History Lessons

One of the most important lessons of history is the very amnesia with which we approach events. Over and over, civilization seems doomed to repeat the same mistakes, as if remembering what happened the last time a particular action took place is beyond human capability.Like many people, I grew up surrounded by ghosts-- not just the people pictured in old family photographs I found in boxes and trunks, but history itself. My parents rarely talked about the past. They put their faith in being connected to ideas. There were books everywhere in our house, including many that no one ever looked at, as far as I could tell; my father, in particular, liked to collect things. He also took me to museums and told me stories about what we saw.These experiences are clearly a significant part of what has formed me as a storyteller.The impulse to collect—to order the world in some way, to invent a system, make my own archives—is reflected in many of these pieces, as is the idea of the eternally recurring cycles of time, and how we fit ourselves within them.

The curious, Christian idea of forgiving and forgetting—almost impossible, in my experience— might serve us better if we remembered, instead. Forgive, but recall the events and their consequences. That way, maybe mistakes won’t be repeated.