Have you ever heard of John Grim? He’s one of our own. (From North Dakota) A former professor at Bucknell University, Senior Lecturer and Research Scholar at Yale University and published author. I want to share an exerpt of a letter he wrote back in the 80s:
"When I was young I learned against the winds of North Dakota. If I long for that youth I am even more nostalgic for those winds. They move through all my memories of family affection, personal reflection, and troubled volition. Rising out of old glacial lakes, those winds carried the whooping cranes of my imagination into flight. Sometimes I would strip off my winter coat and intentionally sit out in the howling Dakota storms and defy the cold snow knowing that the winds would finally release me from my madness. Only the frozen bodies of the Arctic owls which my father had shot and placed in the garage knew more pain, I thought…how shortsighted my youthful assessment of pain. How innocent my youthful bravado in blissful ignorance of the reciprocities that empowered me and of the pathologies that fed my own aggrandizement.
What smokestack in what remote place stains the sky so that I might record these memories and thoughts on my computer? No barbarian shouts at the outer gates totally apart from myself. If I have slipped through the hourglass years, the whirling monster of these times, I have come face to face with myself. The antibarbarian statement has become a reflexive exercise in the tumultuous search through knowing the self and the other as one and two. I cannot cast an asperation that does not return. I cannot imprison the demented madness away, but I can name it, speak it, remember it, celebrate it as a way now put aside. Love it even as I willfully let it go. Remembering and forgetting like the flapping wings of a great bird."
It took me a long time to come to an understanding of what Professor Grim was saying in these two paragraphs of thought. No matter how hard we try to let go of the past it is still a part of us, regardless of what it holds. The past is part of what makes us what we are today, however, at the same time we must willfully let it go.
As the sun of Martin Luther King, Jr Day, 2009, is now setting and tomorrow looms in the hours to come, we must, as Dr. King stated, release ourselves from the past and build a future from today. There is nothing in the past of our country that can be changed or amended in any way. It has made us what we are today. We cannot recount the times of injustice and inhumanity, nor can we punish ourselves to the end of time for it. We can only name it, speak it, remember it and willfully let it go. Building a better tomorrow on the rememberances of the mistakes and triumphs of our past. Today, I will willfully let go of all the past in my history and build from the stone on which I stand today. I will remember all the injustices and inhumanity to the end of time, but, I will not allow them to shape my future simply because I remember.
Originally posted January 19, 2009 on my Areavoices.com blog.