In 1795 Paul Revere and Samuel Adams placed in the cornerstone of the Massachusetts Statehouse a time capsule. It was a small box, an inch and a half deep and about half the size of a piece of printer paper. Two-hundred and twenty years pass- neighborhoods are built, colleges, schools, churches; the Civil War, and its draft riots, begin and end. Flight is conquered; the automatic rifle is invented- the typewriter, telegraph, television, and the computer soon follow. Awash with war, the twentieth century sees the fall of empires, large and small, and the development of the atomic bomb. The Olympic Games, Watergate, Harry Potter, 9/11. Two and a quarter centuries after Revere and Adams laid the small box in a stone in the Capitol of the 6th state, it was opened.
It was January, 2015, in Boston, and there was a leaky pipe in the Statehouse. It must have caught the plumber by surprise to find a ten-pound time capsule from the first years of the United States. Lodged tightly in stone, it took workers seven hours to remove the box, and before a special ceremony held for the opening, another four to loosen the screws holding it fast.
Wearing protective gloves, members of the historical society found newspapers, coins, and even a rectangular silver plate engraved by Revere himself inside the capsule. The contents of the box were well preserved, and they provided a rare and candid glimpse at our not so distant past. The Samuel Adams and Paul Revere Time Capsule is to this day the oldest time capsule to have been discovered in the United States, and since 1795, certainly, the time capsule craze has exploded, and with good reason.
People have always found the idea of time fascinating. “We all ‘want to be here’ in one way or another” William E. Jarvis states in Time Capsules: A Cultural History. “That’s why some of us (try to) freeze ourselves alive to be thawed and revived in the era of our choice. That’s why people construct crypts, ‘time bombs,’ time capsules, and cornerstone deposits,” he goes on to say (152). To some degree, all people connect through a fascination with time. What will it be like in the future? What was it like in the past?
I am very drawn to time capsules, letters from the past, old newspapers, archives, journals and the like. Sometime I wonder: what will I be like in twenty years? Thirty? Fifty? So I write a journal, so my future self can look back, remember, and reminisce about those good old days when he wasn’t too feeble to walk or infirm with some terrible disease. But is this enough? Will looking back and saying “I remember that” be enough for me? Will it be enough of a connection? Will I be able to see how I have changed?
I’ve looked back to my journal from sophomore year. April first stands out. Chriss Liu and I had officially founded the Oracle that day. I wasn’t sure if it would succeed. It would be another two weeks before we released the first caption contest, and another year before we released the first printed copies. It’s a sentimental page for me, one that stands out. Even considering that, there are pages I flip by, and my matter-of-fact, almost captain’s log style record keeping isn’t exactly an emotional powerhouse to transport me back in time.
So what do I do to satisfy my time traveling urge? I write myself letters.
Every so often I’ll sit down at my computer, open my reference bookmarks, and click on FutureMe, a website that specializes in sending letters to the future. It works by allowing you to schedule the delivery of an email months, years, and even decades in advance. It’s a wonderful thing to send a message, and not just a page of events and happenings, to your future self – an emotional, personal, this-is-who-I-am-now moment letter that generates a real connection, rekindles lost thoughts, and brings old memories to the surface.
I’ve sent myself dozens of letters, including a simple one-line note declaring my confidence in the success of Team Sharpe in the 2015 Headmasters’ Society Games (we won, by the way), and a more detailed, emotional time capsule from when I didn’t make it onto JV Squash last winter.
More recently I’ve sent a letter to my college freshman self. I tell me about what I planned out for my college essays, where I’m applying, and what I’m excited about for my senior year. Who are my friends? What’s the weather? Simple things. What did they serve for lunch? Sometimes those little things get lost; it’s important to keep them. I ask me where I’m going to school, what classes I’m taking, and if I’ve met many new friends. I’ll probably be surprised when I get the email; I may have forgotten by then that I even sent it, and that’s why it is important in the first place.
People change, and people forget, but remembering sometimes is important, if only for a short while. Time capsules aren’t for everyone, but who you were five or ten years ago, and who you are now, and twenty years down the road are different, like it or not, and I believe it’s important to put that in perspective. With what they put in that small box Adams and Revere told us what was important to them, and what was important to history, reminding us that they weren’t just figures in a textbook, but people who lived and cared. I suggest writing yourself a letter, even if it’s just a short one sent two months into the void, because when you get it back, I bet you’ll be glad.
(Copyright 2016 Tys Sweeney)