Most people who know me know my love of historical things. I enjoy flipping through magazines filled with images of old-timey stone cottages, reading classic books by authors such as those by Jules Verne, and watching old shows including the Three Stooges and Sanford and Son. When I have time on my hands, I’ll spend hours perusing various ancestry websites in hopes of adding another branch to my family tree. What brings me even greater delight though, is strolling through the seemingly endless aisles of a vintage shop and seeing history up close.
While miscellaneous trinkets are commonplace in most shops, sometimes you might come across an old gun, or even a grenade. Overall, antique weapons are a rare find, making them extremely valuable. Though at one time it was an unpopular hobby, collecting antique guns has peaked since World War II. One doesn’t need a special permit to lawfully purchase an antique gun, as the odds of anything bad happening are few. Sometimes, still, these antiquated weapons wreak havoc in modern times.
That was the case in a recent news story of a 12-year-old boy from Virginia who died after receiving extensive injuries from a hand grenade. It had been purchased nearly six months before from an antique store in North Carolina. Investigators have continued to look into the details surrounding the accident, and fear that other live grenades were sold from that same store. The tragedy that occurred, a day short of Christmas Eve, parallels history itself.
Where Danger Lurks
Just as people assumed the 76 year-old hand grenade wasn’t lethal, otherwise they wouldn’t have kept it as a souvenir, I wonder if many also assume the past has no real effect over the present — even the uglier parts of history. We say to ourselves along with S.E. Hinton’s Byron, “That was then, this is now.” After all, time heals all wounds—right?
Despite what we might tell ourselves, time alone can’t heal, and we find the present sometimes decides to “fester like a sore—and then run,” as Langston Hughes put it. January 6 is a day Americans are likely to never forget when the Capitol building was overrun by thousands of people. I’ll always remember how I felt as I watched it all unfold on the television screen, only 20 miles away from my home. I was taken aback by the sheer number of people packed on the stairs. What shocked me, along with most of America, was the fact that the police seemed nearly invisible. Later I would hear the often-repeated phrase, “we didn’t see it coming,” in response to the lack of preparation.
Yet there were hints of it coming, just as there were signs that the grenade was in fact live. Speaking of the deadly accident in Virginia, Bob Morhard, an explosives safety consultant said that typically, working grenades feel very heavy, whereas “inert grenades, having been cleared of the explosive material inside, often have a hole to ‘see in the cavity that it’s empty.’”
Clear as Day
While most people wouldn’t know to look for these traits, the warnings of the Capitol siege were much harder to miss. With an already tense political climate made manifest in countless news stories and social media posts, it is hard to fathom how there was any element of surprise. Unsolved issues of the past were simply waiting for the right moment to be made manifest. The result—a devastating turn of events that dumbfounded the entire world.
So, how can we keep ourselves safe from the past? By first facing it. We can’t reflexively put a stamp on it. Instead, we need to examine it closely and have those uncomfortable conversations. James Baldwin once said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Coming to terms with reality is the crucial step in promoting change. Although we can’t eradicate the events of the past, even if we pretend to, we can empty those “hand grenades” of their powder and save ourselves and future generations to come.