The Smithsonian just came out with a book called The History of American in 101 Objects. They also had a full issue of their magazine devoted to said objects, if a bit more briefly than the book clearly does. Flipping through the magazine, I got caught up a moment on how many modern things were there. "How can it be history," I thought, "if it's modern?"
Well, silly me. Just because we're living it doesn't mean it isn't history.
Years from now, something that happened today will be history. Hell, something is history as soon as it's happened. Whether it's important history is to be decided later, obviously.
Some things are apparent. When Buzz Aldrin et. al. were on the Moon missions, it was history. They knew they were making history, living it. Funny thing: one of the 101 objects is Neil Armstrong's Space Suit. Another member of my household left the magazine folded open to that, and I happened to lay the book I'm reading, Moondust by Andrew Smith, on top before I took notice. I'm not very far into it, but the introduction was fantastic, and the first chapter is also delivering. I scored it in the library book sale for $1 the day after I decided I was writing a Moon novel. How's that for the universe taking notice?
I actually met one of the Moon landing astronauts, when I was 6 or so. He came to the Jersey Shore Medical Center, where my grandmother was a secretary in the Pathology department. I'm not really sure why the astronaut came to the hospital in 1989 or so, but whatever. The program was supposed to be for children 8 and older, but my dad lied so I could go. I didn't realize the importance, not really, but he realized for me. I'm thankful.
It was Charles "Pete" Conrad, and I have an autographed photo of him that my grandmother framed for me. He died in 1999 due to injuries from a motorcycle accident and is buried in the Arlington Cemetery. He was the commander of Apollo 12, and he was one of the first people to board Skylab.
One of the things I learned from American Gods, which I'm able to generalize a great deal, is a quote from Herodotus: "Call no man happy until he is dead." The notion being you can't take stock and make decision of an entire life until it is over (I may have paraphrased. I don't think it changes the point of the quote if I did.) I have, in the course of dog message board discussions, said "Call no man healthy until he is dead." Because that's the thing: if people are breeding dogs for health, they don't exactly know the "final results" until after a dog has lived his or her entire life. Some Dobermans drop dead as early as 2 or 3 from DCM. Others don't until they're 6 or 8. Some live a great deal longer. Some get cancer, some get bloat. But you don't know, not really.
But you don't know about anything. You just try to do the best you can.