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Art & Culture

various essays on, well, art and culture

Bookbinding & Conservation

lessons learned from this profession


ok, I'm not the guy from SNL,
but I still have a sense of humor

'Jim Downey' Stories

mostly true stories from my

Personal Essays

No matter where you go . . .
So I wander into this nuclear
        reactor . . .

Thoughts on This Day
The Power to Forget
Announcing:  Alwyn!
Martyr Complex
The Call
The Reality of the Situation
Comforting Presence
Guilt & Redemption


Iím at -7.13/-7.33 on The Political Compass.  Where
are you?


observations on the human condition


take a trip with me

3 May 2005

NPR has revived a series of commentaries that ran in the 50's called "What I believe."  You can find out more about it here.

This is the first of two essays I'm going to submit for their consideration.

The Power to Forget

I believe in the power to forget.

On December twelfth, 1969, my world changed forever.  My father was murdered.  I was eleven years old.

In the middle of the night I woke to flashing lights from a police car.  A knock at the door, and I heard my mom answer it.  Then I heard a man say:  "Marlene, Wil's been shot."

See, my dad was a cop.  And as happens all too often, he was killed during a routine procedure, in this case a burglary investigation.  They caught the man who killed my father that same night.  He was tried and convicted, sentenced to die.  That sentence was commuted in 1973 by the Supreme Court, and to this day he is in prison.

I think he is, anyway.  I don't know for sure, because I have tried my very best to forget him.  It was that, or succumb to the hatred that threatened to define my life.

For a while I tried forgiveness, since that is supposed to be liberating.  When I say for a while, I mean for years.  But I failed.  There are some things that cannot be forgiven, at least for me.

Instead, I have slowly, and carefully, excised his name from my memory.  Now and then something will happen; I'll come across a story in the paper about him being up for parole, or a family friend will ask "whatever happened to so-and-so," and I'll have to start again to forget.

It's not easy.  Much of our culture, much of our popular literature, is based around the theme of a son avenging the death of his father.  The whole "find the bastard who shot my pa..." thing.  You may not notice it, but I do.  And every time I hear about another officer down, every time Father's Day rolls around on the calendar, I think about my dad.  And I think about his death.  And I deny the existence of the man who killed him.

Even now, as I write this, his name tries to emerge, tries to struggle free from where I have buried it.  But forgetting means that I don't have live with a constant, aching anger.  It means that I don't have to be trapped in that moment of history.  It means that I can continue with my life, never forgetting the love I have for my father, or what it meant for him to die, but not being possessed by a need for vengeance.

I believe in the power to forget.  How many old grudges still fuel the fires of revenge in this world?  How often have more people had to die because of a fixation on a memory?  How much better would things be if we could just clean the slate, forget the offenses we've suffered and the ones we've inflicted, and move on?

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