Staccato violins captured perfectly the clumps of wild yellow flowers that dotted the green field far behind the preened grounds of the royal palace. This new practice of listening to P2, the classical station, as I walk through Drottningholm Park in a Swedish spring is a fascinating journey into understanding music as another way of seeing the world - the separation and the unity, the quarreling and the consensus.
In the staccato of the clumps of flowers I saw family members, united by color and form, but constantly challenging one another, at odds about who was the keeper of truth and who had the right to it. At a recent seminar I attended about how we remember history, there was much talk of the memorials created by nations and the way that these can become politicized; memory politics, in other words. Yet, after my journey into the past described in "The Pendulum" it seems to me that the fiercest battles of memory politics are not fought among nations, rather they are fought in that arena of common blood: the family. It is here that the battle feels hardest because the family is meant to be that immutable basic building block upon which the stability of all else depends. If we don't hold together the inferno will come, says the patriarch of a collapsing Hamburg merchant family in the novel "Buddenbrooks" by Thomas Mann.
Who is not familiar with the politics of memory and its effects within their family? It is the most difficult thing to come to grips with: families are as much about difference as they are about sameness; the perspectives of different roles and different generations, which often don't fit well with the idea that a family is oneness. This is sometimes so difficult for us to digest that we create family taboos: certain subjects that cannot be discussed because they will expose the politics of memory and our differences. Somewhere deep inside we feel the tug of instinct - that family is survival - and therefore the taboos must be upheld, even if they tear upon our souls.
Perhaps we have come into a time when this reflex is no longer useful because, at least in the free world, the family unit has undergone such profound changes, become so much more maleable, and our values increasingly formed by the idea of inclusion. Taboos are being broken, publicly, daily. What will the end of secrets bring?
The symphony is over, and as I remove my ear phones bird song takes over . No matter how beautiful, the music too is another human superimposition on the scene. Now I see plainly the yellow flowers on the field that cannot be anything but themselves.
Rain washes over new green outside my window. Leaves, buds, stalks push their way up and out to lap up clean, fresh water with no memory of the dormancy from which they came, no foreboding of the winter soon to come. Everything is presence; that which is old, dried out and brittle is broken down, removed and washed away in another time which is not our time.
Why should we look back at all? Is it possible to judge the now for what it was then? Only weeks ago, the graceful bush with the reddish-green leaves was a few brutish red stumps that had broken through the soil like imposters. Isn't it only memory that called those stumps brutish? Could they have been something else? Were they really imposters? How can I ever know the truth about a previous presence, if all I have to rely on is the blunt tool of memory, mine and others'?
Yet, memory too is a part of our now and must be permitted. It provides a frame, a totality, for life's greatest challenge and adventure which is to seek to know and thus to taste humility. In order to be comfortable in that state of no gravity, no judgment, which invites all manner of doubts and questions about the truth, we must have a frame, allow our memories so that they can be questioned, and seek to know the past and the dead so that we can unknow them.
Dear Reader: Welcome to "The Pendulum" where I explore these questions and many more about which I will also be writing in this blog.