Listening to This American Life over the weekend I heard this phrase in the program:
"The past is always with us. It shapes us - and it can perfect us; if we learn how to use it properly."
This is such a potent idea for this particular time. Not only are we collectively confronted with our past, in the recent uprising in Charlottesville and the subsequent neo-nazi rallies planned around the country; we have also just experienced a total solar eclipse - a "resetting of our collective slate" as a friend of mine put it. There is no better time to leave the darkness of our past behind and step forward into the light. There is no better time to shine a light on the darkness of the past and change what we see in our future.
The past can be an ugly thing to face, especially our heritage of slavery, racism, oppression, and violence. It becomes painful and alarming when hateful ideas that we thought we'd largely left behind are springing up in our towns and on the news. But our past is still with us and we have to learn from it and use it to grow and improve. The divisive rhetoric of this current administration and the white supremecist groups it's emboldened have vividly brought the worst of our past into our present, showing us that it wasn't really put behind us at all and giving us another opportunity to confront it.
Our personal pasts are full of mistakes and misgivings as well. It can be an uncomfortable thing to look at; the past. Full of things we wish we hadn't done or had done, hadn't said or had said, missed opportunities or the same bad decisions over and over. But without studying our pasts we are doomed to repeat our mistakes.
So what do we do? What do WE do?
Let's start with this question: How can my past perfect my present? Ask this again and again - as it applies to racism, privilege, behaviors, thoughts, judgements, language, and intentions. Let's relentlessly scour our past for the things it's imparted - the things that have shaped us for better or worse and the things that are still with us. I mean this on a personal and collective level.
Then let's perfect our present. What can we bring from our past, what values and actions that will improve this moment and hopefully by extension, the future? What needs to be left behind? How can we act in accordance to the answers to these questions? I don't claim to know the answers, but I am ready to continue asking. I believe that's the first step.
Those of us who were standing under the sun when it's light was blotted out by the moon felt, in a visceral way, the power of this darkness, the power of the shift from day to sudden night. There were cries and laughter, screams and gasps. Then something even more miraculous happened. After those few moments suspended in darkness - those moments when time and space seemed to shift and turn upside down - the sun returned. Everything was suddenly illuminated once again.
After the darkness, the light came back, and when it returned it was warmer, brighter, different.
We were different.