The Way We Were

Dear Kid,

You’re reading this 100 years in the distant future, and I am writing to you from the distant past. You don’t know me, and you never will because by the time you read these words, I will have been dead and gone for a long time.

Years from now, your history books will tell you about the society I live in. You’ll have to memorize our famous dates, names, and capitals, then spit them out during a third-period history exam.

Still, I wonder if you’ll ever know who we truly were.

I’ll bet your textbook only dedicates two paragraphs to us, maybe less. Our entire story probably lands somewhere between the names of our politicians and the groundbreaking achievements of our pop-country music stars. You’ll glaze right over us.

I was like you once. I remember looking at old photos of my grandparents. Their era seemed like an antique universe. I remember thinking how odd it was that my granddaddy wore his pants all the way up to his nipples.

In school, I used to read about historical events like the Civil War, the Spanish flu of 1918, the War to End All Wars, the polio epidemics, the Second World War, etc. I’d memorize the dates, take a quick test, then I’d forget everything.

Thus, I can’t remember much about Christopher Columbus, or when exactly George Washington crossed the Delaware. I definitely can’t tell you anything about long division.

So that’s why I thought I’d tell you about what our civilization was like one century before you came along.

Mostly, we were good folks, and we were fun people. Really, we were. I remember when our society came out with these fun devices called smartphones. They changed our world. Suddenly, everyone on planet Earth, regardless of nationality, religion, or creed, had the God-given right to snap pictures of their lunch and post it on the internet. It was great.

One day, archeologists will discover our food pictures and selfies and wonder about us. All I can tell you is that we were fun.

We loved good movies, good beer, and barbecues. Before social-distancing, we would gather in huge groups. We went to concerts, symphonies, jazz clubs, and honky tonks.

But when the coronavirus hit, everything changed. I remember sitting in my den, watching the news. I was terrified. And I mean, genuinely fight-or-flight frightened. The nightly news often does that to people of my time.

After only a few weeks, the whole world had shut down. Pizza joints quit delivering. The institution of baseball dried up. We all stayed home for a worldwide quarantine and tried to entertain ourselves with those tiny smartphones I told you about.

At first, the quarantines weren’t so bad. Everyone was staying positive. Charitable things were happening in all the cities. People in Atlanta collected groceries for the elderly. Schoolchildren in Texas wrote heartfelt letters to those sheltered in nursing homes. Everyone was doing video calls.

But then some people started to lose heart. The hard times got to be like hairline stress fractures in the American heart. Sadness and uncertainty became the drink of choice. Depression rates skyrocketed. So did suicides. Soon, nobody was taking pictures of food anymore.

Then came the injustices. And the hatred. And the violence. And the riots. And all the terrible things that you’ll read about in your history book.

But when you read these things, even though they shock you, don’t despise us for them. I beg you. In fact, that’s why I’m writing to you.

We are people, just like you. Are we fools? Yes, we can be. But it is in our nature to be foolish. I don’t like to admit this about my own kind, but that doesn’t make it less true. I am just as bad as anyone else.

Sometimes mankind is like a swarm of confused ants crawling upon a big hot-air balloon. Occasionally we don’t know who we are, why we’re here, or where we’re going. People hurt each other. Our fellow men do ugly things. It embarrasses me to tell you about the horrors of mankind.

So I hope you read between the lines of your textbook when you learn about us one day. And I hope you see more than just our greed, our selfishness, our black-hearted malice, and our pop-country music.

I hope you realize that people have the capability of being so incredible, so benevolent, and so selfless that at times we can become more than mere ants and soar toward heaven itself.

We are the same species that produced Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Ni Tuosheng, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, Corrie ten Boom, and a Galilean peasant who was a lot of fun at weddings.

We produced Rembrandt, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Chopin, Vermeer, Monet, Joquín Sorolla, Harriet Tubman, Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nat Cole, Ray Charles, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aarron, Joe Namath, Herschel Walker, Norman Rockwell, Anne Frank, Mississppi John Hurt, and Willie Nelson. Good God, we were beautiful.

Someday you’ll be reading this, and your world will be futuristic and turbulent. These ancient problems I’m telling you about will seem medieval. By then I will be dust, my memory will be erased. But make no mistake about it, kid, your society will have its own problems.

So I hope you learn from ours. Because we were a people who had the capacity to love, just like you. Many times we did. But not nearly as often as we could have.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Take care of yourself. And for Heaven’s sake, take care of others, too.

32 comments

  1. Jan D - June 5, 2020 9:35 am

    Amazing column and no truer words were ever written! God bless y’all!

    Reply
  2. Ed Link - June 5, 2020 10:22 am

    Amen and Amen

    Reply
  3. Amanda - June 5, 2020 10:40 am

    One of your most profound columns. Thank you for thinking ahead with “The Way we Were”. As someone who is 1/8 Native American, I can tell you for sure that the history books won’t tell the whole story!

    Reply
  4. Dean - June 5, 2020 10:51 am

    Great column as always. Thank you

    Reply
  5. Greyn - June 5, 2020 11:14 am

    We can only hope that in 100 years history, in some form, in some venues, some languages, in some context, is still taught. We are truly lost otherwise. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  6. Jeri Bishop - June 5, 2020 11:23 am

    Beautifully written, Sean. But you left out Jackie Robinson.

