“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” ~ Ekhart Tolle.
One of the hardest lessons to learn, or at least to put into practice, is the art of living in the present. I can remember, even as a child, trying to prepare for new events by seeing them in my mind. Before we moved to Jamaica I had an expectation of what the place would look like. I was wrong. Often when I am going to visit someone at their home, I have already pictured the house in my mind. I am often wrong. If I am to perform some act, perhaps speak at an event, in addition to writing my speech, I am picturing the whole place, seeing everything in my mind’s eye. As I said before, I am often wrong.
When we are not busy imagining the future, we are wallowing in the past. We see things we have done, and somehow try to undo them, to get a ‘do-over’. Conversations, or especially confrontations with aggressive others, can be recreated in our minds, with the perfect snippy answer coming to us only as we are driving home. I used to have long monologues in my head (after losing out to my verbally adroit husband), mentally able to counter his arguments in the replay after being silent in his presence. I even rehearsed speeches which were never delivered, in the end it required too much effort.
The other day I saw a quote (author unknown) which said: ‘The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.” This may have been advice to give a couple, words to help make a marriage strong. But in reality they apply to any human interaction where there is any perceived wrong. Have you ever had that friend that tells the same story of some injustice meted out against them decades ago, and you have to say ‘Let it go’ – for you can see that the pain and anguish is rekindled with each telling. And yet as quick as you are to encourage your friend to release the anger (said to be hot coals which burn the one holding them), you may have just as many old coals that you love to touch to recall your own sense of wrongdoing.
And yet. There is a fear that if we forget the past, if we don’t learn from old mistakes, we will be doomed to repeat them. Can we learn from the lesson without having to relive it each time? After having had an unhealthy relationship in the past, it is tempting to treat a new partner as if they are guilty of all of the (perceived) sins of your previous affair. Fool me once keeps you mistrusting and unable to embrace the possibility of a different experience. Unfortunately, that lack of trust may actually create the new unhealthy relationship.
Although I am looking through the lens of personal relationships, I am also thinking of the history of racial animus in this country. One of the most dangerous assumptions to make is that the past is the past, and we are in a new, ‘post-racial’ era. Well, we may have deluded ourselves that the election of an African-American president was the evidence of that, but his successor (seems a poor choice of a word!) has certainly exposed the depth of racism that still exists. How can forgiving and forgetting be possible today?
I was always impressed at the decision by the post-apartheid government, led of course by the great Madiba, Nelson Mandela, to hold ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ hearings. They bravely decided that the path forward required a cleansing, an acknowledgment of the abuse, cruelty and inhumanity perpetrated upon the African people by the white minority. Rather than putting on trial and punishing those found guilty of the worst atrocities under Apartheid, they set up commissions to oversee ‘truth’ telling. Those who were known to have committed the most heinous acts were to be forgiven, so long as they publicly confessed to what they had done. For the first time it provided for the families of those tortured and killed the truth of what had been done to their loved ones. It was a catharsis, the opposite of the lies and denial and white-washing that had denied people the right to grieve openly in the full knowledge of the suffering and abuse.
It feels as if this country needs some similar kind of acknowledgment. When history books can minimize the horrors of the trans-Atlantic trade of people sold into slavery; when white people (I absolutely love the more descriptive ‘Wypipo’) can pretend that the current state of African-Americans in this country is not a direct result first of the reality of slavery and then the institutionalized racism which followed, even after the battles for ‘Civil rights’; it is obvious that there needs to be some mass re-education.
When a wrong was done in the past, the healthiest way to move forward is to forget. When the wrong is perpetuated, and there are fresh reminders every day, there needs to be a reboot, a correction, some truth and reconciliation. I read recently that one aspect of ‘white privilege’ is ‘white ignorance’. It is possible to live in the country (as a white person) and know nothing of the culture of those ‘others’. It is impossible for a person of color, any of those deemed to be ‘other’ to live without a deep knowledge of white people: their culture, their actions, their tendencies. We can no longer afford ignorance, the price is too high.
On this beautiful Friday morning, I hope you will keep yourself informed and help to inform others. I hope that you can start the day by letting go of those perceived wrongs that interfere with your full enjoyment of the present. I hope that we can all work together to make this world a better place for the human race. One blood. Have a wonderful weekend, Family! And Happy Emancipendence to my Jamaican crew!