Loving History

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The past is a lot like book reviews. If I get a hundred reviews, I’ll probably forget the ninety-eight good or decent ones and memorize the two bad ones, occasionally keep myself up at night because of the two bad ones, ask my friends if they can believe what the reviewers said in those two bad ones. This is true of every single writer I know because every single writer I know carries a quiet question about every single book they write: is it as good as I think it is? Unfortunately, for me at least, good reviews can’t seem to answer this question (Yes!) as compellingly as bad reviews (No!), and so the question sometimes nags at me, curiously unanswered.

It’s unanswered because I don’t actually believe the book is as boring, or unsatisfying, or predictable as those bad reviews claim it is. I don’t believe it because of the good reviews, and because of how much writing the book meant to me, and because I’ve read bad reviews of books I loved, about which I always think, “The reviewer is just dead wrong.” In the end, I’m left with my own opinion about that book, which, frankly, can vary from day to day depending on how much sleep I got or the weather or who won the Super Bowl.

Which brings me to the past, both historical and personal. When we think about the past we tend to focus on the atrocities and traumas. These events are like history’s bad book reviews. There are plenty of triumphs and acts of kindness we could remember; the bells of peace have rung as often as the cannons of war have been fired – and yet the atrocities and traumas hold our attention. We write books about them, make movies about them, and form recovery groups because of them. And we remind each other of them all the time. Don’t forget about that horrible thing we did once upon a time. Don’t forget that or we’ll do it again.

I believe this is because the atrocities and triumphs beg the question: Are we as good as we think we are? Am I as good as I think I am? Mostly, the answer feels like yes, doesn’t it? Sitting in your living room, reading a book or talking to friends, the answer feels like yes. Kindness, love, and compassion feel like the ocean into which the streams of humanity inevitably flow. But what about those atrocities and traumas? How could both things be true?

Like bad book reviews, the past and all its suffering isn’t going anywhere. It will always be. So right now, in this moment, I have to decide what I actually believe about myself and all the other people in the world – every single living and dead one of us. I can’t look to the past to answer that for me. Some days this is easier than others, but ultimately I land on love. Love, after all, is what wrote the books, and love is what brought us to together, and love is always there, always waiting, always patient, after the canons are quiet and the crying is done.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.