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History defined through a legend
When Joe DiMaggio passed away a couple of weeks ago, his death marked more than simply the passing of a great Americain legend. It was also a sign history is dying.
DiMaggio's death garnered extensive media coverage and sorrow from millions around the world. He was one of the greatest professional baseball players to ever don a uniform and had a grace unparalleled in the modern game. DiMaggio brought joy during the second World War. Put simply, he was an American hero. He lived the American dream, playing for the New York Yankees, was a soldier in the war and at one time was married to America's most famous pin-up, Marilyn Monroe.
However, it is not DiMaggio's death which saddens me. I'm too young to have ever seen DiMaggio play. I've never heard the crack of his bat or watched his brilliant play in the outfield other than in blurry black and white footage. All I really have are stories. My sadness is over what the death of the "Yankee Clipper" symbolizes.
In one of my classes, just after DiMaggio's death, my political science professor talked about the importance of history. Specifically, how one should learn as much as you can from people who have experienced life. I thought of all the stories DiMaggio must have had about his life which had gone unheard. It made me think about two of the most memorable stories in my life. Fittingly, one is of old time ball and the other, a war story.
I remember when I was about 11 or 12 years old, my Nonna (grandmother) told my brother and I about the days she used to work at a factory in downtown Toronto. She said she would skip out of work in the afternoon to watch games being played at the ball park on the Toronto Islands. Her voice always filled with excitement when she talked about watching Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play in some of their earliest games. The myth is Ruth hit his first home run in Toronto and even though she's never said it, I'll probably tell my kids she saw it happen.
I also have memories of talking to my Nonno (grandfather) about his time in work camps for Italians set up in Canada during the second World War. Looking at pictures of his unit in the camp and hearing stories about some of the other men he lived with for five years made me feel closer to history. He had been a part of one of the biggest events of the 20th century and if I had never asked, his memories of those years would have never been passed on. All it took was a simple question about a picture on the wall.
The world is more than simply a journey forward. We must take time to look back and reflect on what has happened in our past. Too often, people get caught up in the present and underestimate the importance of history. There are people in everybody's lives who have stories to tell.
Here's to you Joe DiMaggio. Let your legend stay close to our hearts, but most importantly let your death be a sign. We must learn more from each other in the short time we have. We owe it to those who have lived lives and want to tell a story. We also owe it to ourselves. The lessons in history may make for the most valuable and memorable moments in our lives.
John Intini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org