The Value of History

“There is a relation between the hours of our life and the centuries of time. As the air I breathe is drawn from the great repositories of nature, as the light on my book is yielded by a star a hundred millions of miles distant, as the poise of my body depends on the equilibrium of centrifugal and centripetal forces, so the hours should be instructed by the ages, and the ages explained by the hours.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, History

Painted upon the backdrop of our lives are the centuries that came before us, a constant, lingering presence that tacitly reveals itself in every breath of every human alive. The past is not dead as the years press on, but rather, humanity survives as a whole; everything we do exudes the actions of our ancestors, unveiling truths that were just as alive then as they are now, and vice versa. 

Undeniably, we are mere morphed replicas of the figures that have already come and passed. It is through them that we attain any sense of identity, of attachment, of reality. Where would we be if not for the toils of past humans who thought and struggled and dared to carve the world we live in today? Humanity is unified by incessant cause and effect. We are both the effect of the past and the causation of the future, linking us to those who came before us and those who will come after us. 

Such a tragic and beautiful truth this is. Bred from the evil of the past, we grow to create a greater good, and simultaneously set the platform from which our evils may be remedied by our children. The past is a world so distant in minutes and hours from ours, yet so tenderly close in spirit. Ignorant as we may be of historical events, we still reflect them in thought, word, and deed, tending to the same garden and eating from the same apple – that is, the garden of a hopeless condition and the apple of an enduring spirit, feeding on passion, pleasure, and pain to persist. 

Therefore, our history is more than relevant – it is everything. The joys and sorrows of yesterday echo in the pleasures and pains of today. No idea is crazy – for our thoughts today are the subtle rumblings of the voices of tomorrow, and in our deaths, our deeds will be corrected by our descendants just as we improved upon the deeds of our ancestors.

It is for these reasons that I find myself insatiably attracted to history. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you want to be remembered, do something worth writing or write something worth reading.” We recall the words and actions of the past, and in doing so, we attach ourselves to something greater than ourselves. And sometimes, the best way to move forward is to make sure you look back. 

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