The Art of Remembering ~ and Forgetting

Some things are difficult to remember. Other things are difficult to forget. And how is it that we have become so good at remembering what we need to forget and forgetting what we need to remember?  ~ What we remember and what we forget can make all the difference.

The Wall ~ Belfast ~ Northern Ireland Photo Credit: Dawn

The Wall ~ Belfast ~ Northern Ireland
Photo Credit: Dawn

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of traveling in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. Walking through the sectarian neighborhoods in Belfast, I was met at every turn by Loyalist murals, signs, and graffiti that remembered an event which occurred over 400 years ago – The victory at the Battle of the Boyne, 1690, between William III and King James II. In the Nationalist neighborhoods, the events that are remembered are those from “The Troubles” of the recent past which culminated in the Good Friday agreement of 1998. I wondered ~ Is all of this remembering useful? Or would forgetting perhaps help to nurture the fragile peace?

Graffiti ~ Belfast ~ Northern Ireland

Graffiti ~ Belfast ~ Northern Ireland
Photo Credit: Dawn

I rounded a corner and was struck by a snippet of wisdom scrawled on a wall: “Irish, forget the past.” ~ Does not this speak to all of us? What is gained by holding onto a painful past? Are we not in danger of becoming its permanent victims?

A few days earlier, while meandering through Derry, I had seen a mural  in the Bogside neighborhood that could have been in Palestine ~ it was a military jeep and a resister shrouded in smoke (or tear gas?).

Mural ~ Derry ~ Northern Ireland Photo Credit: Dawn

Mural ~ Derry ~ Northern Ireland ~ Photo Credit: Dawn

But it was later that day that I saw the mural that connected the dots ~ Free Gaza-Free Derry ~ And I remembered the words of Nelson Mandela in 1997 on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” ~ We are all connected ~ so deeply connected!

I was transported back to my time in Palestine and Israel. I remembered being exposed to the horrors of the holocaust, so vividly portrayed at the Jerusalem museum, Yad Vashem. I remembered changing the names and connecting the dots.

Exiting Yad Vashem Photo Credit: Public Domain

Exiting Yad Vashem ~ Jerusalem
Photo Credit: Public Domain

Upon exiting, one is presented with an amazing view of the fertile valleys and surrounding hills that are now Israel. Our Israeli guide told us that on the adjacent hill there used to stand several Palestinian villages which Israel destroyedin 1948. And then he asked a poignant question: “Why are we so good at remembering some things and yet so good at forgetting others? Should there not also be something on that hill which commemorates a part of the Palestinian story? And shouldn’t there perhaps be a bridge or connection between the two?”

And there are yet more dots to connect … Here in Canada we have our own painful past. Last night a group of us sat in circle with a First Nations elder, opening to wisdom and story, preparing for our journey next week to the Hobbema reservation to be witness to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is travelling our nation, listening to the painful stories of our first nations brothers and sisters who experienced the horrors of the residential school system.

The Strength of the Survivors Residential Schools ~ Canada Photo Credit: Public Domain

The Strength of the Survivors ~ Residential Schools ~ Canada
Photo Credit: Public Domain

Both the government of Canada and the United Church of Canada have issued a formal apology ~ Important, yes. Helpful, yes. But only words ~ Now we have a chance to hear others into speech ~ to open our hearts and hear the pain. The hope is that in opening our hearts to another’s pain we can find our common humanity ~ we can reach across the divide and take each other’s hand ~ As the First Nations elder said last night, “The best that you offer can join the best that we offer, and together we can move forward.”

Peace Sculpture ~ Derry ~ Northern Ireland Photo Credit: Dawn

Peace Sculpture ~ Derry ~ Northern Ireland
Photo Credit: Dawn

And move forward we must! Past pain cannot justify current behaviour! ~ Will we allow the past to control the present and dictate the future? ~ The past is passed. The present is now. The future is open ~ Will the infinite possibilities that are tomorrow be constricted by the pain of the past? ~ Will the hope of reconciliation be dashed by holding to past hurts? ~ Or will our common pain, our common humanity, our common destiny ~ our love for our children and our planet ~ our love for ourselves and our neighbor ~ pave the way for a new tomorrow? ~ The choice is ours! ~ May we be willing to hear each other into speech ~ May we hone the art of forgetting what should be forgotten and remembering what needs to be remembered ~ until justice and love shine in all that we do!

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4 Responses to The Art of Remembering ~ and Forgetting

  1. Ruth Blaser says:

    Dawn, you help us lean into the BIG questions of our time, with compassion and insight. Thank you for writing.

    I have just finished reading two of Richard Wagamese’s books. Keeper n’ me, and Indian Horse. His writing is captivating. The story clear. Not easy to share or tell these stories of pain, and resilience, but an essential part of the healing journey

    Glad you are going to Hobbema to listen and bear witness.


  2. Bob Hetherington says:

    Thanks for sharing these pictures and words. I too was struck by the contrasting messages in Derry and Belfast. Our Derry guide was a young city councillor, a nationalist, who helped us understand both the past and the present situation.

  3. Margie Zachariou says:

    I really like the message of ‘hearing’ one another, and pushing toward reconciliation…that is true truth and justice…mercy triumphing over the ‘eye for eye’ justice.

  4. Audrey Brooks says:

    Elder Taz Bouchier, gave a prayer for reconciliation among First Nations people and the perpetrators of the destruction of the aboriginal people, and violation of their basic human rights. She spoke at the 5th Genocide Memorial Service, held annually at 9916-154 Street in Edmonton, at 1 p.m. on the third Sunday of July, This service is a witness to the violence humanity does to each other in the name of greed, slavery, gender identity, sexual exploitation, and appropriation of indigenous lands. ” Humanity Stands in a River of its own Blood” (author unknown) Taz will be at Hobema, and I hope to be there too.
    Rev. Audrey Brooks, Unitarian Chaplain, Interfaith Chaplains Association U of Alberta

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