This coming Monday marks the 40th anniversary of what I consider to be one of mankind’s greatest achievements. On June 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first human to ever set foot on the moon. And at this past Science Saturday, I asked the question: “Where were you when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon?” While each person told of a individual experience and a personal story, they all held the same tone -that is was a truly historic event that demanded attention and observation. Some of our guests who were children and teenagers then told me whose house they were at, what they had for lunch, and how their mother responded. An estimated 500 million people worldwide watched this event live on television. Consider just for a minute how many people had televisions in 1969. I’m sure millions more listened on the radio.
I loved hearing the stories of people who had lived through that event because I wasn’t there to experience it for myself – I have no idea what it is like to experience the first man flying to the moon. And then it struck me: every single person is an example of living history, a source of experience and knowledge. What my grandparents experienced in the Depression is something they know intimately, with stories and facts and emotions all twisted together and presented more authentically than Wikipedia ever will.
Ask the question “Where were you when…?”, but change the event:
Where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?
Where were you when John Lennon or Ronald Reagan were shot?
Where were you on 9/11?
As an individual, think about what you have experienced in your lifetime. You are living history and the generations to come will look to you, to me, to us for an understanding and for a glimpse into the recent and not-so-recent past. Places like Conner Prairie are important because they help tell the stories and share the experience of times where no one living experienced them first hand. It’s an important role, to carry on the history that otherwise is seemingly foreign to the average person. Yet, still there is so much to learn from the individual:
Where were you when the Gulf War started?
Where did you first use the internet?
Where were you when the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl?
Where were you when Barack Obama was elected President?
Where were you when you got your first text message?
Just yesterday, the Space Shuttle Endeavor lifted off into space for its 22nd mission (and with Hoosier David Wolf onboard). The United States has sent more than 150 manned missions into space and four unmanned beyond our Solar System. I doubt most of us gave it any thought at all yesterday – but just 40 short years ago, launching men into space was essentially beyond belief. It was the amazement of the entire planet and it was a moment that everyone wanted to remember because they knew they were in the midst of a truly historic moment. How many people will remember July 15, 2009 as anything other than a random date? Time moves quickly, and living history fades almost as quickly. So the question is, what history have you experienced? What history do you need to share with your kids, with your community? What questions do we need to ask the generations that have come before us before we lose their perspective and experience?