Note: This column appears in the 5/27 issue of The Glendale Star and the 5/28 issue of the Peoria Times
My wife and I have been watching this really great series on the History Channel called “America: The Story of Us.” The show traces our nation’s history chronologically, and does so in such an interesting way. It delves deeper into historical events that we haven’t thought about since the seventh grade –- and thus, never had a full and mature understanding of –- and tends to focus also on certain influential details of both major and seemingly minor events that many of us probably never considered before.
It is an enthralling series to watch, but it has also been a humbling experience for me. Because it has reminded me that I am not necessarily carrying the torch of those great Americans before me.
For one, being reminded of the realities and gruesomeness of warfare never ceases to make me squirm. Not only because it’s gross, but also because it reinforces the fear that if someone were ever running at me with a musket that I would respond by running the other way. And then there are the aspects of war that we rarely consider –- the weather, lack of food and clothing, and disease. Having to endure just one day in minus-10-degree weather on the warfront with a bunch of smelly dudes who just gave me smallpox would be the one thing that would prevent me from running away from a musket. I have, after all, written whole columns complaining about a 24-hour stomach flu.
The western expansion part of America’s history also hit home for both my wife and I, as it’s been almost three years since we moved here from back east. I remember how stressed out both of us felt from packing and making the necessary arrangements for a cross-country move. As I watched reenactments of early settlers embarking on the same trip, except with different stresses –- like, “Are we going to get eaten by lions?” and “Where are we going?” –- it made me extremely thankful that braver people than us blazed this trail.
Then there’s the literal construction of this country, which I have always marveled at. Last week the show focused on the construction of something I had never thought about before – the Statue of Liberty. I knew it was a gift from France, but had always assumed that they just floated it across the ocean. No. They dropped it off in hundreds of pieces, and we had no money to put it together. (Side note: Thanks, France.) Realizing the work, money, and sacrifice –- many construction workers, suspended on beams with no support, died –- that went into this American landmark reminded me of the dread I feel at bringing home a box from Ikea.
It doesn’t help that we typically watch this show while drinking iced coffee and eating cookies, which kind of adds to my embarrassment. Nevertheless, this series has given me a whole new appreciation for our country. And while it’s true that each generation faces its challenges –- what’s more difficult: building your own house or programming a Blackberry? Tough to say -– I’m happy and grateful that I grew up in this one.
Besides, when they re-film this series a hundred years from now, future Americans may marvel at my own bravery. “They still had the stomach flu then?” they will say in amazement. Yes. And scorpions.