“If you know your history, then you’ll know where you’re coming from”, Bob Marley explains in his classic hit song Buffalo Soldier. It’s hard to really know how many places the functional equivalent of this phrase has been uttered throughout the history of mankind.
What does it mean to “know your history”, or “know where you’ve been”? Is it sufficient to know your personal story? Or, do you need to know the story of your parents, and your family’s ancestors? How deeply must we understand the cause and effect relationships of events in the past? After all, history, whether we are talking about it in an academic sense or in a personal narrative is about more than just facts. When asked, nearly all people can recite the rudimentary factual aspects of their lives. Where they were born, what schools they attended, when they moved, married, changed jobs, etc. I always wonder, though, whether they understand their life’s events more deeply, how certain things impact one another, what emotions were involved, and what events were significant. In other words, do they understand the “story” of their lives?
This holiday season, and by holiday season I am referring to Christmas and New Years, was kind of a trip back through my own history, or at least the places where said history took place. First, Christmas was spent in the suburbs of Chicago, with my immediate family. I spent a little bit of time in the City of Chicago, with friends, which is where I spent the four years before moving to Denver. But, I largely spent that time in Buffalo Grove, a sort of typical suburb 35 miles northwest of downtown, and the place where I spent my Junior High and High School years.
It’s been said, particularly of Millennials, that young adults go home for the holidays and revert into their teenager mode, subconsciously, because they have returned to the setting of their teenage years. For me, it is a little bit more complicated. Some things are the same, but some things are different. Some things get a little bit more different every year. There is the obvious course of change any particular location undergoes over time; that restaurant that closed, with a new one opening in its place, the road that was reconstructed and widened on the other side of town, and the new neighbors. But there’s also a strange change in how we respond to things, sometimes things that are exactly the same as they were in previous years.
Over the course of our lives, we periodically re-examine things (I do this more than most). Maybe it’s a different experience, or being exposed to a different point of view on something, or some major event. Each year we come back with a slightly different perspective, and, that experience, which was the same exact one we had last year, the year before, and back when we were 14, is viewed differently in our own minds. When it comes specifically to what my family does, both during the holidays, as well as in life in general, there are mixed emotions. There are some things my family does that I did not really appreciate with I was younger, but have found a new appreciation for. There are other things now seem strange to me. I am guessing many people who have moved a significant distance away from “home” have a similar experience at the holidays.
The Chicago area is not my full history. The first 11.5 years of my life, I lived in New York, outside of New York City on Long Island. I didn’t specifically travel to New York on New Years Eve as part of some plan to revisit my past.
But, the two practically back-to-back trips did line up in a manner where I could not help but think along these lines. New Years is already a time when people reflect on their lives. Having just spent time in the place where I spent my recent past, and now being in a place where parts of my early childhood unfolded, I could not help but think it is time for me to re-connect with who I am.
The move from New York to Chicago, my college and graduate school experience, jobs and more recent move to Colorado are the rudimentary facts of my life. My “history”, is the memories, the periodic experiences, the kind of person I was and the kind of people I was around. It is something that is remembered, hopefully accurately, and something that can be reconnected with, but only partially. The New York of 2016 is not the New York of the 1990s. Neighborhoods have made transitions, different kinds of people have both left and moved in, and some of the things one will experience here are significantly different.
However, some of the things are the same. And, while I was not reliving a childhood event, coming back to the places where our formative years unfolded can help us reconnect with our roots. Through this experience, I feel like I am being called to return to my roots, the person I am, naturally, rather than the person we are all pressured to become as we adults in today’s world. It’s like 2016 begun with what the year’s theme needs to be. Outside of whatever negative feedback we have received, the adjustments we have made to be accepted, and who we were told to be, there is a person inside of all of us, the person we naturally are. In this midst of everything I do in my adult life, this is a person I need to not lose sight of. It is a person many of us need to reconnect with. It is my sincere hope that in 2016, we all reconnect with our roots both individually and collectively.