When I worked as a tour guide, I would meet visitors who said they liked (or loved) history.
“History of what?” I would respond.
The stunned looks I got as my replies were sad, but they were a challenge.
I assured my tour members that I wasn’t going to spend some time on history, finish that, and go on discussing something else. Instead, I intended to discuss things historically, over time.
The word “history” in English is related to the French word “histoire” — which is the word for “story.” Properly handled, any history is the story of something — a place, a group of people, even a subject..
For example, one of the better books I inherited from my father, “Einstein in Berlin” by Thomas Levenson, is the story of both the city and the man from 1914 to 1932. Just when I was feeling like my German or Western European history was in good shape, Levenson would switch to explaining what Einstein was studying and other things he did at the time. Learning about the city through the work of one man helped me understand a critical time.
One of the things I’ve learned through grief for both of my parents and all of my aunts and uncles is that when someone has died, the best gift is a story. We talk about the dead “passing into history” (if our language is grand enough), but try thinking instead of them “passing into stories.”
I love to be with people who know me as my parents’ daughter, and one big reason is that something I do may remind them of something my parents did. I can wind up with a story to hear that I’d never heard before. So can they, if they wonder why all of us did something.
So, as ChicagoNow seems to be on the edge of passing into history, I’ll keep telling stories until I’m told to stop. Thank you for reading.
Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook. If ChicagoNow suddenly becomes unavailable, please visit that page for information.
Filed under: French words in English usage