One of my favorite underrated songs from the musical "Hamilton" is "History Has Its Eyes on You."
I've always been a sucker for movies, books and songs that break the third wall and seem aware of their existence as a form of entertainment. This song does just this, as the 19th century characters in the scene seem aware that they are being watched and noticed by future generations, and in a more literal sense, the 21st century audience.
That sense of being watched, noticed, and scrutinized by future generations is what I am feeling lately about my own life. I have this strange feeling, all the time, knowing that the phenomenons I am experiencing in my everyday life will be featured prominently in the history textbooks that my children and grandchildren will someday read.
I subscribe to the daily "New York Times" newsletter (which I recommend; it's free and keeps you up to date on the current news). I remember scrolling through the emails every day over the first few weeks of January, and I kept seeing this one recurring topic: coronavirus.
There was the word, a few updates, and at the very bottom, a death toll. Within the period of a month, I saw that toll climb, from a dozen to a hundred to a thousand. I saw the affected area on the map spread, from one tiny dot in the middle of China, to Japan, out to other parts of Asia, and then finally, one singular case in the U.S.
I remember looking at one death toll graph, in particular. That red line stayed at one death for about a week. Then it was two, then five, then 20. It climbed exponentially, rising off the screen. I remember thinking at that moment, over a month ago, "Holy shiitake mushrooms, this is big."
I saw it unfold in my head. A world epidemic, spanning every country, causing thousands upon thousands of deaths. A new SARS, a new AIDS, something that the world won't recover from for a long, long time. That was before it came to Seattle and then to Lake Oswego. That was before it was close and personal and every classmate with a cough was an outcast.
But I knew then how big it would be, and I know now how much bigger it's going to get. My kids will ask me about the epidemic of 2020, how old I was, where I was, did I get it, did anyone I knew get it. I don't know what I'll have to tell them.
Like the coronavirus, the election of 2020 will also shape the history of the nation, as every election does. The person in charge will determine the fate of the nation for the next four, possibly eight, years. It will certainly set records, as no matter which of the remaining old, white, male candidates is elected now, they will be the oldest president ever elected. The sitting president is actually the youngest of the frontrunners, which is terrifying. Note to self: Research vice presidential candidates as well as presidential candidates.
The election of 2020 could go down in the history books the same as the election of 2000. The resulting term will bring new changes, new crises, new problems and new solutions. The election of 2020 will be the first I get to vote in, and the four years of the next president's term will perfectly coincide with my four years of undergraduate study. I will be in college, reporting on news and politics, in one of three different possible futures depending on the results of the primary and the election.
It's weird to think that the actions of my generation and possibly myself are under the watching eyes of history. My present and my future will end up in the coming generations' history textbooks. My children and grandchildren will someday come to me with a history project or a page open in their textbooks, point at the page, and ask me to tell them about it.
What history writes about these pivotal moments in our future will depend on us. We are the ones controlling our own actions. Will you get coronavirus and infect another dozen people? If you wash your hands regularly, probably not.
Who will become president in November and control the fate of the nation for another four years? Depends on who you vote for.
History has its eyes on us. It will praise us for our accomplishments and demonize us for our mistakes. Future generations will look back on us and ask, "What did you do that made a difference?"
The history books aren't yet written. Right now, they're not history, but possibility. It's up to us to shape that possibility, leave behind the best possible history for the future generations, and pave the way for them to shape their own possibilities.
Kaleigh Henderson is a senior at West Linn High School.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.