The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: memory

Forgetting to Remember

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IT’S BEEN A YEAR AND … NOTHING!  It was all the rage back then, nicely summed up in a hashtag – #bringbackourgirls. A year ago this week, April 14th, the sounds of gunfire near a village in northern Nigeria woke hundreds of girls at a boarding school, filling them with fear. Many were spirited away by the militant group Boko Haram. Naturally, they were terrified.

A global response quickly developed that channeled the outrage at such an occurrence. News of the girls’ fate was everywhere. The hashtag became universal. Governments promised action, including Nigeria’s, and the media were all over it. Individuals and groups around the world picked up the cause.

And then they dropped it. In a world where events are reported by the second, it was just too difficult for those interested in the fate of the schoolgirls to stay focused and they moved on to other causes – not all, but most.

So, what’s changed in a year? Almost nothing concerning their fate, but the bungles and failures in the effort to assist them have been significant. Three months after they were taken, U. S. surveillance planes spotted the girls but they couldn’t be located a short while later. The Nigerian government warned the international community that any effort to rescue the girls could risk their lives. Boko Haram released a notice that some of the girls would become wives to their fighters.

Incredibly, the Nigerian government paid a Washington public relations firm $1.2 million to help them “change the channel” regarding the fate of the abducted girls and the firm took them up on it. Weeks after their abduction, the United States, Canada, France, the UK, and Israel sent in special forces but the girls couldn’t be found. And then, only last month, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS, spreading even more alarm about the girls’ safety.

All of this in just one year – all to no avail. But one, or rather, 58 stories of hope emerged from all the failure and tragedy. Shortly after being taken a year ago, 21 of the young women escaped and were granted scholarships to the American University of Nigeria. The university offered the opportunity and others around the world donated to the cause. One of the escapees, Sarah, told her story but then turned it into a larger narrative:

“We have not been broken by the attack. We see ourselves as the people who have been chosen to make positive future changes not just in our village Chibok, but in our country and the world.”

The world must never give up in their search for the others, and the need to help them rebuild their lives once discovered. And yet they have already been mostly forgotten. As David Campbell has written: “Discipline is the remembering of what we truly wish to see.”

We can’t let these women fade out of mind. One of the ways to accomplish that could be to help those that escaped  and are attempting to rebuild their lives by making new memories. If you want to help them, go to http://aunf.org. That small act alone could keep the plight of the others alive in our minds.

Knowing for the First Time

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It was T. S. Eliot who provided one of my favourite quotes of all time:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

On any journey there are two kinds of exploration – the journey without and the one within.  For our son Ater both melded into one as he returned to the place of his birth and at the same time attempted to piece together in his young mind and heart developments that were bound to drive him into a deeper place of maturity.

The picture above is of Ater seeing his grandmother for the first time in seven years. We had only just arrived when he discovered her waiting for him on the periphery of the crowd. People were all over him, but once he saw her, he began moving slowly in her direction. I started to video the moment but the look on his face was so profound that I forgot all about it and moved to be with him.

His face was as complex as a map of Africa. She moved to him, arms open wide, and enveloped him in her world again. Suddenly he wept, as did she. He told me later that the memories of her care for him following the years after his mother was shot filled him with gratitude at that moment. They embraced for a long time before she quietly pulled back to examine him. “You have a fine face,” she said in her native Dinka language. He couldn’t respond.

Later they sat on the portico of the mission where we were staying, holding hands and saying words neither could comprehend – he no longer knew Dinka and she had never known English. From watching that scene, I learned once again that love, and family, and roots, and memories possess a language that exceeds all vowels and consonants. It reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s keen observation in her Der blinde Morder: “Touch comes before sight, before speech.  It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.”  If so, a vast array of truth was passed back and forth in those few tender moments. But if, as Mark Slouch says, “Gone is the saddest word in any language,” then surely the happiest must be the word “here.” The tenacity and endurance of love as a language was never more clear to me than in that moment when a young man embraced his past and an old women recaptured her hope.

And then suddenly she up and left, moved by deep feelings that we didn’t comprehend. And Ater just sat there, surrounded by lots of interested faces who just stared at him as tears streamed down his cheeks. My heart fluttered in that instant. I wanted to rush in and embrace him – he’s my boy, after all. But I’ve lived long enough to know that the human heart must grow willing, if not comfortable, with the complexities of profound life once it strikes us. And so, in an action that was totally counter-intuitive for me, I leaned against the wall and let him work it through in his young mind.

And then the most marvelous thing happened. He looked up, saw me, rose and rushed to me in embrace. My God, I’m so thankful I waited, for in that tremor in his bones I held a young life that was reconciling its past and its future in a quick moment of time. I pulled his face down to mine and asked if he was okay. He merely nodded and kissed me on the top of my bald pate.

Tell me: who was the caregiver at that moment? It was him, not me. He was suddenly appreciate of the wonderful gift he had just been granted and it was his way of expressing his thanks.

