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During a phone conversation with my mom recently, she said something to my 17-year-old son about the current coronavirus pandemic which still sticks with me. “You will always remember the great pandemic of 2020.”
Having hung around members of the Shepherd Area Historical Society, I’ve often served as an audience to many wonderful or tragic stories about Shepherd’s past. The ice skating, the fires, murders, businesses which have come and gone. I can also remember the big events which have occured in my life time, such as the explosion of the Challenger and of course 9/11. But, usually I’ve served merely as a spectator. Right now, I am an unwilling participant in global pandemic and all I can think about is how anxious I am for it to be over, without knowing what that might look like.
The study of history is important, I think, because it helps to keep things in perspective, even during times such as these. It teaches us that the world and separate nations have dealt with and survived virus outbreaks in the past, so we can survive this one as well. It also helps us to appreciate the importance of perseverance in times of adversity. And, it is a way to recognize how significant it is that people before us triumphed over those challenges, whether it was a depression, fire, war, or pandemic.
In times like these, I would find reassurance that under similar circumstances other people have asked themselves if their actions will ever really matter. When we learn about history, we are collectively saying, yes, your entire story is important enough to keep on record. Someday, it might sound strange that we once all hunkered down inside our houses to hide from a virus, or that nurses and doctors risked their own health in order to care for the patients who were infected with coronavirus. But, right now, it all feels very real, and I hope that people in the future will appreciate what we’re all going through.
I think, ultimately, that history is important because by understanding history, we start to get a better sense of the role we play in the world. I’ve learned from my own past experience that history is not just a series of events, but one long story.
In the Spring of 2015, there was a fire which destroyed three buildings in Shepherd. One of those buildings housed the village’s community newspaper, The Shepherd Argus. The loss of the Argus was a tragedy on several fronts. First, the village lost a source of community announcements and news. Second, the archive of newspapers which were stored in the office were lost in the fire. And, third, the Grims lost their business.
There are many different ways in which members of the community responded to the loss of the Shepherd Argus. Individuals started a community newsletter, The Village Messenger, which was intended to help share news and information much in the same way that the Argus did. I started the Shepherd Journal and later The Mid Michigan Journal. Local organizations and businesses began to rely more on Facebook and other social media tool to share their news or information with their audiences.
On the historical front, the Shepherd Area Historical Society began a project with the goal to digitize issues of the Shepherd Argus. We spent months collecting copies of the newspaper which residents had been saving, then worked with Central Michigan University’s Park Library to convert the newspapers into digital records. Several issues are now available on the web via an archive.
We have an opportunity now to share a little bit about what we’re feeling during the pandemic, how it is impacting us, and what our hopes are for the future. One way would be to jot down thoughts in a daily journal. Another would be to share via the web. The mission for the Mid Michigan Journal has been to tell the community’s story, and everybody is welcome to contribute.
This raises in my mind what my mom truly meant when she said that we are living through a time which we will always remember. Was it just that everything tied to the pandemic will make these moments feel important to our lives, or is she thinking of past experiences she’s had that she’s survived, and can’t remember? Perhaps her past provides some wisdom which could help us get through this.
I’ve started a discussion group on Google Groups where anybody who joins can discuss topics related to history, whether it involves current events or something else from history. Members can post by sending emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or going to https://groups.google.com/d/forum/shepherdahs. Anybody from the community can join via the web, or by contacting me at email@example.com.