I think my political hangover is about come to an end. I still can’t help talking nonstop about the election, but it is getting to be less and less. I have wept for joy and relief, laughed, gotten sad about the hatred, bigotry, racism, and homophobia that still exist, but mostly just marveled at the enormity of it. Now it is time for me to put some thoughts down about what all of this has meant to me.
I was born in the late ’60s. For me the world has been tinted by national events that for the most part have been negative – obviously there have been good times and great times, but I am talking about those singular moments when you say “I remember where I was when…” I remember where I was when I heard that we had invaded Iraq the first and second time, where I was when hostage were taken during the Olympics, and of course where I was when I heard about 9/11. The only exception I can think of is the Berlin Wall which was an amazing thing, but to me it was fairly remote and to put it mildly hasn’t effected my life like the other events. Ah yes, another one just came to mind – when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. But, this election is one of the few times where I can say “I remember where I was…” to something that is so powerful and positive that it almost eclipses all else. And more importantly to me my daughter will be able to say it to her grandchildren.
In listening to all the conversations on the radio on race and what this election has meant to black Americans it seems that older generations are still more skeptical about how far we have come in turning the corner. And it is here where I think that forgetting vs remembering enters into the dialog about how we as a nation react to certain events. I have to digress a bit. My boss has been educating me about how the French people are still bitter about losing to the Romans low these many thousands of years later. This has colored their national temperament and made them more pessimistic. I will leave it up to him to comment on the French (he is French after all and I am not). But it has been often pointed out that America is a nation of amnesiacs when it comes to history and those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But maybe those who remember history are doomed to repeat it. Maybe it is the very quality of our being able to forget history that has enabled us to move on.
Sure forgetting has brought about a range of problems with it; you could argue that a number of problems have been brought about by forgetting: from failing to honor promises to Native Americans to not using the lessons from the civil rights struggle in the ’60s to fight the civil rights issue of our time – same sex marriage. And maybe what I am talking about is forgiving rather than forgetting, but it seems like there is an element of both in each. Forgetting has, to a certain extent, allowed us to heal instead of dwell on the pain. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has a greater understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to see what role remembering and forgetting had to play in the healing of South Africa.
Whatever the case, we need to have a little bit of each – remembering and forgetting – in order to not repeat mistakes but not get stuck in a negative feedback loop either. And the understanding of that duality is what has really impressed me about Obama. Our president elect seems to really get the nuances of not just race, but a wide range of other issues such as personal responsibility vs. helping each other.
Hopefully tomorrow I can write some more about asking us to serve.