Julie Seedorf: Look history in the face to learn from it

Published 8:30 pm Sunday, June 24, 2018

Something About Nothing by Julie Seedorf


I was never a history buff. I didn’t see the value in learning about the past when I was younger. History in the way it was presented until I reached my junior year in high school was stories read from a book about events that happened in the past. To me it was a little boring.

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Somewhere in all the teaching I missed the connection between the past and the future. Perhaps it was the method in the way it was taught, or as a young person I wasn’t interested.

It wasn’t until I wrote a Lenten service 20 or so years ago that I got the connection and the importance of history. I was writing a play in which we used the text from the Bible where Jesus is crucified. It was a Good Friday service, and I was writing the script with only sound. The service took place in the darkened church. That meant I had to take the scripture apart piece by piece and imagine the sounds.

I heard Jesus moan as they placed the crown of thorns on his head. I heard the cross as he dragged it with him. I heard his pain as he fell. I felt his mother’s pain as she watched what they were doing to her son. For the first time as I wrote the sounds of Good Friday, I understood the importance of history and it moved my heart to tears.

The past week has been tumultuous for our country because of the immigration debate. Different emotions were reflected in different ways by those who weighed in on all sides. Our president’s supporters were angry that he was being maligned, mothers and fathers took on the emotions of a parent having their children ripped away unexpectedly by the government, the right fighters were evoking strong feelings to hold on to their point of view, others had feelings of helplessness and despair because of not being able to actually help the situation. And then we have our history — strong feelings by those who remembered history and the past because they either lived it or had a family member who lived during the time of concentration camps. They lived the history many of us read about but have no connection to because they were just words on a page. We didn’t pick them apart word for word as I did long ago for that chapter in the Bible that made me stand up and take notice.

Our connections to situations are different depending on our experiences. I myself didn’t understand what it is like to live with less until I had to. I didn’t understand what it was like to have to fight for health care when we had insurance with the company we worked for until we lost the coverage. I don’t know what it is like to be a student or teacher in school and be afraid to go to school because someone might attack the school. I don’t know what it is like to have to live in a shelter because I can’t afford a place to live. I do not know what it is like to be hungry. And I do not know what it feels like to have to flee a country because poverty is so great and the government is so corrupt that I fear for my children’s lives.

In recent years, others who understand their history have been fighting to be heard. Indigenous people feel the hurt of their ancestors’ history. The history of slavery in our country is felt by every black American. The history of the Vietnam War evokes strong feelings for those who served and for their families. They feel the history because they got beyond the words into the emotion of the events.

We might have strong feelings about that in which we think we know. If we feel our way of life is being threatened by the past or by the future because of what we imagine will happen or what we think we know without the facts, our emotions run amok. It is easy to judge those who work for minimum wage and have to ask for help. It is easy to judge those who complain they don’t have health insurance because they can’t afford it or the places they work do not provide it. It is easy to judge another race because we don’t acknowledge our fear of that which is different. It is easy to judge immigrants trying to gain asylum to protect their families. It is easy to do this because we may be blessed with an abundant life and haven’t experienced those setbacks and we are afraid our way of life which we worked so hard for will be changed.

It is hard in our society to cut through the noise of social media, fake news and news that swings right or left according to their own agenda to get the true history of what is happening.

I know I am quick to judge in many instances, but if I take the time to research all points of view, I may temper that judgment. This week the chatter was not based in fact but by emotion, and we got carried away by the wave of words. I was taught emotions are neither right nor wrong, they just are. It is what we do with them that makes a difference.

We always hope history doesn’t repeat itself. We always hope we learn from our history. But we can’t learn if we don’t look at our history in the face with the same emotion as we look at events in the present. 

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” — Marcus Garvey

Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at hermionyvidaliabooks@gmail.com.