I recently unboxed my grandmother’s set of World Book Encyclopedia–the same set my uncles used to research school assignments. Fathom that: a time before the internet. Grandma also purchased supplemental year books, 1965 through 1984 (the year I was born), and they’re fascinating in their brevity. An entire year reduced to a series of essays on international and domestic affairs written by journalists, professors, diplomats…astronauts.
I love this set of encyclopedias, although I didn’t need to inherit them. I already took the set I grew up using when we sold my childhood home, and DID NOT need a second clogging up valuable shelf space in my San Francisco apartment. But it was either that or the dumpster, so lo and behold–my bedroom has not one but TWO complete yet different sets of encyclopedias. Like grandmother like mother like daughter.
They say history repeats itself, but this isn’t wholly true. The pendulum of culture swings towards extremes with reliable regularity, but the faces and places and the events they unleash are always unique if not tainted by similar archetypes. We live in uncommon, unsettling times but I find solace in history knowing that we’ve been annihilated (in every sense of that word) before only to rebuild the world anew. Given the state of the world, I’m particularly interested to see how people assessed their uncommon time. It helps to know people before me also tried to make sense of nonsense, so I thought it would be a “fun” to start some #tbt posts in which I extract passages from Grandma’s World Books that resonate with the now.
This is from an essay by James R. Reston called “Focus on The Nation.” I recommend listening to The Barr Brothers’ new album, Queens of the Breakers, while mulling this over.
“‘This is a day,” Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare John W. Gardner said in October, ‘of dissent and divisiveness. Everyone speaks with unbridled anger in behalf of his point of view or his party or his people. More and more, hostility and venom are the hallmarks of any conversation on the affairs of the nation.
There used to be only a few chronically angry people in our national life. Today all seem caught up in mutual recriminations–Negro and white, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, dove and hawk, Democrat and Republican, labor and management, North and South, young and old.’
What produced this mood of self questioning and self-doubt? Was it as bad as it sounded? And why did these symptoms of something like a nervous breakdown suddenly seem so much more serious in 1967? These were the questions of the year.”