At this moment, we are sandwiched between two anniversaries. The first is January 25, which is the 256th birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns who wrote "Auld Lang Syne", sung every New Years Eve. That song reminds us to raise a toast to old friends and days gone by. To remember them with "a cup of kindness."
The other anniversary is January 27, marking 70 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. However, facing that memory is more a duty than a celebration. It is a painful obligation to look back at something so horrific that words, let alone songs, fail.
Between those two days is the day I find myself writing this short blog, because it is today that two reminders arrived by email. The first is a reminder of a photography exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine arts depicting the horrors of the Holocaust. Montreal received the third greatest number of survivors of Auschwitz after Tel Aviv and New York City.
The other email I received had the subject line: "Al Sharptons [sic] Poor Michael Brown - Damn Animals" and was sent by someone I barely know (thank goodness). It contains a video of a young man -- supposed to be Michael Brown, killed by a Ferguson, Missouri policeman -- brutally knocking down a defenseless older black man. On December 12, 2014 the Washington Post noted the video and confirmed that the young man depicted was not Brown. Nonetheless, the vicious message is still circulating. Those who continue to re-send that "blast" are mindless people who would rather spew their racist hatred than take time to think or check facts.
This set of contradictory experiences brings to mind William Faulkner's 1949 dictum that "The past is never dead; it is not even past." I'm reminded of the importance of memory and how easy it is to avoid facing painful thoughts and feelings.
There is no question that it hurts to think. There also is no question that it is dangerous not to think. We all have parts of our personality attracted to non-thought, but the hatred I'm describing here goes far beyond the simple wish to evade responsibility. Faulkner -- that truly southern man -- wrote in 1939 that if he had to choose between grief and no feelings he'd choose grief.
So where do we go from here? What do we choose to remember, if we make any choice at all? Are we really "one nation indivisible?"