The late Elie Wiesel often wrote of the importance of memory. In this book, The Forgotten, he shows a father’s struggles with Alzheimer’s and his urgency to transfer his life story to his son. Explaining this in an interview with Charlie Rose, Wiesel said, “If the son does not truly know his father’s story, he can never truly know himself.”
In Michael Moore’s recent documentary, “Where to Invade Next,” he travels around the globe looking for ideas that he can bring back to America, only to realize in the end that many of these ideas originated here in the first place. Except perhaps for one.
In the most moving part of this film, which I highly recommend even if you don’t like Moore personally, he takes us to Germany. There he shows us how Germany is trying to come to terms with its past. How they thoroughly teach their students at a young age about the Holocaust and other atrocities committed under German rule; how they have public signs reminding them of where events took place; about how the Jewish population was discriminated against.
The obvious comparison is to how we fail to truly own our own checkered past that has included slavery, driving Native Americans out of their homeland and our general denial of right to women and minorities.
Whether remembering our own life, that of our family, or the broader history of where we came from and our heritage, the question remains — why remember?
There are the clichéd responses that past is prologue and that those who fail to remember their past are doomed to repeat it. Certainly there is merit in both. Memory is a tricky thing. It forces us to feel. To confront the difficulties and horrors of our individual or collective past, to relive our joys and also remind us of what we’ve lost. But mostly, I believe that memory emboldens us, makes us bigger than ourselves.
When we study and truly learn the lessons of history, both of our country and our family, it gives our life greater meaning and a renewed sense of purpose.
Wiesel said, “Memory is everything.”
How much do you remember about your own life or that of your family? How often do you reflect on how you or this country came to be?
What would happen if we each took just a few minutes to do that each day?