Notes From My Knapsack 11-17-16
No future without memory
When an honorary consul of France says in Swasey Chapel "there can be no future without memory," you may hesitate a moment at the logic of that thought.
She speaks with strength and beauty, a lovely accent and powerful words about the deeds some 72 years before of a young man who now stands before us, weighed down by years and less some parts of himself, but full of accomplishment.
Andy Starrett stood there, self-conscious for his own achievements, but willing to bear the burden for us all of history and celebration. It was Veterans Day, and nearly the day itself when he lost an arm helping France regain her freedom so many decades before, and we all knew it, but Anne Cappel felt it.
This honorary consul of the French government had come to present the Légion d'Honneur to an already honored emeritus faculty member of Denison University, a respected part of our Granville community. A ribbon and enameled metal badge made up a medal with a history going back to Napoleon, and a relevance stretching down to an Ohio day when we all were looking for the better angels of our nature in the throngs around us. It was Nov. 11, 2016 when this presentation was finally ready to be given, long years in the making.
And the presenter said "there can be no future without memory." Which we all knew, in one sense, was untrue. We move forward without recalling the past all the time.
But her point was that the future we seek, the reality we would work to bring into being, requires that we reach back not just for example but for inspiration, not just for proven models but for possibilities not previously thought to be plausible.
With memory, our presenter said to the crowd packed into the chapel overlooking our village, we can see forward almost as far as we can recall from before. Our reach behind us summons into reality the scope of our grasp of what is yet to come, the vision of things to come.
In fact it was in the task of describing what had happened, what was now and forever done, that the consul of France broke down and stopped. To count the cost and tally up the price of freedom, she ceased her praise, however unwilling, of the deeds today and yet to come, and was humbled into silence because of the sacrifices that have been.
Can there be a future without memory? Yes, but the prospect stifles hope and silences vision. With the vision of memory standing there on the platform in the chapel in the person of Andy Sterrett, and sitting in the front row, our World War II veteran friends and fellows, we were able to continue, after a pause. To carry on, the occasion called for a hearty round of applause that we gladly offered up to encourage this brave woman, whose momentary hesitation was only because of the awe she felt looking back, and in trying to summon up for us in words what only deeds can truly describe.
And we will only bring our future into being by living it. Choice by choice, act by act, day by day. We may pause and have no cheering audience to urge us on, but with the recollection of days we never saw, but learned about through gatherings such as we had on Nov. 11 atop College Hill, we have an example that will carry us forward.
Into a future with memory guiding us on.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him your stories of future possibilities at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.