John Seven: Broad brush of history misses key detail — individuals


NORTH ADAMS >> I was in England for 10 days, so I completely missed the point when the national American dialogue had deteriorated into talk of an international bankers' conspiracy. Are we going to call out lizard people next? I wish I could say I was surprised, but nothing surprises me about 2016 anymore.

Over in England, they can't stop talking about Brexit. Every chat show on the radio, every nightly news show, every other page in every newspaper is pre-occupied with it. To Americans it happened so long ago, but England is just now grappling with the fact that there is so very much paperwork involved in ill-advised isolationist racism and it takes forever to fill it all out.

Worst of all, they've discovered it's going to affect the price of Marmite, that disgusting spread made from beer brewing byproduct that they love so much. And it doesn't stop at Marmite, that's the real terror.

I spent the night in the east end of London, and encountered what seemed like the ultimate nightmare for all the Brexit voters living in the middle of nowhere — a robust Middle Eastern population not acting like suspicious terrorists, but ordinary folks going about their lives like ordinary folks do.

In the morning, I saw plenty of girls in school uniforms and Hijabs, joking around and chattering loudly with their friends who wore no religious clothing, kids of color and white skin all happily walking to school together, just living life. It was a hopeful thing to see.

These are the little moments in life that history seldom commemorates. They are always obscured by the wider brushes used by time. We know about empires and wars, but what about the individual people in them?

England is filled with ruins that highlight the marks individuals made on the world, even if we don't remember who they are. Old abbeys and castles, standing stones and Neanderthal dwellings, I saw many from the north of London to the mid-Wales, all parts of bigger stories where many of the details have gone missing.

I happened to be in Nottingham during Goose Fair, which has been going on since 1284, and has only been cancelled a few times in its long history — once for the Bubonic plague, a couple more for world wars. Over 700 years ago, the fair was all about cheese. Now it's about carnival rides and looks a lot like the Big E. Scores of people in Nottingham were descending on the fair for the night, more than a few of them being girls in Hijabs. I walked around neighborhoods in that town, so many of them predominately Muslim.

There are 30,000 Muslims in that town, with 32 mosques to serve them, all just living life. I imagined what Nottingham would look like if some Brexit supporters got their deepest wish granted. Large parts of it would become a ghost town. History would tell you about the purge, but not as much about the individual lives disrupted.

World War II was the deadliest event in human history, with 66 million dead. How many can you name? Following that is the slaughter of Ghenghis Khan, with 40 million dead, and the third being famines in British occupied India, with 27 million dead. Can you name any of those victims?

What's depressing is that most of us can't even give the name of one person killed in Aleppo this year. Even worse, a good portion of us, when we hear Aleppo, think about Gary Johnson's flub first.

Your individual story doesn't get much play as it unfolds now, let alone years later. The ruins, the traditions, the history of the price of Marmite, those endure, but there are people behind them, and that's all of us.

Contact John Seven at Follow him on Twitter @damnjohnseven. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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