". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Last Evening

Not quite dark, sky a blue velvet curtain against which the lights of One World Trade Tower and the planes banking out of LaGuardia were bright and sharp.

Ahead of me on the sidewalk are five young African Americans, only one of whom is female, talking animatedly with each other -- not on phones -- and entirely blocking my way, as I'm heading home and walking much faster.

Unlike the vast majority of the hordes who come down here, who clearly are not of the neighborhood, these younglings had spatial sense -- and pay attention to their surroundings.  They notice I'm behind them and blocked, and smile, apologize and move to make way for me.

Now I'm ahead of them I can hear what they're talking about.  They're talking about 9/11.  The young woman says, "I kept hearing the towers, the towers but I had no idea what the towers were.  Just something awful happened."  One of the young men says something about the school he was in when it happened and the little kids in his class who were Muslims and how scared they were.  She returns, thoughtfully, "I've never understood who the guys were who did that.  Osoma Bin Laden -- was he really a Muslim?  Was he an Arab?  Because when I got old enough to understand anything there were all these crazy people on tv talking about our president is a Muslim and an Arab and an African, and I'm going, "What?"

By then I'd arrived to the door of my building.  In the course of putting down my bags and getting out my keys, the group caught up with me.  On impulse I addressed them, "I apologize, I don't want to be rude, and I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but are you all from out of town?"

They stopped, and all of them responded, "Yes!  We're from L.A.  This is our first time here.  We're on spring break and trying to visit places that have to do with the history of our life."

They were on their way to Memorial and Ground Zero site.  One of the guys -- I learned his name was Zach -- exclaimed, "I've seen this block, this street, that sight (pointing at the One World Center Center, its lights sparkling, its spire bright red tonight, like and art object designed out of the school of gigantism.

Exchanging names, hesitantly, Dominique asks, "Were you here then?"

So we talked for nearly forty minutes, out there on the sidewalk as night fell on NYC, about that day, what 9/11 meant for NYC, what it meant for el V and I, personally.  And what it had all meant to them.  That was a lot of why they were on this trip.  Young as they were on that day -- one of them in pre-school -- they sensed the world had changed forever, and they wanted to know how and why.

Then Katrina was in the conversational mix.  All of them had relatives who lived through Katrina.  They'd been to New Orleans often.

They said how glad and lucky there were to have met me, as they went down to the Ground Zero Memorial site.

I was so glad and lucky to have met them.  These are the young people who are going to fix some of the greatest messes the earth has ever experienced since she evolved homo saps.  They were just splendid in every way.

But there was more to why they were so impressive, beyond their excellent manners and courtesy, their sense of being comfortable in their own skins and with each other, their obvious intelligence and their articulate language.

But, it wasn't until waking up this AM I understood why I felt such confidence in them.  Not once during this whole experience with them, which was about an hour, did I see or hear a phone among the 5 of them.

They surely have those phones.  But they were entirely involved all this time in the material world, the world they see, hear and touch, and not the virtual world.

That is what makes them special.  How many people their age (and alas, so many more of us too, who are much, much older) who forego the virtual world of their devices for that long?

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