I recently read an article in my local newspaper about two women, one French and one American, who are considered to be the oldest humans on the planet. Both are 115 years old. The article emphasized how much history these two women have experienced in their many years on this earth. It struck me that we have many people in our communities who have lived through the signature events of the 20th Century. If we listen to their stories, they can put a human face to those events. They can bring history to life.
Just one example is a 97-year-old friend of mine. Here is his story of a particularly important event in his life:
When I was a kid, my father was a ranking member of the Labor Party in England. I remember going with him to many of the Labor party meetings and there was one that I’ll always remember. All the top leaders in the labor movement in England were there. Because my dad had an important position in the Party, we had good seats near the front of the hall.
After several speeches from other labor leaders, the Right Honorable George Lansbury, who was the Member of Parliament from our area, rose and said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a very distinguished guest with us this evening.” Who do you think came in, right near where we were seated? It was Mahatma Gandhi!
Gandhi walked in wearing his little shawl, his sandals and carrying his walking staff. He was so close, I could have reached out and touched him as he walked to the stage. There were something like 12,000 people there that night and they all rose to their feet with an absolute roar of applause. It seemed like it would never stop.
After the applause died, Gandhi spoke for a while. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember him so clearly, his sandals and his staff. I actually saw and heard the man who was called the Great Soul, the man who did so much to stop the violence during India’s struggle for independence. It was such an incredible experience for me.
When my friend was telling me this story, he couldn’t recall exactly how old he was when he had this experience. With a bit of research, I was able to discover that, after Gandhi moved back to India as an adult, he only ever left India once and that was in 1931 when he visited Britain. That means that my friend was 13 years old when he saw and heard this great man. After 84 years, it is a memory he still treasures.