Our girls are busy building a timeline for the 20th century. Included are, among other things, the Civil Rights movement (1954-1968), a picture of Rosa Parks glued to the 1955 spot with the note that she refused to give her seat to a white person on the bus; another date, 1932, marks Amelia Earhart's solo flight across the Atlantic; other important dates include my birth date, 1969, their mother's, 1974, and, of course, almost 30 years later, their own births begin, first Gwendoline in 2004, then Imogen in 2006, and Gabriel in 2010, and Iris in 2012. And then, because she read an article about him, Gwendoline included the date of Thor Heyerdahl's journey across the Pacific in the Kon Tiki raft in 1947.
It gives me an odd feeling to see our lives so constructed, around dates, our own seemingly insignificant moments celebrated at home, held in common with other moments of great achievement, natural tragedy, or epic human struggle. So often, our own lives seem small, of passing significance.
And yet, you begin to feel almost significant by association. What other timeline would include my birth and my children's alongside Rosa Park's sudden defiance, the spark that set off the Civil Rights movement?
Not many. Not, at least, in my own construction of life.
But in a way, our lives belong together, even though our relative achievements or struggles may be quite dissimilar.
We're wed to the same wrinkle in time. And that's something -- that means we count somehow, that we live and they lived.
It may just be that we were thrown into the same century by accident, but maybe there's more to it than that -- perhaps time wends our separate moments into a narrative, diverse, spectacular and ordinary at the same time?
I don't know. But I think history is a thing we make as much as it is a thing that makes us -- and I am grateful that in the economy of time, our daughters figure that women such as Rosa Parks, their own mum, and Amelia Earhart, as well as Thor Heyerdahl -- all these unlikely people, including their own lives, belong together.
Occasions of significance, of remembrance, all. Maybe it's the wonder of curiosity, the way a child leaps on the odd story, the moment, almost seizing it out of the supernova of time and space, something unique, something worthy of a little rhapsody and prose.
It brings to mind a walk we took one afternoon, along an old disused railroad track not far from here. My daughter, Gwendoline, three or four years of age at the time, spied a butterfly resting on a bit of grass and she leapt, almost cat-like, trying, in vain, to capture its mystery, its beauty in her little girl grasp.
Maybe history, in some elemental way, is just that: our attempt to hold onto the mystery, to connect with the beautiful fragility, windswept wonder of living.