“History: our present. Lowered into it, we listen,” writes the poet Tomas Transtromer.
My good friend Laura Simms, a wonderful and transformative storyteller, sent me Transtromer’s poem About History. It enchanted me and it put me in a state of trance. Though written in the 1960s, I believe, the poem spoke to me like a meditation on our present time.
History is not our past. History is our present. We are children of history and to history we give birth. As Clifford Geertz wrote about culture, we are caught in webs of significance that we ourselves spun.
But when I look at history unfolding before me I don’t see evolution, I don’t recognize progress: I see decomposition. I see a farther separation from origin. Benjamin and the Angel of History come to mind.
Being children of history means to be children of this separation. We are damaged children. This is our original sin.
Our own healing and the healing of history lies not in the progress of history but in the interruption of history; what young people in the streets of Honk Kong are trying to do today. Healing lies not in the evolution of history but in reversing it. The way ahead is the way back to the origin. And in the origin was peace and unity. At the beginning was the Word…
The origin does not refer to something that was in the past and which needs to be restored. It is a potential always present, in the present. The human potential for peace lies in the awareness that at any moment in time under whatever circumstance we can tap into this potential and reconnect with our origin, our true essence.
The healing of our history though does not mean being separated from history. To the contrary. Lowered into history, we listen.
Here are some of the passages from About History:
Radical and Reactionary live together as in a miserable
diminished by each other, leaning on each other.
But we, their children, have to fin our own road.
Each problem cries out in a private language!
Walk down any path where there is a trace of truth.
In a field not far from the subdivisions
a newspaper has been lying for months, full of news.
It is aging because of days and nights, rain and sun.
It’s on its way to becoming a plant, a cabbage head. It’s starting
to join the field,
like an old memory gradually changing into you.