I went to a lecture recently, something along the lines of, “Alternative Medicine in Victorian England.” It was fascinating and I was sad to see the hour end. I went home on a kind of a glowing high that felt like Sarah Reinhard describes her relationship with coffee.
But why? I asked myself. You’ve no pre-existing knowledge of the topic – would an evening away from the family listening to someone read a phonebook have been equally engaging?
I knew that I could answer no to that, so I was on to something. History is one of the things I like about museums. It’s what kept me up until midnight as a child, yawning when my notoriously night owl grandmother would wax eloquent on stories five generations past. Unwise marriages, death by drowning, fortunes made and lost . . .
Learning about health advice in Victorian England, every skeptical thought I have about various modern diets was reinforced. Every eyebrow I have ever raised about the world of medicine today, which I fear pretends frequently to know more than they actually do, was dutifully rewarded with a historical double take. Advertisements from the time eerily echoed our own.
You see, said the presenter, there is nothing new under the sun.
History, I remembered, offers to teach us everything we care to know.
Two days ago, we celebrated The Presentation of our Lord. Mary and Joseph presenting the Christ child, greeted by Simeon and Anna. A moment of obedience, prophecy, illumination. The old rejoiced at the new, had waited patiently and then some to see it. The realization of ancient promises.
In our salvation history the street goes two ways. The young receive the blessing of the old. Respect, honour, longing, fulfilment . . . God saw fit to have his son presented in an earthly temple, blessed by wrinkled hands, and voices soft and raspy with age.
I worry about older people today. About who needs them. All the talk is euthanasia legislation, but in the more immediate, who has time to listen or to share a meal? Who asks for the blessing or advice of our older sisters and brothers?
In the Messiah’s story, the Christ child is presented in the temple, met by Anna and Simeon. God awaited the light of recognition in an old man’s eyes. He awaited the blessing and prophecy of an old woman’s heart.
Victorian medical practice plus the story of the Presentation . . . for me, it’s starting to sound like an alarm clock fallen under a pillow – soft but incessant.
Don’t forget about history, it whispers, especially when it breathes. God’s pauses are worth noting, it adds. Widows and orphans. Children and the aged. Find my Anna’s and my Simeon’s; bow your head and wait. See me in their faces. Feel me in their trembling touch. Hear me in their words and silences.
Text and image copyright 2015 Michelle Dawn Jones