Letters to the Future

Have you ever wished your ancestors could talk to you and tell you what their times were like? Not what the history books say, but what their own lives were like and what they were aware of in the world.

My grandparents probably never ate salmon, or if they did, it was canned, because here in Texas, there ain’t no fresh salmon. They put oranges and walnuts in Christmas stockings because they were special treats. I’m sure they never tasted a blueberry or kiwi, and maybe not even an avocado or pineapple. They lived on a ranch, raising cattle, hogs, and chickens and growing vegetables, canning and preserving a food supply to get them through winter, and buying a few staples like salt and sugar at a general store.

Born in the 1880s, did they know how much the automobile would change life as they knew it? Or air travel, radio, and television?

For that matter, did I know how much the Internet would change life as I knew it when I first encountered email in 1987 as a way for academic researchers to communicate securely and quickly?

I had not a clue…as I send and receive dozens of emails daily, as I write this post for my blog that has over 100,000 views from almost every country in the world.

I also wonder if my descendants (if there are any beyond my daughter and granddaughter) will be interested in this generation’s awareness of our times. Of peak oil, of abundant cheap water, of today’s political battles, and especially of being of the generation first influenced by that photo of our planet taken from space.

blue marble

Earth, taken by Apollo 17 crew, Dec. 7, 1972.

I was 19 when this photo was taken. I think it was on the cover of Life or National Geographic or some glossy magazine, and it was arresting. Never before had there been a color photograph showing Earth as a planet.

I knew geography well enough to discern Africa and Saudi Arabia at the top and surmise the white area at the bottom was Antarctica. The white swirly clouds were a wonder — seeing huge weather patterns over the land and sea rather than the boundaries and arrows shown on television’s weather charts.

Seeing that there were continents surrounded by sea, but no distinction between nations. That was profound.

That year the news was about the Vietnam war winding down, Nixon visiting China, the Watergate break-in, terrorism at the Munich Olympics, the troubles in Northern Ireland. Ms. magazine came into being. The film The Godfather made its debut, and the very first email was sent (I wasn’t aware of that then).

But that photo of Planet Earth made it all look small and kind of pathetic. The real news is that we all live on a freakin’ planet! A blue, brown, and white ball spinning in space! With an atmosphere we all share!

Somehow it made the human species seem more fragile and vulnerable as well as cohesive. We all share this common bond. Instead of the focus being on our differences in race, gender, nationality, income, language, and so on, we all breathe the same atmosphere that makes human life possible. All the water we need for life exists on this planet.

And, nature prevails and is the unspoken backdrop behind everything that happens.

And, the human species is capable of making this planet inhospitable for the survival of human species. New ways of thinking are necessary.

My generation was defined as the Baby Boomers, because we were the post-World War II generation born between 1946 and 1964, the largest generation ever in the U.S.

But this photo indelibly influenced how we saw ourselves and the world we lived in, at least among the more conscious of us.

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