we can be forgiven for sleeping through some historic events. Our lives are full trying to handle every-day events. We are too tired to handle the big stuff. When we sleep through moments of great significance, though, we miss out on more than we expect.
Living To Tell The Tale
I remember talking with my father about the events of December 7, 1941. He was still a child on that fateful morning, but he still remembered quite clearly the response of those around him: everyone was scared. The men were torn. They shared a farm and if they all joined the military, which they were inclined to do, then who would handle the 500 acres that provided the only source of income for five families? Those with older children were concerned about sending them off to fight an unfamiliar enemy. Since news moved much slower during that era, anxiety ran high as the future of the nation seemed uncertain.
Being alive when a historic event takes place doesn’t always change our own lives directly. We don’t always see things then as they turn out. I remember the Watergate Scandal, for example. The only way in which it directly affected my life was that the televised hearings preempted my afternoon cartoon shows. I was less upset that the President of the United States had committed a crime and more pissed off that I was missing Popeye the Sailor and Roadrunner. I remember watching Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s homerun record. While it was exciting, there was also a sense of relief. Network news programs had regularly interrupted whatever was showing every time Aaron came up to bat for what seemed like a month (it was only a few days) before he hit that ball. We were glad the constant interruptions were over.
Regardless of our perspective on an event, however, we still come away with a story that is worth telling. If anything, it is the wide-ranging differences of our perspectives that making listening to those stories so great. We can get the historical facts of an event from any history book or a quick bit of research on the Internet. To truly understand the emotion of an event, though, we need to listen to the stories of the people who witnessed those events. Without those stories, our understanding of history is rather empty and void of context.
Our Own Historical Record
One of my favorite radio programs is the Moth Radio Hour. The Moth isn’t a news program and it’s not really a matter of commentary, either. The Moth is people telling stories, real stories, not fiction, in front of a live audience. These stories relate to us things that happened around historic events in people’s lives. While the event itself might not have made the news, it was important to the history of the person telling the story. So, an astronaut explains what it feels like to be in space for the first time. Another story is a woman telling about her search for her signature scent. A military veteran relates the rigors of Honor Guard training.
All the stories we tell are important to history because it is our stories, the explanations of how we felt, what we saw, how we were affected, that gives context and meaning to the cold, dry facts of history. If the generations that come after us are to learn any lessons from the history that has come before them, they need more than history books. They need our stories, yours and mine, to give them a sense of why an event was so very important and why they need to pay attention and learn.
What happens when we do not tell those stories? Our history is empty. We know events occurred, but we fail to understand them. We know the fight for civil rights was challenging, but we don’t understand that battle until we listen to the stories of people like John Lewis, who was there next to Dr. King, who was arrested and beaten, who was sprayed with the fire hoses. We know the dustbowl era affected migration to California, but to hear my Uncle Fred tell about his decision to pack up and move injects the sorrow and pain of that momentous event make the experience real.
We need these stories.
Sharing Our Own History
When it’s all said and done, the fact that I slept right through last night’s game is probably not significant to the global understanding of history. Baseball and I aren’t that close. Other events, though, require that I stay awake. The evening of November 8 would be a good example. No matter how one slices it, this election has important historical significance. We need to be awake not just because we need to know the outcome. We need to be paying attention because there will come a day when our stories will be an important part of the historical narrative of our country.
Sharing our stories, whether through the centuries-honored oral tradition or through creating a video for social media, is an important part of history. We need more than dates and numbers and names. Those who come behind us need to know why we vote the way we do, how our lives are affected, and how we adjust our plans based on the outcome. History is not something we watch happen. History is something we experience, even if it is passive.
We need to stay awake. Our stories are important. Make sure you tell yours.