We learn history in the schoolroom by rote. We learn dead dates, what happened on exact days three and half centuries ago in worlds and societies which we cannot begin to imagine, let alone understand.
Because histories are written by winners of conflicts, the stories of the losers begin to vanish – to be buried, or burned, or effaced, or mocked and vilified, or simply brutally ignored. They lost and they don’t matter. Their descendants must continue to pay the debts of those who did the losing.
Things… disappear. Or get misunderstood. Or get deliberately mis-told, misrepresented, propaganda-ised out of all truth and knowledge. History as fiction. History as irrelevance. Useful bits of history are retained and trotted out as necessary – perhaps as justification for atrocities where needed. Not-so-useful bits, the bits that could hurt those in power, are quietly sidelined. There are fewer voices who tell those stories and they get more and more whispery, translucent, ghostlike, until they begin to quite fade away.
Should the modern USA turn back and take a good hard look at its own history? At the fact that the ‘discovery’ of a New World was unequivocally an invasion from the Old? At how that invasion treated the Native American tribes who got in the new nation’s way? At what happened to the black people brutally kidnapped, enslaved and taken halfway around the world in horrifying conditions to toil on the plantations of the fledgling nation state? At what is happening at our borders today, and where all that came from?
Because it all matters in the end. Time isn’t made up of fungible puzzle pieces which you can fit in wherever you want to, or remove without leaving visible gaps if you re-join sundered ends in a different way. Time is a moving fluid thing and it has a memory – and sooner or later that memory will come back to bite you if you forget to pay it homage.
My roots lie in a place that is steeped in history. I can trace my family back to the 1100s, and they were probably there before THAT. I know who I am, where I come from, what made me, how I see things, why I believe what I believe.
I am not hidebound and I respond to the changes that time brings me – but I remember who my friends were, now and long ago, and what I owe them, and why I love them. Our past matters – our memories matter – it depends entirely on the individual if the time that has passed, is passing, is being used to harden old grudges or evolve into understanding and letting go.
Sometimes we need to apologize. Yes, even when it is difficult. Especially then. Sometimes we need to look back and realize that something that we are doing RIGHT NOW has its poisoned roots in something that happened ten years ago… thirty… eighty… two hundred.
The past is the past. It is over. Sometimes, under certain circumstances, it may be forgiven – but it is ignored and forgotten at our peril. Because it is on the past the we build the present, and the present is what we have to build the future. The past matters. It should not always be necessary to repeat it in order to learn its lessons.