The Weight of History

Exploring history in the Italian Alps

History, as we study it, is a chronicle of battles won or lost. Borders rewritten. The glories of the rich and powerful.  

Forgotten is the fact that most of humanity have been like you and me: walking out of a particular doorway every morning, suckling babies, trying not to starve or freeze or get caught in the gears of the current political machine. Nameless. Faceless to future generations. Ordinary, and lost.

Until we find a remnant.  

You travel, as I have, to Tel Aviv, and somewhere within sight of the Mediterranean, you stoop to find a shard of iridescent Roman glass or colored mosaic tile in the dust.  You finger it in your palm, and think: Who made this?  Who held it in their hand last, and how long ago?  

In Mexico, you pick up a fragment of decorated pottery and think, Would I have been the artist in this city, had I lived here, crafting vessels for the temple?  

Walking through a battlefield, you find shell fragments, a lone boot, a bone: Would I have been brave?  How did his mother bear the grief?

Climbing through the Italian Alps, you peer into a centuries-old stone hut, and wonder: Who lived here?  What did they eat?  How did they survive?

“Wonder.”  In this one word we combine imagination and awe.  We try to imagine the particulars of the past while dumbstruck by its unknowableness.  When fragments turn up in our hands, we are rendered speechless by the vast, impenetrable, innumerable quantity of humans that have preceded us, by their achievements great or small, by their very existence and survival, by death–always death, bearing the past on its march toward the now–so much death.  By the weight of history.

Photographed in the Italian Alps