rememberers

To be human was to be a sentient being who remembers.*

“The third-century classic Jinshu summarized the paradox of memory: ‘Qing you yi sheng, bu yi ze wu qing.’ No words in English can capture the condensed reservations expressed in nine simple characters. The first four summarize ancient psychology: emotion is born out of remembrance. The next five advise the wise to stem this process of arousal altogether: where there is no remembrance, emotion will dissolve as well. The point, simply put, is that distress causes memory. To be sure, it is human to have feelings, but this can be curbed by a willful quieting of the emotional upheaval caused by remembrance.

“Simcha, the Hebrew word for ‘joy,’ has as its root macha, meaning ‘to remove’ or ‘wipe away.’ To be joyful, in this sense, is to be free of the tearful weight of the past.

“In the end, however, neither Chinese or Jewish rememberers settled for the peace of a memoryless world.

“The opposite of quietude can be found in the story of Lot’s wife… Here, a woman who refuses to walk away from history is turned into salt–a concrete symbol of endless weeping. Lot’s wife captures the need to remain connected to the past and dares to stand still when the known world is about to crumble. Although some might argue that Lot’s wife looked back with nostalgic regret for past pleasures, Anna Akhmatova, in the poem, ‘Lot’s Wife,’ suggest she did so out of her refusal to become deaf to the grief embedded in the past.”*

*Vera Schwarcz, Bridge Across Broken Time

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