Understanding our place in history Print
Youth Column
Thursday, Mar. 10, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

Timelines have always fascinated me. I find events from the past interesting. My fascination is grounded in looking at timelines I can relate to in life. They're about more than history. They're about people.

For example, Pope Francis knows Pope Benedict XVI. Both popes knew St. John Paul II. Pope John Paul II knew the popes before him, and they knew other popes before them. That continuity makes for a connection that strengthens faith.

But how does it relate to our personal lives? To answer that question, you can look at the bond that means the most to us: our family.

My grandparents all died when I was young or before I was born. It wasn't until college, during a history course, that I fully understood who grandparents really are. They're more than fun relatives. They're people who lived during times that I can only imagine or read about in books or articles.

That discovery came when I found an old Bible stored in a cabinet under my parents' TV. Inside the cover of that Bible was a family history, including the day of birth and date of death of family members on my father's side going back several hundred years.

Seeing that list was a revelation. It was a connection between people I knew and loved and countless generations who came before. Just as I knew my grandmother, she knew her grandmother, etc.

Through that simple, historical game of telephone, I had a direct connection to a distant relative who came to the United States during the time of the Mayflower. It was a timeline unknown to me, yet it was all written in that Bible.

The professions listed were equally fascinating. My grandfather was a shoe salesman. His father was a shoe salesman, as was his father before him. My father was not a shoe salesman. He was a scientist. On some level, despite his son's success, I wonder if my grandfather questioned what went wrong. He came from a proud professional lineage that ended thanks to an era with better access to higher education.

If your grandparents are still alive, ask them questions. Their answers may have great meaning to you. They're important because they're personal. Ask your grandparents what it was like to date when they were teenagers. Ask them who they looked up to and admired. Ask them about their favorite childhood meal and what made it special.

Ask what they would tell themselves at your age, if they could go back in time. Listen to the answer. That type of guidance is as priceless as it is timeless.

If they recall, ask your grandparents about memories of their grandparents. It's your only chance to hear firsthand about those whose choices helped put you in the world.

Right now, you are part of a timeline that travels far into the distant past. But, one day, it might also travel equally as far into the future. That perspective shows our importance. What we do today could affect the lives of our great, great-grandchildren.

After all, where would I be if that distant relative had chosen not to travel to another continent? At the very least, the footwear choices of many generations would have been quite different.

Erick Rommel is a former staff writer for The Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. His column is syndicated through Catholic News Service.


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