Florence Green, thought to be the last known WWI survivor, passed away on Saturday at 110, just shy of her 111th birthday on February 19th. [Link: BBC]
When I think about all the things people like Florence experienced and observed at home and abroad, I feel nothing short of awe and immense respect. In general, whenever I meet really old people, I just wish I could get a visual of their lives when they were young. Things that we perceive as "history" today, things that get romanticized in movies, was "daily life" for Florence. I want to know what it was like for her to live through WWI and WWII - she must have had so many stories from her own experiences and those of her peers. I want to learn history as she lived it, without coloring it with my own modern-day values so that, when I think about it, I don't just say "oh that was awesome," or "yeah, that was bad."
And, selfishly, I also feel a lot of shame to compare the myself and the kids of today to the people in past generations. The world today is simultaneously more global and interconnected, thanks to the internets, and also easier to ignore. We can access the latest news with her fingertips at any time of day, from any source we want. We utter half-hearted "oh noes" and "shame on them" and then distract ourselves by simply logging into our Netflix/Hulu/YouTube accounts to stream mindless entertainment. At 17, Florence joined the Women's Royal Air Force to make her contribution to the war effort. At 17, my grandma was working hard for a living in a rural area of China. At 17, I was probably complaining about how boring it was to have a two hour gap between classes in my senior year of high school while playing Halo at a friend's house. Don't even get me started on the kids of today - I wanted to bang my head on a wall every day at work.
Reading that article made me think about how to live up to the legacy that people like Florence left behind. It puts things into perspective and also motivates me to work hard. I don't want to be look back one day and realize that my entire young adult life was spent playing Angry Birds on the iTouch. The studying I do now seems lame and cushy in comparison, but if I persevere, I can eventually grow and become someone who has the skills and knowledge to do more.