Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Greeting from the Past

"If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience."
-George Bernard Shaw

It has often been said that the past is the greatest guide to the future. With history as a tool we ought to make the most of human existence and utilise our capacity for decent, intelligent thought.
There are clues, hints, lessons all around us, delivered from the past to our proverbial table.
But we are slow to learn. Even when the books are before us and the exact page opened, the precise passage underlined for our examination- still, we are reluctant to believe in the power of history to teach us and to gently steer us in the right direction.
A few days ago I came across a rather odd tale: a man in Boston received a postcard in his mailbox from Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. One might think nothing much of that but the postcard was written and posted in the Summer of 1929. Almost eighty years later it reached the doorstep of a stranger, its intended recipient of course vanished long ago. Nobody on earth knows where the postcard reposed during its singular interval. The writer could never have foreseen the longevity of the card; had he or she guessed, they might well have inscribed more than the lone phrase, 'Greetings-' perhaps a note or two about the beauty of the park and of the world and what was found there. In the case of the long-lost postcard, however, 'Greetings' will have to suffice. It is, when all is said and done, better than no word at all.
I have written notes to myself, post-dated them and tucked them away in a dark corner. Upon discovering the same years later I never fail to be shocked by what I wrote, by what I expected of myself or my future. Thoughts from the past, however distant, are perpetually a curiosity to me. My letters always contained some sort of wisdom that I urged my older self to follow.
It need not, however, be as obvious as all that.
History in itself should be our key.
The grim fact that the soul who wrote the brief comment on a postcard on a June day in a magnificent park almost a century ago- the solid fact of their passing ought to be enough to make us sit up straight and suddenly feel the brevity of our own lives. Feel it, perhaps, enough to listen to the words that preceded us. We can learn from anything that has passed. History is forever attempting to dictate to us something valuable.

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