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.