4/3/2022: Thought Experiments & Gratitude

In which I ramble about what my life would have been like hundreds of years ago and realize it’s probably way better now.

If I were alive 150 years ago, what would I be doing? Members of my mother’s ancestors emigrated to Canada from Germany and then crossed into Michigan across the St. Clair River when it froze over one winter. I wonder what drove them to do that. It was after the Civil War ended. Maybe Canada didn’t have Tim Hortons yet. At any rate, they were farmers and remained so up until the time of my grandfather.

What about 500 years ago? I don’t have any family records that go that far back of course. Different branches of my family would be in Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany, and who knows where else. I also would have been a farmer or serf or some other kind of manual laborer. I’m a large man and my size and strength would have been useful on a farm. However, I’d probably be deaf.

I had a lot of ear infections as a child and seeing how little medical treatment common folk got back then, I imagine repeated infections of my ears would leave scar tissue in my ear canals and possibly on the drum itself. My vision also started deteriorating when I reach my teenage years, so my vision would be a little crappy too. I would have been a deaf, near-sighted farmer. Awesome.

I think it’s likely something similar would be the case for most of us, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Up until the Industrial Revolution, most people lived off the land. Perhaps there was the odd blacksmith, soldier, and merchant somewhere in my family line. My great-grandfather kept bees and sold honey in addition to farming. It’s too bad that family tradition didn’t pass down through the generations. Might explain why no one in my family is allergic to bees though.

I think about things like this, and I appreciate what I have today. My life is easy and comfortable. I get to live long enough to die from lifestyle diseases like diabetes and heart disease instead of from plague (fingers crossed), wars, and famine. Unfortunately, we still have people in the world dying from these same things that plagued our ancestors 500 years ago today. While I’m grateful for my lack of suffering, it’s unbearable guilt sometimes to realize my privilege and feel like I don’t deserve it. Because none of us really do. It’s all probability and taking advantage of a good situation.

I don’t know what the point of all of this was and apologize if you’ve read this far. I don’t really have anything poignant or insightful to add. I’m just grateful I have the ability to add anything at all. Thank you for reading.

What do you think you’d be doing if you lived in the past?

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