I wonder what creates a memory. When I wake in the morning, and there is nothing left to hold, nothing new to see, to comprehend, to learn, when there is nothing left to remember about time, will I really be awake or will I actually be dead? Is that the final samadhi I see before me, or just another aimless hallway lined with the disposable images of a past I watched while in repose in front of my television?
I spent the past week in the DC area, and went to the National Portrait Gallery one day. There we saw portraits of presidents, Civil War personalities and other American icons, like Jimi Hendrix and Gore Vidal, Jackie O. and Josephine Baker, Angela Davis and Katherine Hepburn. I remember a lot of the individuals, captured in paint pigment and photo emulsion, from my own lifetime. Here they are with the legends of a young nation, captured in time as if they too were cornerstones of proud nationalism and not temporary soda pop bubbles rendered into Styrofoam pylons supporting an age of plastic time. How Warholian!
So this is how history is written now. As 2007 slips into 2008, I guess we all need to pay better attention. The dimly lit Chinese restaurant on the neighborhood street corner, or the half-moon hanging over the leafless-tree that grows from the broken concrete stoop of a run down tenement, are all images I carry with me that – in some future context – could hold historical value, and those are only a couple of the ones my mind captured in the last 48 hours!
That anything from our living past can become grist for the historical mill is both ridiculous and overwhelming. For example, one could say it is ridiculous that 2007 could be remembered as a the year when a well run football team’s glory will overshadow the glaring mismanagement of a poorly run nation. Likewise, it is overwhelming that tragic events, from Darfur to Pakistan, can crack the shell of our otherwise oblivious Humpty Dumpty lives, so that by the time we muster our horses and men, we will have fallen off the wall, leaving the hungry inconsolably weak, the weak uncontrollably desperate, and the desperate unalterably dangerous.
I’m sorry. It’s hard not to be cynical. There’s a lot of possibility for 2008, though. I don’t know if hope alone is enough, or experience, or justice, but I do believe that we can move to heal the inconsolable, the uncontrollable, the unalterable, if we first resolve to heal ourselves.
Revolution only succeeds through resolution. The only way to create a new story is to commit to being a force for changing the current story.
Look at a recent picture of your family. Is there anything you could do to change the current story of your relationship to them?
Look at your bank statement. Is there anything you can commit to, to change the story of your relationship to money?
Look at your front lawn. Is there anything you can choose to do that will change your relationship to landscaping?
If you resolve to create change in your life in those or any small, personal area, then you can choose to play bigger in your next commitment. The new revolves when the old resolves. Rather than revering the past for its own sake, maybe we should venerate it only as the source for what we have become, are becoming, can become.
As we approach the fortieth anniversary of a notable year of joy and horror, it is appropriate to quote Bobby K. (also in the National Gallery) in his famous call to action, as a way to help us add context to history, “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were and ask why not.”
Happy New Year! Why not make it a historical one?