Saturday, December 23, 2006

how can the forgotten forget

"The labor, of course, is in the unrelenting struggle to banish the countless destructive thoughts that plague our minds and restrain them beneath that cloud of forgetting. This is the suffering.
All the struggle is on the human’s side in the effort he must make to prepare himself for God’s action, which is the awakening of love and which he alone can do."

The Cloud of Unknowing
, chapter 26

When those who have suffered- either individually or corporately- capably embrace their histories, the beneficiaries abound. The effect is likened to casting stones into a body of water, with the rings of rippled water reaching incalculable distances. Lives filled with generous acts affect those who reach others, and results become the kind of contagion that serves as antidotes to this culture fraught with disingenuousness and cruelty. Simply put, the benefits of learning from one’s (or one’s community’s) history opens doors to choose not to repeat it, and even to keep vigilance lest others not repeat tragedies we have known first-hand.

This seems so very elementary, yet barely anyone can assemble the simplest equation. Many descendants of the diabolically decimated population of European Jews are numbered among legal defenders of civil rights and liberties. One of the most noteworthy human achievements of embracing this principle in the past century was the humble perseverance of the French Huguenots of Le Chambon Sur Lignon, recalling their ancestors’ torture and persecution while openly defying the Vichy and Nazi regimes. It seems so basic and mindful, but hardly anyone will dare to practice a response to the injustices they have seen and known. As a result, the abused will abuse, the persecutors will persecute, and those who crave mercy refuse to offer it themselves. The tragic chain of neglect perpetuates as its own toxic contagion, leaving ripples of aggrieved human souls in its wake. The chain breaks when conscious choices are made to transcend malice. Having known only glimpses of goodness is all the more reason to make generosity one’s life mission.

But what of the unscrupulous? How about those whose relational burns have brought them to calloused, amoral cynicism? Whether unwittingly or knowingly, these become the carriers and spreaders of interpersonal disease. Those who have witnessed this can equate the experience with forms of addiction: individuals need either extraordinary personal strength, or the positive reinforcement of community, in order to stay "on the wagon" of healing and renaissance lest there be relapse and the all-too-inviting proverbial slippery slope pulls the person backwards. The betrayed too easily become betrayers themselves. Fear, it seems, is so much easier than faith. Sardonism sadly insulates us so much better than the disarming vulnerability of hope. My personal experiences of unjustified affliction bids that I comprehend and emerge in a spirit of forgiveness and confident hope. Optimism, but a cautious optimism. Assuredly the proof that I am not amoral is that I am completely certain that I would never dishonor another human with the weapons that have been fired on me. That, dear reader, is a promise.

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