There is an oft-repeated story which tells of Britain’s King George III writing in his personal diary on July 4, 1776, “Nothing important happened today.” The story is false; George never kept a personal diary and the anecdote probably has its origins in a similar sort of remark written by France’s King Louis XVI on July 14, 1789, the date of the storming of the Bastille. But still the tale is told, I think because people are drawn to the idea of a hated monarch not yet realizing that his world had changed so profoundly.
History is not the past. It is today. The seemingly inevitable events we read about in textbooks, carefully labeled and separated into neat time periods, were experienced by people as an ongoing series of small and chaotic moments. It was as impossible for them to judge what would be considered “important” in the future as it is for us.
I am reflecting on this because a small but historic event occurred in the village this morning. The Wellington railroad underpass finally opened, after several years of construction. This may seem unimportant, and unrelated to the subject of this blog. But consider that for the first time since 1850, vehicular traffic is tonight flowing through Wellington unobstructed by trains. Something that has been a norm of life for 165 years silently ended.
I find myself thinking about our mid-nineteenth-century counterparts, those who were here the day the first trains ran through. Did they hold some sort of celebration? Were remarks offered by notable townspeople, commenting on how the railroad would undoubtedly spur the town to grow and change? They had no way of envisioning what a Wellington of 2015 would be like, any more than we can foresee Wellington in 2180.
History is today. Remember that while you are living it.