My chiropractor is my hero. I never truly appreciated this until adulthood (I’ve been seeing him for all my skeletal/muscular complaints since middle school). And, truth, my admiration came from nowhere on a seemingly random day. I recently found myself in the midst of a minor car accident. No one was ireperably hurt and the car was easily fixed, but I walked away with some shoulder and back pain which meant a trip to the chiropractor. This is when a truth that had been creeping at the periphery of my consciousness hit me like a load of bricks.
He’s not just a chiropractor; he’s a philosopher; he’s a historian; he’s a sociologist. His office is situated toward the back of the building, framed by dark wood trim from a bygone era. Walking down the hall is like slipping through time to go see William Randolph Hurst or Harry Selfridge– to a time full of dark, oaky splendor with flashes of gold and cigar smoke. This is where he lurks, like Gatsby on the terrace above the frantic energy of a modern world.
He’s been wearing more bow ties, recently, making him look a little bit like Thomas Edison, or Mr. Chips. In fact, he is Mr. Chips, ensconced in an academic world, eccentric, disconnected. To talk to him is like attending a lecture from a lauded scholar with unpublished manuscripts on the most obscure topics.
He grins widely as you enter, introduced by the technician who had previously attached electrodes to your affected areas. For a moment, his features disappear into the crevices of his glee. He greets you, tells you to lie on the table and begins to massage at your neck, needing your shoulders at the base pausing only to crack your head to one side or the other. Sometimes it’s satisfying. Sometimes nothing happens and the disappointment comes on as strong as a perfunctory Christmas present or missed opportunity. Somewhere, deep in you soul, you are sorry for disappointing him, though you’re sure he doesn’t really care. He’ll try something else.
After what seems like a considerable stretch of time in silence, he explodes into conversation, finding something he knows you’d be interested in. If you’re like me, the conversation inevitably bends toward books and how books and writing are paramount to civilization. This is then followed by the fact that librarians were once as relied upon as Google is now. That they held the key to unlocking facts and information. But now we have Google.
You might suspect that he will then conclude that librarianship is a dying art, as useless as a person’s appendix in the complex system of their internal organs. You’re wrong. Just like his decor, he falls in reverence at the feet of decades past, harkening back to a time where scholarship was more widely celebrated and technology was simpler and less distracting. That’s not to say, though, that he believes life was somehow better in these previous eras. In truth, he has an Apple MacBook on his desk, assisted with an ergonomic device that tilts it forward just so. He also admits to reading more online than in books these days. To which I once replied with the painful truth that reading comprehension is severely limited by the glowing of a computer screen, that we are doomed to retain much less from an article we read online than if we were to read it in a newspaper or magazine (save yourself, stop reading, print this post out). At that, he grinned again, hearing something he hadn’t heard before, while nodding his head in agreement. I often enjoy this conversation, taking delight in those little moments that I can offer something to the conversation, giving him tidbits that he had never heard before. This moment doesn’t last long, however, as he counters, likens the screen to the campfires of the pre-modern era. The campfire, he explains, was a chance to sit down with elders and listen to the oral traditions of your society. People would become entranced with the flickering of the flames in front of them, transporting them into the worlds of the stories they heard. A similar thing happens when we replace that fire light with the light of a television screen–we become entranced and prone to vegetating in front of the never-ending flickering pictures from whatever show we’re binge-watching on demand that week.
Damn. I never really have the higher ground for long. Somehow, though, my type A personality is okay with this. He is the last remaining sage, making me feel like I’m forever learning and forever an eager university student, taking every last bit of information and holding it like my most cherished memories. He has a fan in me, though I’m sure he doesn’t realize it.
Here’s what he taught me: History is a progression. To study history is to compare every era to the one that came before. As modernists, we tend to compare previous eras to that in which we currently reside. No preceding decade ever measures up and is therefore irrelevant. Instead, we must view history as a living document, ever-changing, ever-evolving. To study and appreciate history is not to live in the past with all its casual bigotry and backwards technology, but to laude the human race at how far it’s come since then. We see our time as the most modern era of all, that we are more technologically advanced now than we have ever been. What we don’t realize, however, is that this was more likely the thought in previous eras. The automobile in its early incarnations is basic to us, but at one point, it was the epitome of technological advancement, as were the electric light and the telephone (basically anything that Maggie Smith marvels at on Downton Abbey). The idea of automatic machines was a great achievement not too long ago, and look at everything the machine has become.
History as progress. This is the important bit. This is what defines a society: do we evolve? Do we change? Do we adapt? Long ago, our values erred more towards explicit slavery and scientific discrimination. We may still have a ways to go, but we’ve come quite a ways already. We should be proud of that. But we shouldn’t rest on our laurels just yet. We are not perfect. In fact, perfection is quite a ways off. But, the fact remains that we can move forward; we can progress, evolve, binge, purge, adapt, survive. This is why I take exception to the notion of American exceptionalism, why I find it so offensive that patriotism has been redefined as blind admiration for our country (if “patriotism” can be redefined, why can’t “marriage”?). Perhaps it is better for us as patriots and scholars, to seek to change our country, society for the better. Perhaps we now need to meld scholarship into how we approach life and seek progress, rather than perfection (or bull-headed insistence that perfection is actually a thing).
Anyway, simple thoughts, for a simple evening. Have a good one.