Old, Unhappy, Far-Off Things

Memory plays an important role in forgiveness — or lack of it. The anniversary of the Battle of Culloden may be historically remote from today, but the feelings it evoked and continues to evoke are still powerful. Quietnun has often explained to me, as  something self-evident to anyone less intellectually challenged, why many Scots loathe the English. Being English myself, and therefore by definition phlegmatic to the nth degree, I have never quite understood the intensity of feeling to which memory of

Old, unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago

may give rise. Perhaps living here, in the border country where England embraces Wales, I may come to understand better. At least I shall try.

Today it is not Culloden that we are thinking of so much as the tragic events in Boston, or the endless suicide bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan or the seemingly irreconciliable differences between Israelis and Palestinians which so often lead to violence. We do not know whether the Boston bombings were the work of someone with a grudge against the U.S.A. or ‘simply’ the work of someone very sick. Either way, there will be calls for vengeance, usually described as calls for ‘justice’. I sometimes wonder what we think we are doing when we make such calls, especially when the calls are made by people who were not actually involved in the original event. Recently, we have seen several instances of the kind of thing I mean in Britain, where the vicarious anger directed at the Philpotts or the late Margaret Thatcher has disclosed a troubling ugliness below the surface of ‘civilized’ society. If we are no longer our brother’s keeper (a position I dispute), we are certainly not our brother’s judge, jury and executioner.

As we pray for those killed or injured in Boston, it would be good to ask ourselves about our own record on peace and forgiveness. Holding a grudge, wanting to get even, paying others back just means more suffering — for ourselves as well as for others. We drink the poison we mean for them. The posturing we have seen in North Korea in recent weeks is a reminder that when such attitudes are combined with access to weapons, the security of the whole world is placed in jeopardy. The planet on which we live is small and fragile. Whatever our religious beliefs or lack of them, surely we need to learn to get along together? And sometimes, to do that, we have to be the first to drop the hatchet.

I cannot rewrite the history of Culloden, but I can learn from it.