What are old people for? That is something I’ve thought hard about most of my life and yes, even wrote an entire book on the subject. Today I found a video clip that captures one particular thing old people are for so succinctly, I can summarize it in a Twitter-length answer — old people are living bridges to history.
The Atlantic Monthly blog shared a YouTube video that seems to breath life into something that all of us consider distant history well outside of living memory. An eye-witness to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination appeared on a TV gameshow in 1956 and that video is now on YouTube. This has to set the record for the oldest historical event in human history captured in a first-person account on film. I’m sure it stunned audiences in 1956 and should even more so now.
The Atlantic links to another great blog post by Jason Kottke describing the phenomenon of being transported through time by elders who serve as “human wormholes” who can cross “the great span”:
Tony Hiss, in a book about his father Alger (the accused Soviet spy), said that Alger had a term for stories kind of like these: the Great Span:
My father himself even had a name for a kind of ongoing closeness between people in which death is sometimes only an irrelevance. He called it “the Great Span,” a sort of bucket brigade or relay race across time, a way for adjacent generations to let ideas and goals move intact from one mind to another across a couple of hundred years or more.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.