When I was a sophomore in high school, my history teacher asked us to write essays on the subject, "Why do we study history?" It was a good question to ask us, as I think most of us had, by that point, long since entered the realm of "WHY do we have to learn these dates? History is boring." If Harry Potter had been around then, we would totally have identified with his view of history classes.
I cannot now remember what I said; I don't guess it was very interesting. Yet the question has stuck with me throughout the years - particularly when I became a history major in college and studied a medieval monastic community known as the Gilbertines. I also had to take historiography classes then, and started seeing all the varied reasons people study history (and the varied ways they study history).
Motherhood apparently offers yet another view on the question. Yesterday, we were telling our three year old about being children once ourselves, she looked thoughtful, then asked, "Where was I when you were a boy, Daddy?" "Well, you weren't born quite yet."
It was clear that was disturbing to her a bit. How could she not have existed? She exists now! The mystery of life is very present to her... The question made me realize that I don't think about where I was before I was born anymore. That's actually rather a scary question, in much the same way that contemplating death is for most adults. It seems like a great nothingness.
Then I realized: I don't really think of World War II or the Protestant Reformation or the patristic period as "before my time" anymore. I know I wasn't there, but it has still become part of me and who I am. History found a way of creeping in and becoming my story.
Our three year old is starting small: first we'll tell her the family history, about Mommy and Daddy and Grandmas and Grandpas. But then, I don't know, shall I pull out some of my medieval stories? ;-)