Earlier tonight, I was walking my puggle, Abner, in the backyard after the rain had just ended, and it struck me that there’s this moment when the rain’s stopped falling from the sky but it’s still falling from the trees. You can hear it tapping down on the ground, but the slow drizzle makes it obvious it’s fallen from leaves instead of clouds. It’s still gushing from the ground as you walk over the soggy grass. It’s still even in the breeze somehow, the way everything’s cooled off. The storm clouds and rain have effectively stopped, and maybe the sky is clear with a starry night, but then, the world is still drenched everywhere. There’s no mistaking that. Were it a wetter night in a floodplain, the sky could be clear while the floods still come. It’s scary to think about, actually. Especially when some floods can leave damage that remains for a thousand sunny days that come after that one awful storm.
I mean, it’s not how we’d prefer things to be, after all. It’s certainly not convenient or fair, and it may even be cruel. When the rain stops, we want it to be stopped, over, done, dried up. Who wants to be washed away under clear skies? But I think it’s an important life lesson that we realize that pain and cruelty and despair can go on even after hope has been found, even after the rains cease. Even when we know we’re going to be okay. Or, perhaps, it’s a bit like a scar, to use another metaphor, that even though it’s healed, it isn’t forgotten – and may even be important to be remembered the way some scars must be remembered.
The things we choose to remember and the things we choose to forget say a lot about who we are as individuals, as communities, as a nation. It says a lot about what we’ve been able to repent for, what we’ve been able to forgive, and what just hasn’t come easy to deal with or face. I keep, almost as if hoarding them, old notes from girls I loved in high school and beyond, pictures of paintings I painted and gave away to friends – some still close, some long gone – and all of it I have stored away in old boxes labeled “important” on the side. It’s rare that I go through them but having them is important to me, as if they’re my little collection, my memorabilia of the joy and pain I’ve endured like a little box of what made me, me. We do this as communities and as a nation, too. In my hometown, there’s a memorial to a horrid tornado from 2003 that ravaged the downtown area. Along our highways, crosses or flowers or markers remember a wreck or plane crash or some other tragedy – our children, our parents, our heroes, perhaps even some of our demons, remembered. That is, there are other things we don’t want to remember but have to: the Holocaust Museum, the 9/11 Memorial, the war memorials strewn across Washington, D.C. are a testament to that. There are yet other things we should have remembered, no, memorialized but perhaps because of the great pain of it, have chosen to forget or ignore. For the life of me, while there’s plenty of memorials to Civil War sites, I don’t know if there’s a single national memorial that pays homage to our awful history with slavery, or a museum that does the same. In fact, I’m fairly certain proposals to create such places have been rejected in lieu of something else. It’s as if we still don’t want to deal with our past. In the wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, I think there’s a lot about our past as a nation we have chosen to forget rather than memorialize and progress beyond, together. But we remember precisely so the past isn’t repeated and precisely to claim that it was survived.
Maybe the time does come where we bury the past, where the scars do disappear as if we’ve been given new bodies, though something about that feels almost as if it’s a cop-out of sorts. It’s no surprise that so many religions would place hope in a kind of afterlife or next stage where just such a thing does happen. But it’s not the sort of thing to be forced, and it’s not easily won. There’s a story in the Bible where Jesus appears to his disciples before ascending into heaven (Jn. 20). In nearly every instance where the disciples encounter a risen Jesus, it’s fear or shock that quickly turns to joy and hope only after he’s reassured them. But it’s how he reassures them, how they have to be reassured, that’s perhaps what’s really intriguing. In the Gospel of John, Jesus has to reassure Thomas by showing him, even allowing him to touch the scars and wounds of his crucifixion. Growing up, I always thought this was about doubt; after all, we give Thomas the ugly moniker of “Doubting Thomas,” as if that’s awful. But maybe for Thomas it isn’t about doubt at all: at least on some level, maybe it’s about remembrance. Once again, remembering the pain is important. And so, strangely enough, after Jesus conquers death, it’s the wounds of that death that the disciples need to touch first before they can see or believe that life prevailed, before they can find healing in the midst of what must of been such great loss. It’s as if our scars are so important that it’s through them and only through them we find healing. We have to confront them, touch them and see the wounds for what they are before we can see the healing at all. We have to do that as individuals, as communities, and as a nation. And until we do, we live instead in the kind of forgetfulness and ignorance that only seeks to make new wounds or rip open the old ones. And that has to end.
Much like our sacred texts, scars may be something we always have, but we do grow to remember them differently from how we may have when they were fresh, new. Some of my own wounds, I picture myself, if ever “healed” fully, showing them off a bit like the characters in Jaws comparing what they’ve endured. There’s something appealing to looking back on the past with pride that you were able to survive it and with the mantra of “never again.” The wounds, then, become markers, no longer of just our pain, but of our survival and our strength. Too often, that doesn’t happen because we hide them instead – from ourselves and from others, but a resurrected world is one filled with the kind of hope that those fears vanish. It’s a brutally honest world but a better one for it, and it’s that world I hope to be about creating and living in. One that acknowledges, one that remembers. And one that in between those two things sets things right.