Just returned from 3 days from the conference Historical Justice and Memory: Questions of Rights and Accountability in Contemporary Society at Columbia University.
After hearing roughly 48 presentations, I'm left with a full brain, a touched heart, plenty of questions and some exciting ideas. In contexts where oppression still rules, clearly historical dialogue must be allowed, elaborated and evolved. Marginalized narratives, stories, perspectives that exist only in whispers and between trusted friends may need to become public if such atrocities and the terror of oppression are truly put to bed.
And yet, must we mark every grave? Are we to remember every one who ever died? So many deaths appear to us a tragic..whether we die from a car crash, a mass murderer, starvation, malaria, suicide, cancer...Other than dying do something truly heroic, or doing something we love, or quietly in our old age surrounded by loved ones..most deaths can seem tragic. So, if we commemorate every site of every "tragic" death, will there be any room on our planet for life? Each year there are increasingly more dead than living. "Doesn't everything die at last and too soon?" - asks poet Mary Oliver.
How can we then create sites that help us define who we want to be (loving not hateful) but do not leave us so mired in the past we feel unable to enjoy this moment?
So, I'm taken now by the idea of creating commemorative spaces that bring or support life...gardens, community arts centers, safe houses, schools..rather than ones that show tortured souls carrying the weight of humanity's shortcomings.
And, in this sense, I prefer to see the transformation a site of pain (mass grave, former Concentration Camp) into one that reflects our better, more evolved, more delicate understanding of life. As I crunched silently through the snow at Treblinka's death camp in Poland, I thought..."Let's bring U2 here and have a concert." Let's reclaim the space and transform it...not just commemorate it. Let's not leave this heavy vibration in the air...let's give these once tortured souls a good time.
Let's transform the Dying slave back in to David.