The weight of history rests heavy on my soul.
I was watching "The Story of English" by Jim McLehrer. It was episode 3, Muse of Fire, about the language of Walter Raleigh, about the dialects of 16th and 17th century England, and about the few Americans who still carry on British accents.
They showed Tangier Island. A several hour boat ride from mainland Virginia, Tangier had, at the time of filming, maintained an accent similar to the one held by the first British inhabitants of Tangier in 1686.
Tangier, like Maine, reminds me that some of the poorest Americans are not in the cities, but live difficult lives of hard work scraping a living from the land and sea. At Tangier Island, where luxuries are few, the men literally work all day. As soon as men are old enough teenagers, they begin the daily life cycle of work and sleep. No eight or ten hour days for the men of Tangier. They would put obsessive computer programmers to shame with their hours.
Yet one gets the unmistakable impression that they are happy.
When I watched the show, I nearly cried. Because I knew that the medium that brought me news of their proud linguistic heritage would also probably destroy it. Television does much to homogenize speech. Our current visual entertainment may reduce attention span, encourages us to trust performance over logic, and homogenizes language through mass distribution.
I imagined that by the time I was able to watch the video, now eight years later, a new generation would be growing up, one that knows the characters of Friends more than the vivid, unpredictable character of the sea.
I was wrong. The people Tangier seem to be very firm about keeping their way of life.
I am briefly put into a great dilemma. Imagine how much better life could be for them with more modern conveniences, with more time for using their minds to create, to experience, to explore human wisdom, art, literature, etc.. But then, when I think of things like quality of life, I remember that, like any human concoction, this 21st century Western life we have made for ourselves is much more prosperous, includes more toys, and involves more creativity. But in a way, many more things are demanded of us, and the work of our collective desires and efforts have not all been great or helpful. These are strongly religious people -- if they know God, who am I to say that my life is better than theirs? In fact, they might just be able to say that about me.
For the weight of history rests heavy on my soul.