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A blast from the past

February 23rd, 2012

History is a fascinating thing. It shapes who we are and how we live. It is not necessarily the textbook history that I have come to love, though, but the stories that together shape a history.

I remember when I first discovered this love. I was in fourth or fifth grade and was walking down the hall, past the various classrooms, on my way somewhere.

In my grade school, like many others I’m sure, each of the classrooms had a display of some sort outside its door. The display was usually students’ artwork or something on which they had been working.

I was struck by the display outside of the eighth grade classroom. It was the picture of a young girl, a girl really not that much older looking than me, and a picture of a cool, plaid-covered book. Below these pictures were drawings by the eighth graders of a room. I didn’t comprehend any of it until I asked, either my parents or aunt, and found out just who Anne Frank was and what the attic was all about.

From that point, I became fascinated about reading and watching people’s stories from history.

I think I was drawn in by Anne Frank’s story because at the base she was much like me, albeit a little older and in the midst of perhaps the greatest human tragedy of all time. But that aside, she was a girl with a love of reading, writing and questioning who was trying to figure out how to grow up.

I decided right then and there I wanted to read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” So I read Anne Frank’s inner thoughts about growing up in hiding during WWII, and then I read about one of her protectors, Miep Gies. I watched as Margaret Thatcher struggled as a woman in British politics to become a world leader in the biopic, “The Iron Lady.” Another story I loved was that of little Amir and Hassan in Kabul, Afghanistan in “The Kite Runner;” it has stayed with me since I read it in high school.

Each of these is the story of both great and ordinary people in times past. I love them because they give a face to history.

However, more than that, I love having a window into the lives of people of a different time period.

My recent obsession is Britain’s “Downton Abbey,” which is now playing on PBS. It’s the story of a fictional family and their servants on a grand estate. The show in any other context would be a soap opera, but what draws me to it is its historical time period. So far the show has spanned the time between the sinking of the Titanic and World War I.

It is amazing to me to think of people who are just like you, with some of the same fears and thoughts, but who are growing up in entirely different worlds in entirely different circumstances. It leads me to believe that, at the end of the day, people are people, but it sure is all the more interesting with a historical backdrop.