Friday, March 09, 2007

The Thin Dime of History

This post at DailyKos on the death of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. really moved me. It puts our history -- human history -- in real perspective. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I've excerpted quite a bit below the fold, but the whole thing is well worth reading.

In science, a number of metaphors are employed to cast the huge span of deep time into a frame more easily pondered. If the history of life on earth is viewed as the Empire State Building, all of human history is a dime on top. ...

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., one the United States' great historians, is less than two lifetimes removed from a world where the United States did not exist. Through Mr. Schlesinger, you're no more than three away yourself. That's how short the history of our nation really is.

Not impressed? It's only two more life spans to William Shakespeare. Two more beyond that, and the only Europeans to see America are those who sailed from Greenland. You're ten lifetimes from the occupation of Damietta during the fifth crusade. Twenty from the founding of Great Zimbabwe and the Visigoth sack of Rome. Make it forty, and Theseus, king of Athens, is held captive on Crete by King Minos, the Olmecs are building the first cities in Mexico, and the New Kingdom collapses in Egypt.

Sixty life times ago, a man named Abram left Ur of the Chaldees and took his family into Canaan. Abram is claimed as the founder of three great religions. A few lifetimes before that, and you've come out the bottom of that dime. You're that close to it.

The next time you see an obituary in the paper, go ahead and wonder at all the things that person saw in his or her lifetime, but remember that every lifetimes is filled with events just as momentous.

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