Look at the video below, shot later that day, and you’ll see he moved about easily in a world that was once filled with rampage, war, want and death. He had returned to a land a peace. But the grandmother he had held earlier that day had gifted him with a protected love that had transcended the deprivations of human dealings.

I watched the grandmother a couple of days later, observing from the sidelines as Ater played with his new friends, and it struck me at that moment that perhaps one of the best things about leading a good and sacrificial life is the opportunity to actually become a memory.  That was all Ater had of her until that week. He suddenly looked up at her and waved and she beamed all over. I studied her face and wondered whether she was herself learning that to live in someone’s heart is to never die.  She was coming to terms with the reality that she had been remembered, that a young boy had captured in his mind all those occasions where she had been there for him. She was coming to terms with the eternal nature of love.

Watch the video and you’ll smile seeing them dance together because to be truly human is to dance. Ater is no longer a boy with a past and a future, but a being with a path ahead of him. But as long as he has memory and a language that is greater than syllables, he will never be at a loss for words.

 

The Real Economy Has A Memory

Governments and financial institutions learn economic lessons all the time, just like we do. This great recession we are still enduring could have brought everything down like a house of cards, but principles learned from earlier eras convinced governments to invest heavily in stimulus financing to keep the various economies from failing, and it worked for a time. But now as we teeter on what appears to be another decline, it’s becoming clearer that something different is required, something more fundamental and reflective of where people really live rather than how investors make their money.

Put simply: the sensible economy has a memory. For years now, Canadians have been encouraged to get behind policies that favour capital interests over other alternatives. This led to more lax restrictions on large businesses and corporations and a pattern of constantly lowering taxes in the business field. We were consistently told that international finance, trade and economic vitality were complex fields and we were best to leave it to the experts. The demonstrations on Wall Street and other financial centres around the world seem to be signalling that citizens no longer trust that model.

It only makes sense that people now have deep questions and a limited tolerance for a system that is clearly rewarding the few over the many. We had thought the new international financial order would bring about more opportunity for all. And if the financial experts had delivered on their promises we would have discovered fewer class battles, a reduction of poverty, and, above all, a resurgent middle class. It didn’t happen and we’ve now lost enough confidence in the economic paradigm that we’re beginning to take to the streets. Canadian citizens are now confronting a growing awareness that the financial system itself as a tool for a strengthened democracy and individual advancement has gone off the rails.

We’ve now been around long enough as a country to recall that we’ve been through this before – the Great Depression, the many recessions. This one feels different though because it’s global in scope and for a while that breadth paralyzed us. But now we comprehend that the great wealth generated through such a large venture resulted in a few people and corporations taking home the winnings while the large middle class continued to languish. For a time we tolerated this scenario because at least we could purchase a nice car, a new computer, or even a bigger home. Unfortunately we accumulated such things on credit, leaving us in greater debt while others walked away with unseemly bonuses.

We have been led to believe that a robust middle class was the very foundation of an advanced society, yet we are now hearing that, relative to other income groups, the middle class has decreased by 17% over the last 20 years in Canada. Something is striking us odd about this. With so much wealth created, why didn’t average families benefit?

Now we’re thinking of something else entirely – financial meltdown. With the growing dark clouds on the horizon we are in the process of losing faith in our financial masters and the governments that support them. Increasingly we are reading or hearing stories of how this is where the financial guardians went wrong just prior to the Great Depression. By focusing so much on making money off of money rather than an active workforce making solid products, they were creating a scenario where a lack of confidence could spook the entire system – which is what happened.

John Kenneth Galbraith, the great Canadian economist, and someone intimately involved with the workings of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, often wrote about people who make massive amounts of money from speculation in a short period of time and how they often forget the essentials of sensible economic management. Here’s just one of his observations:

Financial disaster is quickly forgotten. In further consequence, when the same or closely similar occur again, sometimes in only a few years, they are hailed by a new, often youthful, and always supremely self-confident generation as a brilliant innovative discovery in the financial and larger economic world. There can be few fields of human endeavour in which history counts for so little as in the world of finance. Past experience, to the extent that it is part of memory at all, is dismissed as the primitive refuge of those who do not have the insight to appreciate the incredible wonders of the present.”

I wish my parents were still alive – they’d remember. As survivors of the Great Depression, they never forgot the pain it inflicted and their generation worked through legislatures throughout the land to ensure that safeguards would be put in place to guarantee no such disaster befell their children. Now an era of speculation, private greed, and a lack of proper public oversight, has brought us to the brink once more. Our parents banked on the premise that the best defense against such things was a solid and progressive middle class in this country. Sadly, that group is shrinking in potential and is now waking up to its loss.

Did the international financiers lose all memory of lessons learned along what had been a productive economic path in earlier decades? It would seem so. And in that loss they have brought us to the heart of our current predicament. We can never experience a full recovery until we address this oversight. We risk growing upheaval and demonstrations until we solve it. Memory is one of the financial system’s greatest allies. Lose it and you lose our confidence. And so here we are. We are beginning to remember.

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