My daughter said to me, "I don't need to study history because everything I like is modern."
I gave a reply from "The Grown-up's Guide to Standard Responses" manual.
"If you don't learn from the mistakes of the past, you're destined to repeat them."
This is listed, of course, after the entries "Because I told you so", "Because they're good for you", and "You'll understand when you're older."
Geesh, I sound like a parent.
We are in Washington, DC, the requisite family vacation. In this case, the kids are subject not only to the history of our nation, but the history of their parents. My husband and I met here as interns once upon a time.
The trip has just begun, but already we have learned about the connection between the past and our present, and about the necessity of reinvention.
The history is obvious. We walked the mall, seeing the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capital. This was made all the more exciting when we were watching "Evan Almighty" on HBO last night and the final scene involves an epic flood of the same area. My five-year-old pops up and declares, "That's DC!" My work is done, thank you very much. I have successfully made my children even more interested in cable.
It is reinvention that I am most drawn towards, however. The ability to take our past and make our future better because of it. This was demonstrated to us all day yesterday as we wandered the Colonial-lined streets of Old Towne Alexandria.
In our dream world, we would move back to this area, and visited three open houses just to torture ourselves. Built in the 1700s, I could only imagine the decades upon decades of families that have called them home, and marveled at the reinvention of them into places that a modern family could be comfortable. The basement of one smelled like a smokehouse, but was fitted with a washer and dryer and Corian counters in the kitchen. Another sloped like a bunny hill at a ski resort, but was outfitted with stainless steel appliances and flat screen tvs. At only $1,240,000, this tiny dwelling could be ours. I was ready to bring out the checkbook. All but one of the kids was in agreement.
Reinvention followed us at dinner. We ate at an old favorite, Il Porto, the Italian restaurant that faces King Street, the main thoroughfare of the town. We hungrily reviewed the menu items, but it was my nine-year-old history buff that was drawn, instead, to the story of the restaurant itself.
The eighteenth-century building was built by a sea captain, and lost to him when stolen articles were discovered in it. It was then converted to a butcher shop, and eventually became a whorehouse. Of course, the kids wanted to know what that was. The little teaching moments that we don't expect. Later, it was a trinket shop owned by two eccentric sisters, and now it serves up Alexandria's favorite pasta.
What a lesson in reinvention, and what a parallel to life. The structure remains the same, weathered a bit and updated for the times. So are we. We are baby, toddler, child, adolescent, young adult, employee, parent, grandparent, retiree, great-grandparent, senior citizen, dust. We live through a changing world, adapting with it to survive, journeying on a spiritual path.
The lesson became personal later when we met with an old friend over ice cream. She is the one person that gets younger and happier every time we see her. It's been eight years since our last visit, and she's doing great. What was the secret to her luminescence? Reinvention. A self-described "Type A", she suffered through the untimely death of a little loved one a few years ago, and realized what a precious gift every day is. She lives for the day, she devours the day, she rejoices in the day. She becomes what the day demands while retaining the solid foundations of her history.
It is easy to see why everyone is drawn to her. She believes that God will provide, and has erased negativity from her psyche. She is abundantly generous, and gives all of her energy to the moment.
I ponder this as I traverse the cobblestone streets in my Nike Air sandals, trodding upon stones that have seen thousands before me.