    Reply
  7. Jerry catherine Deloney - June 5, 2020 11:32 am

    You summed it up perfectly. Sad as that is. But there is Good and there is still a lot of good in this world . I think more than ever we need to hear more about the good than the constant barrage of bad. For me, I’m moving forward and or backwards to my normal. I refuse to live what’s left of my life in fear, not enjoying the things I love. Music heals. Nature heals. Being w good friends and family heals, laughter heals, watching children heals and prayers heals….our hearts and souls will heal if we just focus on good.

    Reply
  8. Nan Williams - June 5, 2020 11:40 am

    Beautifully said. Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Keloth Anne - June 5, 2020 11:54 am

    Incredible for sure!!
    Again, you are appreciated ♥️

    Reply
  10. David Money - June 5, 2020 12:03 pm

    My fear is that most will never truly understand. Leaving a legacy of truth, honor and service is sadly becoming a lost art for the ‘me’ generation.
    mdm ~ Henry County, Alabama

    Reply
  11. Phil S. - June 5, 2020 12:12 pm

    Sean, I hope 100 years from now, folks will absorb your writings and say as we do now, “MAN! This is fabulous stuff!”

    Reply
  12. Phil S. - June 5, 2020 12:15 pm

    Good addition, Jeri, and I would add Bo Jackson.

    Reply
  13. Cathi Russell - June 5, 2020 1:05 pm

    Beautifully written & said. Thank you!

    Reply
  14. walter buehler - June 5, 2020 1:24 pm

    a beautiful epitaph.

    Reply
  15. Berryman Mary M - June 5, 2020 2:53 pm

    Beautifully written, Sean, only I would have added Bo Jackson as well!

    Reply
  16. Robert M Brenner - June 5, 2020 3:39 pm

    Once again beautifully stated! Makes one proud and sad at the same time…Bob

    Reply
  17. Michelle - June 5, 2020 4:24 pm

    What beautiful, sweet, and soothing words you’ve blessed us with. The world needs you right now. Thank you for being you.

    Reply
  18. Jan - June 5, 2020 4:32 pm

    So true, so true! So often we either soar or we crawl through the mud. Why, you might ask? It is because we are human, each and every one of us. Your assessment is so true, so beautiful, so well written and so heart wrenching. Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  19. Ann - June 5, 2020 6:10 pm

    You covered it all so well… I just pray our history isn’t being erased by a few angry people… we need it to learn and enhance..
    And see how doing for others and working together does keep us going… thank you for being so insightful and thinking of future generations…

    Reply
  20. Tammy S. - June 5, 2020 7:15 pm

    Beautifully written! As always, thanks for your insight and words that inspire, Sean. You and your words have been much appreciated during the past 3 months. Please don’t stop writing anytime soon.

    Reply
  21. Linda Jo - June 5, 2020 8:13 pm

    Thank you for your sharing your thoughts and talents. This is a hard time for all but we will get through it with lessons learned and a new appreciation of our blessings. You are a blessing.

    Reply
  22. MAM - June 5, 2020 8:20 pm

    Well said. I often think about what archaeologists will make of what we leave behind. And if schools go on with their propagandizing children, there’s no telling what kids 100 years from now will KNOW about us. I just hope it’s not all LIES. I believe in facts and truth, and I hope someday that the news media does, too.

    Reply
  23. Linda Moon - June 5, 2020 8:43 pm

    Brilliant. Beautiful. These words of yours deserve to Ring Through Time, just as Peggy Noonan’s did with High Flight when she received a call from the West Wing. You are right, Sean. Our human condition is often overlooked and diminished by the time 100 years pass from one generation to the next. We can choose to slip surly bonds and touch the face of All Who Is Good. We can. And we will.

    Reply
  24. Landa - June 5, 2020 9:07 pm

    Thanks, Sean. I needed that right now.

    Reply
  25. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - June 5, 2020 9:38 pm

    I just can’t wait for y’all to get back out there & meet some more old folks selling maters & boiled peanuts on the roadside.
    Try to take the dogs when you can.
    I still love you both. Dogs too.

    Lifer Steve

    Reply
  26. Allison - June 5, 2020 10:48 pm

    Except there won’t be history books as in real books. It will most likely be on some kind of internet platform of some kind, but I get the idea. How WILLl the future gen learn of our generation? Internet books?

    Reply
  27. Debbie grissom - June 6, 2020 12:31 am

    Beautiful Sean. You are on this earth for a special mission. Love your thoughts

    Reply
  28. Christina - June 6, 2020 6:08 am

    Thanks Sean, for gifting us with these essays during turbulent times… PS. my daughter says your español es muy bueno 😂 👍

    Reply
  29. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - June 6, 2020 11:56 am

    I’ll be dust long before 100 years from now, but I hope some kindness I left will be still working its way around the world. The rest doesn’t matter.

    Reply
  30. Denise DeVries - June 6, 2020 3:41 pm

    Sean, thank you . You have a way with words that make people pay attention.

    Reply
  31. Ray Bunce - July 14, 2020 1:03 pm

    But then the history books never did tell the whole story. The best slices of history come from the memories of our own families and friends.

    Reply
  32. Joe Patterson - July 16, 2020 7:04 pm

    Thanks all true

    Reply

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