Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The History We Carry in our Bodies


What always strikes me is how our shared history, though it spans back eons before our own births, is carried in its entirety in our cells. The grief and suffering of our ancestors moves in our marrow. It compromises our bones. At the 52-years delayed funeral of my grandfather, whom I never knew and whose remains slept in the fuselage of an F-86 Sabre Jet for half a century, buried beneath generations of dirt and debris and finally, a Chinese man's new garage, I wept.

I cried for what it meant to my grandmother to finally lay to rest the love of her life, to finally know without any doubt that he would not be coming back to her. I cried for what these remains, hidden from us for so many years, meant to my dad. How the whole of the ordeal could be distilled, for him, in a single sentence: "I grew up without a father." That is all. That is all.

"If you've never touched your dad, you know?" he said to me, almost asking my forgiveness for sending his hand out across the heap of human debris laid out before us in the Army identification laboratory; it was what remained of a man I never knew and who last touched his son before his infant memory could hold onto such momentous things. And yet the un-memory seemed in essence to be part of our shared consciousness, just as it was a part of our shared history, and together, we wept under the fluorescent lights of that laboratory, a line of military officials watching us from behind plate glass.


How we carry our history in us, at the cellular level. Oh. We are so hurt in so many ways. We inherit a litany of suffering and without an effort to the contrary, it becomes the score for our lives. What must it take to break such cycles? Of intolerance, of injustice, of violence and war?

We must muster more than idealism if we are to escape it. More than awareness and education. It must be at the heart of our consciousness, and our every action must be in defiance of what has come before us. We must refuse to act from a place of fear and judgment of the other. But where can the seed take root? In the heart of the one who judges? Can s/he be asked to have such courage? The courage to assume that this undefined "other" has an intention, however deeply buried or obscured, to unite rather than to divide, to heal rather than to destroy?

Conversely, how can that seed be cultivated in the one who has been judged? Can we ask him to open himself again to such abuse, in the vulnerability of this new found and untried trust? It is so difficult to know, as real as our intention might be. We want to be good. It is in us to love, but how, given the precedents, can we lay ourselves bare to what in all honesty could precipitate our own ruin?

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