Thursday, March 19, 2009

We Are There

If you had asked me any day in the last 2 weeks what my evening plans were, I would have said, “I hope they finally drop The Bomb.” Before you send me to the mental hospital for a long overdue checkup, I must explain: Ed and I are in the middle of the book Truman by David McCullough.

I am a great lover of history, and know more American history than world history, but still I knew precious few things about Truman before we started the book. The main thing I knew, of course, was that he made the decision to drop the first atomic bomb. Events in the book are escalating toward that end, but we’re not quite there yet. For some reason, I want to get that part over and get on with it. It was an event of such magnitude, a decision of “no turning back,” a tragedy of enormous proportions, a military decision over which some people agonized and about which some people never thought twice. It is uncomfortable to read about over half a century later.

McCullough is an award-winning writer, and his talents have drawn us into the story. We are right there when Truman campaigns, when his opponents denigrate his naivete and humble beginnings, when he marries his childhood sweetheart, when he is elected to the Senate, then the Vice Presidency, and finally “inherits” the top office when Franklin D. Roosevelt dies. We are right there in the room when he is talking to Churchill and Stalin. And we will be right there when The Bomb is dropped.

One of the reasons some people hate history (and I love it) is that the reader already knows what is going to happen. That takes the fun out of reading for a lot of folks. It’s similar to the year we had no TV and had our daughter tape the Super Bowl for us, and we watched it a week later, all the time knowing who had won - that was indeed not as exciting as watching it in real time. So what if we know that Truman will take over when Roosevelt dies? There are still questions - how did he find out? What was his reaction? How did he deal with the transition? How did it change his family life? How did he cope with being suddenly thrust on the world stage at a pivotal moment in history?

I approach history differently than some. I like the fact that the word “story” is included in the word history, because that is exactly what it is - Lincoln’s story, Truman’s story, your story, my story. So far, science has not unraveled the possibilities of time travel, so this is the closest we will come, it appears. If you can find a good story - and a good storyteller to impart it - well, that’s one of life’s pleasures.

I just want them to drop The Bomb soon, so I can get over this horrible feeling of knowing something dreadful is about to happen. It’s one thing to read in textbooks the dry scenario of facts; it’s another to be right in the middle of everything as it unfolds minute by minute, with all the accompanying angst and foreboding that a good writer can muster.

The main thing I learned from reading history aloud to Ed is that all of our personal life stories have meaning and are worth telling - not just those of famous people. The other thing I learned is that my being in the medical field does strange things to reading aloud - and it’s frustrating when Truman is in important secret communication with Roosevelt and “statin.”

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