Forgetting to Remember

76 years and two days ago*, Japanese fighter planes bombed Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu. Just two days ago I went about a normal graduate student day, writing fiercely about saints and early Christian monastics and interfaith dialogue using storytelling as a model for transformation. I took breaks and went on Facebook. On the right side of the news feed, the subjects trending included the college football playoff, more heartbreaking news about assaults on young women (this time in academia, very close to home), the terrifying fires in my city of birth, and something about bitcoin.

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Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

I don’t remember seeing anything at length about what happened 76 years ago. 76 isn’t a particularly meaningful anniversary- we tend to recognize milestones in fives and tens and fifties. The next day, more news appeared about Baker Mayfield as the Heisman trophy favorite despite his controversial behavior on and off the field. I went to my last day of classes for the quarter with a small feeling of triumph- I made it! Only five papers and an oral presentation to go. I looked forward to baking as motivation to get my writing done. After my last class I sat and chatted with some religious studies undergraduates and laughed about the sassy monks we read about this week. I went to my professor’s office hours and discussed my thesis for the paper. In passing, he used the phrase “I forgot to remember” to describe the woes of historians’ work. I kept repeating the phrase in my mind over and over.

What we forget is much more than what we remember, due to limitations of human memory. What we forget to remember is due to something else- pain, trauma, events we don’t want to relive. A recent article detailed why victims of sexual assault often describe the assault inaccurately- trauma often forces them to push the events out of their minds simply to go on living. They subconsciously forget to remember- though there is no such thing as erasing.

A couple years ago I was watching Archer with my divinity school classmates. The crude yet intelligent humor appealed to us amidst the brutal winter night. Archer, the brash but charming hero, finds himself in a situation involving a Japanese gang. Archer’s mother saves the day- she prevents the gang from wreaking havoc and at the end shouts, “that’s for Pearl Harbor!” The line is meant to be funny because as we say, it’s not “too soon.” Time passes and heals. Except that last part isn’t really true. Pain passes down through generations. We forget to remember atrocities because history is often about what we’ve forgotten. What about the two atomic bombs that killed over 300,000 people instantly and left years of radiation illness lingering for generations to suffer? It can be hard to connect with places and times far away, but progress is a dangerous assumption. We can’t forget to remember those before us suffered as many suffer today, from oppression and supremacy. Time can heal, but healing isn’t forgetting.

 

 

*Note: this post has been published retroactively

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In My Grandmother’s Footsteps

The first road trip I ever took was not by car, but by train. My mom, grandma Mary, and cousin Meghan flew all the way to New Hampshire to help me pack my room after my freshman year at St. Paul’s, and we began our journey. We stopped in Philadelphia, Chicago, Santa Fe, and finally arrived back in Los Angeles, weary but fulfilled. Grandma Mary and I both agreed that Santa Fe was our favorite. Not only was the food unbelievable, but the colors everywhere astounded us. Every building, facade, and even road seemed like a “pow!” to the eyes. We loved the smells and the art and the fantastic desert all around us. To this day, Santa Fe and Tucson are two places I feel completely at home. The last time I was in Tucson, I wrote a letter to my grandma every night, even though she has been gone for a few years now. I told her about the cacti and the dry heat, and the house that we stayed in. The owner described it as “living on the edge of things.”

Teddy Roosevelt National Park

I’ve been on the road for a week now, and every day has felt stunningly long. From Boston to Cleveland to Chicago to Minneapolis, the terrain has changed from city night lights to plains and now forest over the last three days in North Dakota and Wyoming. In Medora, North Dakota, I hiked the vast trails across Teddy Roosevelt National Forest and spent the night in an old west town complete with a saloon. In the evening, the air grew cooler and even fresher. Today I passed through South Dakota and almost immediately ascended a mountain at the Wyoming border, which would eventually lead to the Devil’s Tower National Monument. Devil’s Tower is the first ever national monument, and an extremely sacred place to several American Indian tribes. I watched the sun set over the gigantic volcano remnant as crickets chirped and I read about maps.

Devil’s Tower

Since arriving at the National Forest, I have been feeling a subtle longing for the house in which my grandma Mary lived in Lake Isabella, California. We called it “the lake,” and a few times a year, my family and my mom’s brothers would fill the house for a week or so. The lake house was “on the edge of things.” Everyone ended up sharing beds and only two bathrooms, and during the day we would hike out to the lake and set up chairs, coolers, and life vests. We liked to float in them after we felt too tired from jumping off rocks or swinging from trees into the water. Several moments over the course of the last few days have given me pause, like the taste of the air after a quick and intense rain shower or the sound of running shoes crunching on gravel on a dirt path. “Just like the lake,” I repeat.

If this road trip has taught me anything so far, it is that I find sacred in physical place and space. My senses bring back memories of grandma Mary and I speak to her. “You’d love this view,” I whisper. “This night sky reminds me of you and when we used to sit under it roasting marshmallows.” It’s amazing how much our senses remember and how connected they are to our emotions. I’m glad my grandmother is still with me, even if only in my footsteps.