Sunday, February 28, 2021

Making History . . . One Day at a Time

 -- Susan, every other Sunday

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I love history. I love to learn about how other people have lived, loved, fought, slept, dreamed, and engaged with one another and the world around them. I find the topic endlessly fascinating--which is good, because depending on how deeply you dive and how specifically you investigate, there's a nearly-endless supply of fascinating topics to go around.

For the most part, I view "history" as things that happened in the past. (Again, no surprise: the dictionary defines the term as "the study of past events, particularly with regard to human affairs.") However, things get fuzzy when you start to ask how far in the past you need to go to consider something "history"--and the rabbit hole gets deeper still when you turn the lens around and look at the way your own life and times may contribute to history as the days and years go by.

Case in point: COVID-19.

Never before has the entire world experienced a connected event on this scale in real time. There have been pandemics--including some on a global (or nearly global) scale, but 2020/2021 marks the first time that we could all experience these events together (if apart). We are living history alone together--separated, and yet connected by the technology that now binds us. 

Meguro River, Tokyo, February 28, 2021

This thought came home to me with particular clarity this afternoon, as I took my daily walk in Meguro--one of Tokyo's southern wards, which I call home. The sun was shining, and although the wind was cold, it was a delightful day to get outside for some exercise. Everyone along the river wore a mask--an unusual sight, and one I will remember long after this difficult time in our lives passes into history.

The halfway point - 3 miles from home

As I stepped out the door to walk, I picked up the phone and called my dear friend, Annamaria Alfieri, in New York City. It was almost noon on Sunday in Tokyo, and just about 10pm on Saturday night in NYC. We talked as I walked by the river, catching up on life, writing, and all of the other little details that friends share with one another--all the history we've lived since last we spoke.  

In another month, this cherry tree will bloom.

I walked down the bank of the Meguro River, as I often do. This early in the year, the cherry trees that line the banks are bare, but pushing buds that, in another month, will burst into glorious bloom. These trees, too, are living history. For centuries, Japanese painters, poets, and calligraphers have praised and admired the delicate blooms, which die almost the moment they reach their peak. 

To see them bloom is to experience history also.

One more month, and the river will both reflect and be covered in pale pink petals.

Each moment of our lives is one we will never live again. Each experience, one that will someday become history--joining a deep, never-ending flow of human events and experiences that run through time as the river runs through Meguro.

The Meguro river from one of the many bridges that line the path.

It's easy to discount our personal, lived experiences as "unworthy" of being called history. For most of us, most of the time, life consists of "merely living"--the messy, dirty parts of life that don't feel as if they deserve more than a footnote in our personal memoirs, let alone the grand tome of human events.

The Hotel Emperor, Meguro. Looks like a castle. I've no idea why--but I like it.

As I walked home this afternoon after my talk with Annamaria, it occurred to me that most of the people who made history probably felt the same. The Napoleon Bonapartes and George Washingtons of the world no doubt had an inkling (she said, tongue firmly in cheek) that their actions would be written about, and spoken of, for centuries to come. But what of the person who made George Washington's breakfast, or the soldiers who marched under Napoleon's command? What about the person who cleaned the stalls where the horses slept, or sewed the blankets that sat beneath their saddles?

Those people lived history too--and although we may not know their names or read about them in history books, their lives and their experiences are no less a part of history for that omission.

Ume (plum) blossoms: traditional harbingers of spring in Japan

Neither is Annamaria's. Or mine.

Or yours.

Sidewalk art on the Meguro River Walk

All of us around the world are struggling through history, making our way through an unprecedented period day by day--each of us alone and all of us, alone together. The realization that we are living history does very little to make it better--the days are still difficult, even though each one remains a beautiful, precious gift.

When the call connected, Annamaria asked how I was doing. I barely paused before answering "my life is wonderful"--because, despite everything, I realize that is true. It's also messy, difficult, and challenging--but at the end of the day, life--like history itself--isn't about avoiding challenges. It's about doing the best we can with what we have at any given time.

"Coffee Stand - Stay Safe, Stay Sane"

I'm signing off with the sign above, which stood at the edge of the path by the Meguro River, pointing the way to a nearby coffee stand. The words beneath the arrow read: "Stay Safe, Stay Sane"--which is just about the best advice, and the very best wish, I can offer you.

Stay safe, stay sane, and keep living your history . . . one day at a time.


  1. It is interesting to think about how the unknown, little people affected and influenced the histories of the people we know of. I suspect it is much more than we realise.

  2. How wonderful to live, work, and walk in Tokyo!

  3. What a pleasure that conversation was, Susan. Long and rambling. Full of pleasures we have shared and hope to share in the future. Philosophical and gossipy. Time when we had to be separate. But we were NOT alone!

  4. "For want of a nail, the war was lost..."

    As for your tag-end sign, I'd rather "Stay safe, stay loony."