Every year on September 11, Americans reflect on what they were doing when the attacks began in 2001. Some were just arriving at work or school while some parts of the country were still sleeping, blissfully unaware of the horrors happening on the East Coast.
Similar conversations will now happen in France. "Watching a concert" or "attending a soccer game" will be what some Parisians will say they were doing before a set of coordinated attacks shook their city on November 13, killing more than 120 people.
It's interesting, really, how seemingly ordinary, banal moments in a day can melt into tragedy without warning. Our lives are consistently in flux, shaped by events that affect other events down the line. As each person interacts with their community, things change. Some of these changes are small while the effects others will linger on for generations.
It's hard to know what moments will be preserved in the history books as they happen, as John Green describes in a recent video for Vlogbrothers. He makes his point discussing a 1914 image by German photographer August Sander titled "Young Farmers."
The subject of the photograph is three young farmers in Germany dressed in newly procured fineries on their way to a dance. What were they thinking about while they were walking before Sander stopped them? Maybe they were just glad to get out of their dirty work clothes and were enjoying a night looking dapper. Perhaps they were each hoping to meet a girl, or steal a dance with one they've had their eye on for months. Would it be the girl they hoped to marry and start a family?
Regardless of how far into the future they were envisioning, there's one major event that would change everything they couldn't have seen coming.
This picture was taken right before the onset of World War I. Their fate remains unknown, but Green challenges us to look at the possibility captured in this image that can only be appreciated in retrospect:
"To us, the dance [World War I] they were walking to seems inevitable, but to see their faces is to know that it wasn't, that history is choices we collectively make about how to look at the world and how to respond to what we see."
Listen to Green's poignant analysis of everything else this picture has to teach us about history being forever in the making here:
We all have the power to shape the world around us, largely by choosing our responses to current events. What choices will you make?
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