The world has no depth. When we know where we have been, we see deeply.
To know where we have come from is to see where we are going.
Mr. Janus is our history teacher. He's a little weird, if you know what I mean. He has these bright blue eyes, and a little goaty beard. And he LOVES history. I mean, he raves about Romans, and the Revolutionary war, and Lewis and Clark. One time Arnold Brinkman brought in some old moldy clothes he found in his attic, and he just about fainted. He loves that kind of stuff!
But last week he did something that really – well, it messed me up or something. I don't know what to do!
You know how everything looks real flat when you do that? And then, when you uncover your eye, all of a sudden everything looks really deep or something? It was kind of cool. We did it a few more times, and then he stopped us. “Class, if you don't know history, it's like walking around with one eye closed.” He paused, and it got really quiet. And he said real softly, “The more you know about where we've been, the more you'll understand where we're going.” And I swear he looked right at me, with those bright blue eyes of his, and a chill went down my back.
Well, I don't know why, but that really got me thinking. It's like when you can't get a song out of your head, or when a mosquito keeps circling around you. But it felt like I had put on a pair of glasses – History Glasses – and now I keep seeing history everywhere!
You don't believe me? Well, after school I was walking home, and I stopped at the top of the hill and looked back at my school. And I got to thinking, what was our school like before?
Suddenly it was like those History Glasses were on again. Instead of seeing our big school with the buses parked out back, I got the weirdest picture in my head of how it was maybe fifty years ago. There was a little brick school with a bell tower on top, and old funny cars. And then the picture changed, and I could see how a hundred fifty years ago there was a little one-room schoolhouse, and some wagons on a dirt road. And then my mind went back like three hundred years ago, and I could see an Indian village – Chippewa, I guess – and smoke rising up from wigwams. Whoa.
OK, I know it sounds crazy, but wait! There's more!
I walk home through town, and this time, everywhere I looked, I saw history. It was incredible! I walked by this old church, see, that I've walked by every day for years, and suddenly I noticed that there's a date carved by the door. 1892. And I got this picture in my head of people in old fashioned clothes, standing by their brand-new church, looking all proud and happy.
Then I turned left at Main Street, and suddenly I noticed that old cannon in the park. BOOM! Suddenly it wasn't just an old cannon – I could picture the soldiers in uniforms, firing it, with smoke and noise, and cannonballs flying! Wow!
And I walked by Elm Street – you know, the street with those wimpy little trees? Suddenly I could picture the old elm trees that used to be there, making a cool archway in the summer sun. And in the shade I saw kids in funny-looking clothes, playing with hoops and homemade toys. And instead of looking all serious like they do in pictures, they were laughing and goofing around just like regular kids. For a second I wished I could run over and join them!
This is TOO weird, I thought. I shook my head, and everything went back to normal. I tried to put it out of my mind, and hurried home.
“Mom, I'm home!”
“We're in here! How was school?” My mom was in the dining room with my grandma. The minute I walked in I knew I was in trouble, because they were looking at some old pictures spread out on the table.
“Look, Danny. Do you remember this one?” My grandmother pointed to this serious-looking guy in a tight jacket. “This is your great-grandfather. He had this taken after he got off the boat from the old country.”
You know, I've seen those old pictures before, but did they ever talk to me? No. But THIS time, they did. I looked at them, and this time that guy looked right back at me, and he smiled.
I carried the picture into the kitchen, out of earshot. We looked at each other. “Psst!” I whispered. “Hey, mister!” The man nodded. “Yes, young man? What is it?”
“I was just wondering...Why? I mean, why did you come to America? It must have been really hard, leaving your family, and traveling in that crowded boat, being seasick and all. And coming to a new land, not knowing how to speak English... Why'd you do it?”
Just as he opened his mouth to answer, my mom came bustling in. “Danny, you need to put that picture back in the album. It's very valuable.” Rats. Maybe now I'll never know!
I lay a long time that night, thinking. About history, and knowing where we've come from, and how looking for history makes us look at everything else differently. And the next day after class I stopped in front of Mr. Janus. “Well, Danny? What is it?”
“Mr. Janus, that thing you said about seeing history. I think you're right. I mean, I've been noticing things...” I couldn't figure out what I wanted to say. “I mean, I keep seeing stuff everywhere! Old buildings in town, and old pictures, and stuff like that old cannon in the park – it's like they all have a story to tell, and we just need to look for it.” I paused. He probably thought I was crazy. “Do you know what I mean?”
He looked at me, and he smiled. “Keep those history glasses on, Danny. You'll be glad you did.”
And I am. I still have those history glasses, and I can put them on anytime I want. I keep finding history, in the most unlikely places. It's pretty cool. Really!
You should try it sometime!