Along the Elizabeth River waterfront on the southwest corner of Town Point Park in Norfolk, Virginia, is the Armed Forces Memorial that features 20 letters written home by U.S. soldiers and sailors who died serving their country from the Revolutionary War up to and including the Gulf wars. The letters appear to be scattered by the wind, and wherever they landed, they are forever frozen and ensconced in bronze so that visitors to the park may read and appreciate the sacrifices and depredations suffered by the authors. They reflect the human condition during trying times.
Carefully written letters were cherished by recipients and were usually stored in boxes or tied together with a string or ribbon for safe keeping and future reminiscences. These letters recorded the everyday occurrences in the lives of the writers, and when found generations later, they offer a keyhole glimpse into the era they depict—a contemporaneously written living legacy.
Leap to the 20th and 21st centuries, and you find telephones, cell phones, text messages, the Internet, e-mail, and communication wizardry that allow us to share information at warp speed; however, the majority of our personal communication is neither printed nor saved. And even if it were, we do not know how long the toner or ink of today’s technology will last printed on paper with or without acidity.
Yet, court records handwritten with a quill pen dipped into ink and scrawled onto pages in heavy ledger books during the 1600s are still readable by anyone today, although some handwriting might present a challenge, particularly if the book were closed before the ink dried.
Technology has changed the way we communicate, not only in business but personally. We rarely write letters anymore or keep diaries or journals. E-mails are sent, read, and deleted. So where will our history be? On an obsolete computer with an operating system no one can remember? Early computer users, as well as our government, have found themselves in that predicament already.
For the generations yet to come, there will be no writings or records for them to peer into to see what we thought about the times in which we lived or what our daily lives were like unless we leave something in writing for them—a legacy in words.
We cannot afford to procrastinate. We are losing most of the history of the 20th century now with the daily passing of our World War II veterans and next, the Korean War veterans, and then the Vietnam era veterans. How did our mothers and grandmothers deal with life during the absence of their husbands? How did they handle the news that their husband or son had been captured, killed, or was missing in action? How did it affect their lives and their children’s lives? There are so many questions we need to ask, and we must accept this duty and record the stories of our time.
After two-and-a-half generations, most of us will be forgotten. How you survived and fared during your lifetime will never be known if you do not carve a small chunk of time per day, week, or month to tell your stories.
While the rich and famous have their stories told for them and their genealogies traced for free, the average person, who works to keep food on the table and clothes on the backs of his or her children, are the voices that have been silenced because of our modern lifestyle. Yet yours are the poignant stories that make our history—a history that needs to be recorded.
Let’s use the technology available to us now to record our family’s life stories for the next generation. A digital recorder, camcorder, and computer with Internet access represent the minimum equipment necessary for saving stories, voices, and photos. There are even apps for saving stories and photos. Of course, my favorite site for this type of enjoyment is www.lifestories.org where my own stories are archived.
Live forever. Save a life today. Be virtually immortal!