The Edges of History

I have such a fascination with borders and boundaries (and boundary issues) that I even see history itself in such terms, and have ever since I read a preface by historian Eric Hobsbawm, in which he described the edges of history as those boundaries where our own experience, or our shared experiences, begin and end.

For example, there’s a boundary at the point where the oldest relative you ever met was born; the times that exist after that relative’s birth are (according to this model) different in some way than the times that existed before that relative’s birth.

This is of course is based on the idea that history is a human construction – that our perception constructs history the same way our eyeballs construct color. This is another idea that always fascinated me – I have always wanted to write a science fiction story in which someone steps outside of his own human perception into a world of raw data. The fact that such a story apparently can’t be written is exactly what I find charming about it.

I mention all of this about edges and boundaries because this Memorial Day I am acutely aware of a loss. There are no World War I veterans any more. When I was a child, every Memorial Day and every Fourth of July featured veterans, and veterans meant WWI vets. (The older men – the ones with greater honor – were the ones who wore the funny hats and so they were the ones I noticed and remembered.)

This isn’t the first Memorial day to experience this gap; the last World War I veteran died in 2011. But right now I’m just feeling acutely conscious of the way narratives and perceptions change over time – and to me, World War I was the very embodiment of the idea of one age giving way to another.