Past Becomes Present

IMG_2324 Lockerbee Memorial.Lee Admin.2014
Traditional funeral cairn (left) of 270 blocks stands in Arlington Cemetery to commemorate those who died on PanAm Fllight 103 near Lockerbie in 1988. Background: Custis-Lee stables now serve as dministration building.

Just over three years ago after I submitted my “Plan B” Blog, I didn’t really take my own advice about having a backup plan!  I left DC after doing some form of communications for decades and thought I’d roll into something similar in Austin. It didn’t turn out that way.

But instead I met and worked or volunteered alongside an amazing group of people working in bike safety, sharing tasty, nutritious meals with children, discussing recent political history with high school students, raising money to install water wells in Senegal, and helping people get retrained and/or restarted in new-to-them jobs at the tail-end of the recession.

Seemed like I had wings, not captured in an office, but free to explore the city and find ways to make a difference. My exploits take flight now periodically, but the last few months have made it painfully obvious that the past’s factual history takes a beating today. Maybe because like nutritious food, history seems to take too long to boil, seems to focus on dates and times–not on the people who managed to live through it.

When we realize the obstacles that some historic figures overcame to achieve ‘overnight’ success, it seems easier to bear today’s burdens and maybe understand how adversity sometimes serves as a personal motivator–a propellant into life in which some are required to chart their own course. Not that we would welcome the struggle.

Astonishing though it seems, more than a third of U.S. Presidents lost a parent young in life, often a father. This was true of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Abraham Lincoln, who lost his mother when he was nine.

The British experienced a similar circumstance in which 67 percent of British Prime Ministers between the 19th century and World War II had lost a parent by the time they were 16. Author Malcolm Gladwell considered those we assumed had disadvantages may also have advantages in his book, David and Goliath. He researched outstanding poets and scientists who also lost a parent in their youth and found a pattern of success based on self-reliance and grit.

So as Robert Krulwich of NPR says, it’s not the cards we get handed in life, it’s how we play the hand.

Expect more slices of life, bringing history forward, but also some stories about those still making or breaking their reputation on life’s stage.

Marmie Tuerff Edwards, APR, amateur historian, former journalist, experienced communicator.




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