I have a dog. On a daily basis I take her for a walk, which she enjoys immensely. Most days, we take the same route, walking down the same roads and my dog sniffs at the same lampposts and the same clumps of grass.
Today though was slightly different. One of the roads we walk down is quite remote and rural. The houses are large and laid back into their own sizeable plots of land. As we reached the end of the road, I noticed a large gap where there once was a house
Behind a rust-eaten, yellow bulldozer sat a large pile of bricks that had once been the house. As my faithful dog sniffed around in the grass verge on the edge of the property, I looked wistfully at the scene before me. The house hadn’t been anything out of the ordinary. A fairly standard detached house built at the turn of the twentieth century. Four bedrooms, I guessed and probably with its own separate dinning room.
And then it hit me. For over a hundred years that house had stood there and in a matter of a couple of days, it was no more than rubble. Imagine just what it had seen. At least five different monarchs, two world wars and England winning the football world cup. And what about the people that had lived there.
Over three generations of families would have occupied that house. I wondered whether it had been passed down through the same family or whether different families had lived there. How many births had occurred there? How many deaths? Children taking their first steps; Christmases and birthdays; marriages and funerals. Celebrating exam success and new jobs. Coming to terms with the passing of a loved one and battling serious illness. Looking at that house, I wouldn’t mind betting that it had witnessed the whole gambit of human emotions.
But that’s progress. Tear down the old to make way for the new. In the coming months, that plot of land will probably see, two, three, or maybe even four houses spring up from the remains of the dust that now lies there. New families will move in and fresh memories will be created and forged. Multiple families all living shoulder to shoulder in the space that once was occupied by a single family. Progress, or perhaps just the pursuit of profit. All of those past lives and memories will be forgotten.
Issac Newton once said that we were “standing on the shoulders of giants”. Einstein reused the quote to emphasise that his great work wouldn’t have been possible without the likes of Newton to lay the groundwork for him and other scientists like him. By recognising and acknowledging the past, we can use those experiences to move us forward.
Today though, that doesn’t seem the case. We seem to constantly destroy everything that is around us and explain it away as progress. We need to knock down that house, cultivate that land, cut down that forest, for that’s progress. After all, we have to keep moving forward, don’t we? But in doing so, who’s shoulders are we going to stand on.
As I stood there looking at the remains of that old house, I couldn’t help feeling sad at the loss of all those memories. Perhaps now in the 21st century, we don’t need to refer to our past in order to help us keep moving forward. Perhaps we understand so much about the world now, our history isn’t relevant any more. We have no need to stand on anyone’s shoulders, for we are tall enough.
I can only hope that is the case, but experience tells me otherwise.