It is difficult for our present, fast paced age to understand how disorienting the speed of change must have been for the nineteenth-century generation that was forced to finish their lives in the twentieth century. Perhaps the life of one man tells the tale.
Consider the life of Winston Churchill.
He was born in 1874. Men still lived who had fought Napoleon. Ulysses S. Grant was in his second term as the American president and Karl Marx was just then in the British Library writing the Communist Manifesto. Mark Twain had written none of the books for which he would become famous. Electricity, radio, television, and telephones were still unknown and only the year before Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Rutgers universities had met to draw up the first rules for a new game. It was called football.
When Churchill died ninety years later, men had orbited the earth, walked in space, and sent a probe to the surface of Venus. An automobile had already driven more than six hundred miles per hour and sex-change operations had been successfully performed. Nuclear power had already come of age. Lyndon Johnson was the American president at that time and though he was considered an elderly man, he had been born when Churchill was already thirty-four. The year Churchill died, the Queen of England gave the Order of the British Empire to the Beatles. It was an honor Churchill had also received, yet for a far different contribution in a far different age.
How does life absorb such change? What must it do to one’s moorings, to that sense of connection to the flow of time and how a man experiences the rhythms of the world? Clearly, this was an ever-present challenge in Churchill’s life and it frequently filled his thoughts:
“I wonder often whether any other generation has seen such astounding revolutions of data and values as those through which we have lived. Scarcely anything material or established which I was brought up to believe was permanent and vital, has lasted. Everything I was sure or taught to be sure was impossible, has happened.”
The wonderful passage above was taken from the book: The Search For God and Guinness.
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