Last weekend, I went with one of my roommates to attend a production of Handel’s Messiah. Like so many people, I grew up loving the “Hallelujah Chorus” and “For Unto Us a Child Is Born,” but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I ever bothered to listen to the full oratorio. It’s not my favorite piece of classical music (that honor goes to Bach’s phenomenal Mass in B minor – please, please, please listen to it!) but I still enjoy it. I had never been to a performance of it, even though I always saw advertisements for different productions of it, including sing along ones, and so I definitely jumped at the chance to go to the Washington National Cathedral to see it there.
It was beautiful. Sure, I got slightly antsy and fidgety during the last half, but I am so glad I went.
While I was listening, and afterwards, I kept thinking about what it was that made me care so much about this music even though it’s not even a particular favorite of mine.
I’ve always loved old things. If I’m honest, I view Shakespeare, the Founding Fathers, and Charles Dickens as something akin to demi-gods, and going to historic sites is like standing on sacred ground to me. When visiting historic sites associated with events or people that I have been particularly fascinated with, I have on various occasions had the following reactions: crying, skipping, balling my fists, shaking with excitement, squealing, hyperventilating (very disconcerting to the people around me), and jumping. Sometimes more than one of these at once. My love of old things is part of why I like wassail. (Fun fact: I once wrote five pages about wassail in a manuscript. No joke. I was pontificating on the same subject as this blog post, actually.)
It’s only been recently that I’ve understood why old things mean so much to me.
They are a lifeline to our past. As close to a time machine as we have.
When I was listening to Handel’s Messiah, I kept thinking about how someone like me would have felt listening to this in 1742 when it was first performed.
When I stood in the Capitol for the first time, I kept thinking about the great men and women who had stood in that exact spot.
When I read Shakespeare, I don’t see a regular page. I see words, characters, and ideas that are more than 400 years old!
When I walked through Monticello, I could barely control my enthusiasm, astounded by the thought that I was somewhere that Thomas Jefferson had walked.
Those thoughts give me chills. Little bits of history reaching out and touching me.
These things – old things, old ideas, old books, old stories, old places – connect us to the past in a way that feels almost literal and tangible. They draw lines through our history straight into our present.
I can imagine very little that is more beautiful than that.
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