As I was reading this BBC story about the world’s oldest siblings I was struck by a pang when I realised that, old as they are, they were both born in the 20th century. I had a strange longing to know that there are still people alive who were born in the 19th century.
Fortunately, we denizens of the 21st century have Google to answer our every whim. It doesn’t matter whether you term it ‘the 1800s’ or ‘the 19th century’, Google knows what you mean. Bless.
The short answer is Yes, there are people still living who were born in 18-something. I know this because Wikipedia says so, although the page is peppered with obstreperous ‘citation needed’ remarks. I love this page, and shall visit it often.
I know that I am not alone in seeking reassurance that these living memorabilia still exist. Again, I know this from Google. If you start typing the search string ‘Are there people still alive…’ Google will, in its usual helpful way, try to anticipate your wants. In addition to ‘…from the 19th century’, the most popular ways to finish this question appear to be ‘…from the Titanic’, ‘…from World War I’, ‘…from the Holocaust’ and ‘…from World War II’. Gradually the number of ‘no’s will overtake the ‘yes’es.
I don’t know why I care about this; it is highly unlikely that I shall ever meet these relics (I use the term with the greatest of respect). Still, somehow it comforts me to know that the possibility exists. I fear the immense loss of experience that will occur when these fragile lives flicker out. By virtue of having lived then, or there, or thus, they link me to my past, to my ancestors, to my origins. I am selfish this way. But also unselfish. I fear the onset of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I don’t want the human race to have to re-endure the cataclysms it has undergone if we can avoid them. If one elderly survivor of the Holocaust could inspire a flicker of horror or compassion in one young mind then a generation may be able to be saved.
So what are the events of our time that future generations will yearn to hear our testimony of? There is, of course, 9/11, and I’m sure the Americans will do a good job of documenting every person who escaped from the towers and the rest of it. The English media may dwell on the World Cup-winning football team – first the team will die off, then everyone who was in the ground, and then everyone who was alive when it was won… so it will go on. There are so many bad and good things that every person could nominate their own private Titanic. I, for example, will grieve when the crew of the original Starship Enterprise are no longer available for attendance at conventions, having been launched into their final ashy orbits. It’s not up there with World War I, but I will note it.
I’ll leave you with that bittersweet thought.