I think of the stories, poetry, and songs written during the great wars, pandemics, and struggles of our past. Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, is one of those, among many. I know my readers could name more.
“I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings —
I know why the caged bird sings!”
– from the poem, Sympathy by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the inspiration for Maya Angelou’s biographical novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – one of my favorite books.
I was thinking the other day of all the things my mother’s eyes have seen. She was born in the dust bowl, in the midst of the Great Depression. Her parents moved to Seattle where rain fell often enough to dispel the dust. Her mother could breathe again.
Mom was seven years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Fear hung over them as their society changed. Suddenly, their safe harbor seemed threatened. Would the enemy attack here, too? The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard scrambled to protect the vulnerable West coast.
The fear was real. Around her, the Japanese nationals were herded into internment camps to protect the general population. New words entered their vocabulary. Words like rationing and shortages. The face of the nation changed almost overnight. The sleeping giant had awakened.
And then Hiroshima.
Fast-forward to 1950 when the U.S. sent soldiers to help defend South Korea from North Korea. Mom gave birth to two children before the Korean War ended. I was the second born.
War, pestilence (polio and influenza), more wars and upheaval, happened over the next few decades. Our nation suffered a collective shock as we watched the scenes from Texas on television: our president was shot. We suffered a great loss that day.
I remember Vietnam. Many of my classmates were drafted or joined to avoid the draft. All the young men had draft cards. Some left, never to return. College campuses erupted in riots, protesting a war they felt we didn’t need to be involved in.
And then, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis. Another great loss amidst national shock. Riots erupted. Two months later, presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Rioting continued.
What kind of world was this?
What kind of world is this now? What does our future hold?
Will normal ever return? This is the question Mom recently asked me. I saw the weariness in her eyes. She’s tired. Sometimes, I am too.
It is becoming all too clear that many of our children and our children’s children know very little about the history of their nation. Is it not important to teach them these things? To help them understand why?
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. – Proverbs 2:1-5
Knowledge. Understanding. Wisdom.
Ask and it will be given. The best place to start is here, in the Word of God. This is the most important history lesson of all.
I encourage you to consider teaching your children and grandchildren. Read them stories from our history. Help them gain an understanding of what is happening all around them. Help them find their footing in this sideways world.
Teach them the most important commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Will normal return? Yes, but it may not look like the old normal.
See the need and become part of the answer.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11 ESV