History a Sobering Reminder of How Good We Have It.

LCD Television broken like map of United States Pablo Picasso
"Honey, I've got good news and bad news.  Bad news: the
remote broke the TV.  Good news, it looks like a Picasso
map of the United States.  We might be rich!" 
Watching football brings out some of my worst character flaws.  I yell, I slap my leather couch, I get curt with my family, and it sometimes affects me for hours after the game.  All because a guy on my fantasy football team didn't complete a pass, or my team didn't live up to expectations.  In reality, stupid, stupid stuff.

I think football is an outlet for many guys.  Guys who are frustrated from their work, their lives, from their sudden domestication from Neanderthalic passions like hunting Woolly Mammoths, warring with neighboring tribes over access to a stream, and drinking unfiltered lagers from huge steins in beer-halls while our wives struggled to put the nine children to sleep.  

German bar maid carries 21 steins pitchers of beer
"Helga, I asked for 22 steins of beer
not 21!  No tip for you!"  
And this sudden evolution of man, combined with the quick accession of women, has left many people  in this crowded world, confused.  Frustrated by our lack of upward mobility in the workforce; Angry at a lack of political candidates that represent our viewpoints; disillusioned at our home value, stock plans, and bank statements.  In short, it's easy to get depressed with the state of things.  

It's so easy to lament about the things we don't have, when in reality, we should be grateful for being alive at this moment in history.  History will tell you tales of unending struggles, suffering, injustice, and calamities.  And no matter how much we romanticize the past, it was an ugly, dirty, and grossly unfair place where death, starvation and usury were the norm.  Our worst days, would be a happy respite for most of all humanity born before the twentieth century.  

I was pulled out of my most recent pity party while watching a play called Quilters which starred my wife, sisters, and mother.  I have a degree in history, and yet, so much of history is lost to even people like me who spent untold hours reading stories of other's struggles.  I personally never cared for history regarding Western Expansionism, but found this story incredibly poignant.   Quilters is a production based on first hand accounts of letters and journals written by pioneer women in the 1800s as they struggled to survive in the wild, hostile West.  The difficulties of finding food, clothing their families, childbirth, loneliness, the bitter cold, excessive children (no birth control), rarely seeing their spouse, maintaining sanity in the midst of constant deaths, and just plain surviving, are just a few of the themes that the ladies quilted into comforters as a as a way of documenting memories.  Watching the play was another reminder of how difficult the world has been for almost all of humankind's history; and how easy we have it today by comparison. 
Two Quilter's monologues and a song.  

 Think about the fact that we live with electricity, which supplies us with warm water, lighting, and countless entertainment options.  Less than 1% of human history has had electricity.  Anyone who has ever chopped wood will tell you how horrible having a wood stove is.  And yet, today, we have ample insulation and protection from the elements.  Most of us no longer use wood heat, instead we have thermostats that automatically turn heat on and off from various heat sources that rarely
Keyless entry died now I have to open car like poor person first world problems meme
First World Problems Meme.  
need maintained.  I get annoyed when my CFL lightbulb takes 5 milliseconds to turn on, annoyed when a room in the house only has seven outlets and they are all currently occupied, upset when I only get 20 minutes of hot water to shower with.  We forget how almost all of mankind had to heat their water in giant tubs roasting over fires after drawing water from the depths of the earthen wells.  It was so labor intensive and wasteful that most humans went months between true baths.  Queen Elizabeth, one of the richest people alive in her time, used to brag about taking a bath once a month, "whether it was needed or not." 

And believe you me, it was needed.  The majority of humans would have been DKs (that's dirty kids, to my older audience).  Deodorant, as we know it, did not exist.  So the rich covered their putrid disgusting smells with exotic expensive perfumes.  There's a reason why Jesus is brought Frankincense and Myrrh along with gold by the wise men.  Heck, He was born in a barn.  Even Joseph probably needed some scent cover up after the long journey to Bethlehem.  Imagine what bodies would smell like covered with animal skin clothing and wool outer garments all day long.  Not only that, but throughout history, clothing of any kind, but especially warm clothing, was a huge luxury.  The two or three good outfits the average human owned constituted about 1/5 of their working annual budget.  That means that the average American household, which makes about $50,000 a year now, would spend $10K on clothing today.  What!  That might sound reasonable to people in NY city, but I probably spend less than $200 dollars a year on clothing for myself (although that is an unfair comparison, as I may just be a DK).  The national average today is 3.8% of our budgets go to clothing, a far cry from the 20% of yesteryear.  Maybe that's why they all knew how to do some needlework.  
English moving bath house 18th century allowed women to bath in the ocean
The roving bath house.  So women could cleanse themselves in the
soothing clean waters of the ocean while lecherous men watched.  

And if you were a small girl, odds are, you did needlework from dawn to dusk.  Boys were out in the fields, or some other manner of unhealthy work, and pulling 60 hour weeks of labor.  There wasn't time to cry, as there was always work to be done.  If you were a child and you complained, you were probably slapped across the rear-end, had your ears boxed, or beat.  Of course most parents loved their children, but kids were also expected to help keep the family afloat.  Poverty, or rather, staving off starvation was the reality to 85% of world's population after the fall of Rome.  85% of people were serfs or peasants, or people who rented their tiny homes and pieces of land, and worked day and night just to earn a small portion of the crop they tended to from seed to harvest.  By today's standards, almost all of humanity lived in some degree of slavery.  Romanticize that.  

