“You are living through history.”
I tell this truth to our kids over and over — while we’re grabbing face masks to head out to the car, making plans for school this fall or talking about the latest protests in the headlines.
I remind them that 2020 is a year for the history books.
Of course it’s obvious; any given moment becomes part of history as soon as it passes. But even the kids know these are times of heightened intensity and importance for our nation and the whole world.
Early in quarantine when our family would take daily walks, itching to get outside and catch a glimpse of other humans, the kids were full of frustrations. Why couldn’t they see their friends? Why couldn’t they go to school? Why did we have to stop our normal routines of church, work, errands and activities?
We talked about the common good: the need to care for the whole community, not just ourselves. We talked about public health: the need to prioritize the most vulnerable. We remembered how God calls us to do the right thing, even when it’s not easy or popular.
But every conversation came back to the same refrains: “You are living through history. One day you’ll tell your kids and grandkids about this time. Right now the world is changing, and we are part of it.”
Children see with clearer eyes. One of our kids asked why grocery stores hadn’t always reserved early shopping hours for people who were older or had health concerns. Didn’t it make sense to let those who needed it most go first?
Another asked if we should poll our neighbors about how Black people are being treated in our country and then send a letter to the president, because wouldn’t he want to know if people were suffering?
Another child prays at night for all who are dying from the coronavirus, especially those who have no one to pray for them. In his innocence he could never imagine that his petition might be seen as political if it were prayed aloud in a parish.
But these are historic times. One day, God willing, I hope they get to tell their children and grandchildren what it was like to live through the twists and turmoil of 2020.
History has come alive in their eyes. We talk about past pandemics, and suddenly the plague or the 1918 flu are no longer dry words in dusty books. We learn about the civil rights movement, and famous figures transform from names on a page to real Americans who worked for change.
Even the Bible stories and saints’ lives that we retell have become more vivid and relevant. Plagues and pestilence, fierce storms and reluctant prophets, martyrs and sacrifices — all seemed ripped from the headlines this year.
Throughout human history, God is working to bring life from death and light from darkness. The battle against evil, sin and suffering has been with humans from the beginning, and each generation is called to take up the fight.
But we do not fight alone. The God of peace, justice and mercy spurs us on, and we believe that God’s ways will triumph.
People talk about “wanting to be on the right side of history.” For those of us who follow Christ, the stakes are even higher. We want to be at the right hand of the Son of Man when he comes in glory. We yearn to be counted among the sheep, not the goats, so that we will enjoy eternal life with God.
But to be on God’s right side, we must feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit the prisoner (Mt 25:34-36). We must hear the cries of the poor and respond with compassion. We must change our lives for the sake of others.
What stories will we tell about this moment in history? What stories will be told of us?
God is always renewing the world. It is never too late to act.