Last Sunday, my grandfather, Willem Gouijn-Stook, passed away.
He was a man I, admittedly, did not know much about…something I now regret. Or, perhaps more accurately, I have regretted it for some time now. Unfortunately, by the time I became interested in his history, he was already too old and too tired to ask.
It reminds of something that seems to be often ignored today: the value of history.
I recall back in my senior year of high school that I was greatly disappointed to find out how few of my friends were taking the AP US History course. As I mentioned in a previous article, many of my friends were in honors courses and probably brighter than me.
Do you think Cubans are fighting for healthcare or freedom from Communism?
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So it came as something of a shock when so few people took the AP History course. During that semester, I had a conversation with a friend of mine regarding history and he displayed a casual indifference to the importance of history.
Seven years later, that indifference to history still bothers me.
I admit, I take slightly more scholarly interest in history than most, but I also take an interest in history simply because it is important. History explains so much about us, far more than people seem to put stock in. It tells about where we came from, why we exist in the first place. It tells us why we live in the situations we do.
Most of all, history teaches us lessons. It shows us the heights of God’s greatness and man’s ability to thrive in the world. It show us the greatest depths of human depravity as well, and the evils we must avoid repeating, to the best of our ability.
Those are lessons I’ve missed with my grandfather’s passing.
I write this not to eulogize my grandfather or talk about the value of history, however.
It is to encourage you, my readers, to cherish those around you while you still have them. In particular, we should seek out the knowledge of our elders, whether it be by a decade or six. They have experiences and wisdom that far outstrip your own. And there will be a time when they can no longer share their stories with you.
And what those elders can tell you grows increasingly spotty with time as they forget details and entire stories. History itself is rarely about having the whole story. We never have the whole story, just bits and pieces, perspectives about events. We fill in the blanks and piece together what we have into a coherent, but likely inaccurate, whole.
But those stories, whole are not, are still valuable.
They tell you about what legacy has been left to you. About who you are and why you grew up the way you did. Tales that tell you about the people you hold dear and why they are in your life. Stories that can even inform you of the path to take in life.
I missed my opportunity to learn these things years ago. Now I encourage you: don’t miss yours.
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