It’s all about memory.
We can only know where we are going if we first know where we are – and we can only know where we are if we know where we have come from. No wonder so many people are now spending time and money trying to reconstruct their family tree, even famous people on the telly. We need to know who we are.
That might sound trite or obvious, but it is also poignant today.
9/11 changed the world – not just because it brought upon us the disastrous ‘war on terror’ and re-defined the shape of Islam in the western world’s consciousness and imagination, but also because several thousand people left bereaved families and friends to shape a future without them, the particular loss impacting deeply in its brutality and scale. And today is one of those days when everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the planes exploding into the twin towers in New York.
Tomorrow sees another powerful memory evoked and, hopefully, reconciled. The Bishop of Liverpool is not here in Oxford as he will be presenting the Hillsborough Inquiry report in Liverpool. Not just friends and families of the 96 Liverpool fans who died on that awful day in Sheffield, but everyone in or with a connection to Liverpool. I remember exactly where I was when I heard on the radio what was happening and my mind just wouldn’t compute it at first.
The sense of injustice in Liverpool has been compounded by two things: (a) the refusal of successive governments to release papers and hold a proper inquiry, and (b) the offensive reporting as fact by the Sun newspaper of crude and shocking allegations about the behaviour of Liverpool fans while people lay dying on the pitch. The Sun has never been forgiven. The energy and persistence of those who have pushed for transparency and justice has defined their life… and it shouldn’t have been necessary. I only hope that tomorrow will bring with it the security of certain knowledge, the peace of resolution, and the beginning of healing of memories.
We live out of our memories. We inhabit an internal world shaped by memories. We know who we are by where we have come from and how we got to be where we are. Today and yesterday bring to mind (for some of us, at least) the searing sadness of loss, injustice and fearfulness – and invite us to begin a different journey to a different place of resolution in which the sting of particular memories begins to be drawn.
Or as Bruce Cockburn put it:
There you go swimming deeper into mystery,
Here I remain, only seeing where you used to be.
Stared at the ceiling ’til my ears filled up with tears;
Never got to know you, suddenly you’re out of here.
Gone from mystery into mystery
Gone from daylight into night
Another step deeper into darkness
Closer to the light