I was talking to my two older children the other day about how significant the EU referendum could be. How one day they may be telling their grandchildren about what it was like to live through this day and the events surrounding it.
This got me thinking of the significant historical events of my lifetime and two immediately sprang to mind. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001. So, how will I answer my children and one day my grandchildren when they ask what it was like to live through those times?
The strange thing is that the answer is “pretty ordinary”. If you are directly involved in such events the effects are immediate and obvious. For the East-Berliner on the 9th November 1989, catching up with a cousin they hadn’t seen in decades or for the people of New York whose partners, parents, children and friends did not come home on 11th September 2001 life would never be the same. But for everyone else life went on.
Like most people who lived through 2001 I remember where I was when I heard about the 9/11 attacks. I remember the shock and the horror. I was pregnant at the time with my first child and I remember wondering what sort of world I was bringing that child into. But I went home and ate my dinner as normal. The next day I went to work as normal. And my life carried on as normal. But did it really? We can never know how different the world would be if the attacks of 9/11 did not take place, so what I really experienced in the months and years after those events was a new kind of normal.
This is probably true of all the great events we read about in our history books. The fall of the Roman Empire is heralded as an event that marks the start of the Dark Ages, that fabulous period where history and legend collide. But unless you were living in Rome when it was raided or were one of the barbarians involved in sacking it, life was probably not that different. These world-changing events taking place in Rome were not nearly as important as whether the harvest would be good that year.
And the same will be true for us. For all the importance of today, tomorrow will go on as normal for most of us. It is only in the weeks, months and years to come that the impact will become more obvious and in that time other historical events will also occur, which will play their own part. One day, perhaps centuries from now, historians will debate how significant this day really is and it is likely that they will never agree.
What’s it like to live through history? Look around you. This is it.