Not to mention, you really had no control over who your lord or vassal or king or protectorate was.  In almost all instances, you had no say in your government, no code of law to protect you, and no insurance  to protect you from calamities.  You just hoped your knight would save you from bandits, and that your king wouldn't start another war and send you off to die without armor.  I'm speaking mostly about Western Civilization here, but the same thing basically goes for Asia, Africa, and even in the Americas.  Sure it looks really cool to be a hunter/gatherer, and roam the land with nothing holding you back, but step foot in the wrong plain or valley and you could be ambushed by any number of tribes or enemy clans.  

Kansas Oklahoma Dust Bowl Great Depression Father walking with children before dust storm old dug out house
"Hey Pa, do you reckon that peoples in da future are going
to look back at our sand yard and our three foot roofed
home and be jealous?"  "Yes son, this dust bowl only
gunna get worse, and we's got it better than those future
We Americans tend to romanticize freedom and our past.  We often think that those before us experienced a greater quality of life, because they were "freer" to pursue their goals without government intervention.  We think Cowboys and Indians were carefree souls who tapped into some great reserve of spiritual independence.  As if waking up to a beautiful sunset, and riding off on horseback into the open expanse made up for the fact that they had no cure for small pox.  We're deluding ourselves.  Most of all of humanity lived a miserable existence.  Work made up the majority of their life.  They didn't have time for tragedies or depression.  Entertainment was going to church on Sunday, or reading a book (usually only one or two books over and over again) each night.  

We're a spoiled, pampered lot today.  We complain when our cell phones don't get reception in one room of our house.  We think gas at $4.00 is outrageous, and that the medical profession has us turning our head and coughing.  We think politicians are corrupt, schools underperforming, businesses thieving,  neighbors annoying, friends uncaring, family unsupportive, and churches irrelevant.  And maybe there's some truth to all of that.  But take a look at your life.  Do you ever wake up with your home in the negative temperature range?  Is the nearest doctor seven hours away, and he will probably put leaches on you to "heal" you?  Have you suffered from diphtheria, cholera, typhoid, or tuberculosis?
Granger 1881 Pogrom in Russia etching Jews bar
Granger, 1881: Pogrom in Russia.  Destroying the lively-
hoods of Jewish business owners was almost a yearly
ritual in parts of Eastern Europe and Russia.  
Do you have running water?  And hot water?  Can you afford candles?  Are they necessary?  Do you fear childbirth might kill you?  If some kind of disaster happened, is it covered by insurance?  If not, would the government help out?  Do you fear the police?  Do you fear pogroms, or beatings, or lynch mobs because of your race?  Can you vote?  Have your rights really, really been violated?  Is the strong hand of oppression really upon you?

Humanity has gone through a lot of $#!+ to get us to this blessed stage in life.  Before you get depressed about a negative turn of events, maybe it's best to put it in perspective.  Do you really think your great great grandmother would listen with a sympathetic ear as you complain about your DVR being full and missing an episode of the Big Bang Theory?  


  1. Well done once again my friend for your relevance and introspective points of humanity. Where would the country be if we were always grateful to The Lord or just thankful in general for the blessed Nation we live in. I guess it may start with us. Living a life of thankfulness will not only shine through the darkness of a world of complaints and negativity but will hopefully catch on like a new fad of hula hoops and slinkys.

    1. Thanks Jake. Good to hear from you again. Know you're doing neat things over on the coast. Negativity has always kind of been my MO, but I'm trying to change that, God willing.

  2. Good one, Chris. Wondering though, why you didn't put Kayla's and Jill's monologues on there instead of the "other" quilters online? But really good content for thought overall.

    1. Well, mom, I choose this one for the monologues, not the songs. There were plenty of good moments throughout the play, but those two "stories" stuck with me. When I need a crazy old grumpy aunt, I'll post the one with you in it, deal?

  3. Okay, I'll admit it, I was cursing my car door opener the other day because it somehow reprogrammed itself and won't work, and I hate using the key... I realize this is ridiculous! Love the post though--it's to remember we do have it pretty dang sweet!

    1. Meradeth they're pretty easy to reprogram. I mean you might have to look up your make and model online, but for mine i just have to insert and eject the key like 5 times in 10 seconds, then when my hazard lights go on push the button on my key fob, and Ta-Da, it works again. Might be different for your car, and not fun to do in the morning, but not like replacing a starter or something like that. Our American lives I think are sometimes frustrated by our technology. I rarely get mad or upset when I'm camping, even when it rains on our tent. But if my satellite programming goes out for 30 seconds...WHAT!

  4. Chris, I'm constantly looking at the world through the eyes of a cynic. Frustrated at how we treat each other and the direction we seem to be going in. Thank you sir for the reminder that the grass wasn't always greener. Love it!