It has sometimes been suggested that we might be better off if we would forget the past and move on. It seems that the more painful, the more complex, or the more challenging the memory, the more quickly we are encouraged to “let bygones be bygones,” to “get on with life,” to “let it rest.” But rarely are those same misguided words of advice offered when memories are pleasant and joy-filled. And when met with a history that has both pain and joy, we often desire to rewrite the pain or redact it from history books and focus instead on the positives as we perceive them. True, yes?
The desire to avoid that which is difficult or painful is a natural act of self-preservation, but let’s not pretend that it is either helpful or healthy. We need to remember, to tell the stories of the past, to commemorate the good, the bad, and the horrifying because they are a part of us and provide the lens through which to understand our present. We cannot treat history as something that is static, or as a series of single, isolated events without any ripples that reach out to impact our life today.
— Marcus Garvey
As much as we’ve tried to rewrite history or forget some aspects of it, humans also have always desired to mark the passing of time. In the midst of what may seem like the unpredictability of life, we have sought to mark the natural rhythms of life, the rising sun and its setting, the changing seasons, births, and deaths. All of these commemorations have provided us with roots; they have shaped our sense of who we are, our identity. In turn, our identity has helped us build relationships with others and relate to the outside world. So we write history books, hold commemorative events, and tell stories so we don’t forget, because in forgetting we lose something of ourselves and the lessons from generations past.
Rachael Freed, founder of Life-Legacies, writes, “We tell our stories to transform ourselves; to learn about our history and tell our experiences to transcend them; to use our stories to make a difference in our world; to broaden our perspective to see further than normal; to act beyond a story that may have imprisoned or enslaved us; to live more of our spiritual and earthly potential” (“The Importance of Telling Our Stories,” The Huffington Post, November 17, 2011, www.huffingtonpost.com/rachael-freed)
In the months and years ahead let us continue to be honest in our remembrances. Whether we commemorate the Reformation, the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation, the anniversary of your local church, or this journal’s, let’s use those opportunities to tell the entire story. Underscore the event’s significance through discussions, the sharing of stories, and moments of lament and thanksgiving. Let us look honestly at our past and recommit to what is still true, acknowledge how past sins are still impacting the present, work toward restitution and reconciliation wherever possible, and hold ourselves accountable for the work that is yet to be done.