Teresa Matera-Covington ala 1955

If History teaches us anything it’s about the fragility of life. Even empires rise and fall, and like us, they one day to cease to affect change. Timbuktu was once the center of the scholastic world.  Mongolia once owned an empire from the Pacific to Vienna. When historians crack the books, invade the catacombs, and dust off the shelves of an archive they are not so much looking for truth, but the truth inherent in the changes the past represents.

I write all this introspective history gook because my mother-in-law passed away today. For her, history is now over. It reminds me of something I wrote not too long ago, some prose that more resemble poetry than narration. Nonetheless, the power of these words speaks to me a bit differently today than yesterday, and so if you all don’t mind, I’d like to share them.

History must be active, because we are. History is necessarily alive, because we are. History is precariously fragile, because we are. History lives in the present, because we do. History will no longer exist, because we will. I cannot go back, just as I cannot go forward, therefore History is always in the present tense, always about me, always about life.

One day not too long ago, during a drive, my daughter Liz (high school senior) asked me about my passion for History. “It’s not that I don’t like History,” she said. “I guess I’m just trying to understand why it is you like it so much.”

So I whipped out my best Socrates and asked her, “Why do people study history?” Socrates was always sneaky like that, answering queries in the form of a question.

“I guess so we can learn from past mistakes,” she replied. To which, I am not proud to announce, I laughed. I couldn’t help it. I mean, after all, if that’s all we had to do, we humans would be near perfect about now.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, Liz. Not at all.” I paused for affect. “We study history to help us understand ourselves, where it is we fit in, not only in society but in time.”

My daughter nodded her head, but I’m not sure she understood. So few do. Heck, too few do.

I loved my mother-in-law. She was a great lady, a grand lady, someone who bore the brunt of life with more class, dignity, and panache than I could ever hope to muster. I think my affinity for Teresa came from a sort of instantaneous bond, the kind of secret connection veterans of a foreign war experience, this certain look in the eye like we have both been there, to hell and back, and lived to tell the tale. Teresa lived. Now she is gone. I have her in my history. She has her timelessness.