[This is a repost from 2010, but worth reading as we honor those who have served our country. Jean]
Chris was 101 years old when I met him. He was a World War I veteran, frail and hard of hearing. Sometimes, his voice drifted off into nowhere, but his mind was always sharp and clear. Chris was my dad’s roommate at the nursing home, and when Dad was asleep, Chris and I would often sit together and have conversations. I never called him Chris, although that is what he preferred. To me, he was Mr. Christiansen. This man was old enough to be my great-grandfather and worthy of being called Mister, not just because of his age, but also because he was very wise. “I remember…” That’s how Chris began many of our conversations. What amazed me was how casually he spoke of events that I had only read about in history books. For Chris these were ordinary bits and pieces of a life that had spanned the entire twentieth century. He had lived through countless milestones in history like:
President McKinley’s assassination,
Orville and Wilber Wrights’ first flight at Kitty Hawk,
Ford’s introduction of the Model T automobile,
Robert Peary’s and Roald Amundsen’s successful expeditions to the North and South Poles,
American women getting the right to vote,
The invention of talking movies, traffic signals and penicillin,
The construction of the Empire State Building, Hoover Dam, and the Golden Gate Bridge,
Two life-changing economic depressions,
Several major wars,
Even “The Star-Spangled Banner” being adopted as America’s national anthem. . . and that’s just his short list!
My conversations with Chris usually ended the same way. “Yup,” he’d say. “I’m grateful for all I learned in this world and all that I seen.”
I’m grateful, too. Thanks to Chris, I gained a better understanding not only of major events in history, but also how they affected the lives of ordinary American citizens. History is how we connect as human beings. The experiences of each generation link the centuries from the beginning of time until the end. Think about the historical events you have lived through so far in your life.
The most memorable war of my time is Vietnam. I’ve lived through the assassinations of a president, a senator and a great civil rights leader. I have clear memories of segregation, Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges; of television shows broadcast in black and white, dial telephones and computers as big as classrooms. I’ve seen the beginning of NASA and the first manned spaceflight, the building of the Berlin Wall and its destruction, the end of the Soviet Union, the first heart transplant, the first Super Bowl and even the first episode of Sesame Street. That’s my short list. With each passing year, the list grows longer. I see myself moving toward a time when, like Chris, I might talk casually with young people about happenings in my lifetime and see looks of awe on their faces as they hear firsthand accounts of events they can only imagine.
We undervalue so much in our lives. Jesus said that He came that we might not only have life, but also have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Our years are filled with an abundance of historical moments–snippets of time that can never be experienced by future generations. If you think about it, that’s an awesome concept. We are keepers of time. Similar to biblical scribes of ancient days, we share our history with our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. However, instead of writing on parchment with a quill pen, or engaging in quiet conversations, like those I had with Chris, our stories might be shared in e-mails, text messages, or God knows (literally) what other soon-to-be-discovered forms of media.
Think about how current events are shaping your life. Are you satisfied to sit back and watch history unfold, or do you stand up for your beliefs hoping to change history’s course? Imagine being as old as Chris. Do you think you’ll be grateful for all that you’ve learned and seen?
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