On Saturday, my husband and I went downtown to the Huntington Theater to see Rock ‘n’ Roll by Tom Stoppard. The play, which follows the lives of several Czech and English characters from the Prague Spring in 1968 to the Vaclav Havel years, started me thinking about what it means to watch history roll out in real time. Whether it’s through theater or a history book, having the bird’s-eye view enables us to see how all the pieces snap together. Living through events day-by-day often leaves me wondering, “Where did this come from?”
It could be a statement about the way news is reported in the U.S. First a few details trickle out, but can be found only in the dark corners of a major newspaper. Then the news migrates to television coverage. Next thing you know, we’re hearing full-time about a major issue. I think of the situation in Darfur that way, but that’s hardly the only example. And I generally consider myself to be someone who pays attention.
I suppose the difficulty in sifting through details as we roll through history isn’t limited to international news. The sense that we won’t know where we’re going until we’re there is true on the domestic scene now as well. With the soon-to-begin Obama presidency playing out in real time, we may not be able to see where the country is headed. The Boston Globe asked several analysts to predict how President Obama will be viewed by history. We know the election has major significance, but we won’t know how significant until time has gone by.